WATCH: Tim Floyd Retires Suddenly, Leaves Many Questions
They were standing around in the darkened parking lot across from the Don Haskins Center, tall ghosts in warm-ups.
They didn't move, just shifted in place, waiting. Looked at their cell phones or off into space. Silent to a man.
No one is happy after a tough loss but, given an hour, young men in their late teens and early 20's will find reasons to smile.
Not these young men. The Miners' 14-point defeat to Lamar was long over, but their faces wore looks of shock and dismay as if the game clock had just hit 0:00.
A game is just that, and there's always a next one. But for the Miners haunting that parking lot there will be no next game with Tim Floyd as their head coach.
Is it irony that after harping for years on players who quit his UTEP program Floyd himself quit just six games into his eighth season?
Or is it something else?
"My family has told me that they feel like it’s time," said Floyd. "I’ve had some issues of my own here in the last two and a half weeks, three weeks, and I’m going to be fine. But I wanted to coach my last game at this university and I appreciate the fact that we got an opportunity to do that.”
Only Floyd knows for certain why he chose a Monday night after a loss to retire from coaching. No time for ceremonies or public good-byes; just a quick, jaw-dropping exit.
Tim Floyd, the man who'd need a whole avocado orchard to make enough guacamole for the giant chip he carried on his shoulder, simply hung it up. The same coach who fought – figuratively and very nearly literally – with those he thought to be in his way quietly retires in the season's first month.
“When we came here seven years ago, we inherited a team with 11 seniors. The following year we had two guys back in Gabe McCulley and John Bohannon," said Floyd, recounting the liturgy he's used to explain his teams' misfortunes.
"We had to try to rebuild it from scratch and we got to 22 and 23 wins and I can’t even explain what’s happened here in the last three or four years in the new world of college basketball, from some of our signees not showing up to some people that we tried to rely on that might have left early, to injuries, and they have continued to happen."
It is so Tim Floyd not to quit in his own retirement speech.
Here's a guy who came back to El Paso swinging at local and national media for daring to bring up the NCAA investigation of his USC program and how that might affect his tenure at UTEP.
Just a few weeks later, ex-UTEP guard Myron Strong found out the hard way that his coach was perfectly willing to play hardball in response to social media rants.
UCLA and former UNM coach Steve Alford, USC's Andy Enfield, former ESPN college basketball reporter Andy Katz, former KVIA sports director Asher Wildman, our own Steve Kaplowitz – all objects of Floyd's fiery 'tude, all discussed in this space previously.
And then there were the quitters. Players who quit after signing letters of intent. Players who quit for love. Players who quit because they said God told them to. Players who quit after practice started because dad didn't think they played enough.
Floyd swung away at all of them, directly, one-by-one, and never backed down.
Until Monday night.
In August Floyd told the El Paso Times, "This off-season, without a doubt, has been our best off-season since we've been here."
From a team-building trek to the summit of Mt. Cristo Rey, it was all supposed to be different. Until it wasn't.
The Miners are 1-5 and looking for answers again, but won't be getting them from Floyd.
“I want to say this. I have coached for 42 years, and I love this school,” Floyd said. “My father played here. Nobody wants to win here more than I do. And I have coached at this university for 16 years, and I think it’s time for somebody else to have the opportunity to have the joy that I’ve had, the agony that I’ve had, the acclaim that I have had, and the heartbreak that I’ve had in my career. I want what’s best for this school. I want what’s best as they move forward."
As for the slender spirits in the parking lot, the ones who didn't quit, what's best for them? Did the looks of shock and dismay harbor anything else?
Walking back into the lot I saw players and assistant coaches leaving. Evidently, a meeting had just broken up.
Off by the cement picnic benches under two old pines, Tim Floyd and one of his now-former players were in a goodbye embrace – a father's embrace, back-slaps and low words of pride no one else would hear. Should hear.
I kept walking. It's all clear enough.