USC abruptly fired Henry Bibby on Monday, just four games into the season, multiple sources close to Bibby told ESPN.com.
One source said USC assistant coach Jim Saia would be named interim coach for the rest of the season.
"I understand that the timing of this is unorthodox," athletic director Mike Garrett said in a statement. "But I feel strongly that our men's basketball program needs to go in a different
direction. And it was obvious to me that change had to be made now."
Bibby was in his ninth season in charge of the Trojans. He led USC to back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2000-01 and 2001-02, making the Elite Eight in 2001, but had won just 13 games in each of the past two seasons. Including this season's 2-2 start, Bibby finishes with an overall mark of 129-111 at USC.
Bibby's contract ran through the end of the 2005-06 season. According to the sources, USC athletic director Mike Garrett told Bibby of his firing at 1 p.m. ET, saying the school was going to go in another direction. Apparently, Bibby was surprised by the move and didn't see it coming. Sources also said that Bibby would be paid the remainder of his contract.
USC had seen one defection this season when sophomore Rodrick Stewart (who may be headed to Kansas) asked for and received his release. Stewart's twin, Lodrick, made overtures about transferring but decided against it and led the Trojans with 22 points in a win over BYU this past weekend. USC had lost at North Carolina and La Salle after starting the season with a win over UC Irvine. The Trojans play Fresno State on Wednesday.
For Saia, this is his shot at a head coaching job after failing to land one off of Steve Lavin's staff at UCLA. Saia unsuccessfully tried to get the recently-open UTEP and Fresno State jobs. He was out of college basketball last season after Lavin was fired after the 2002-03 season, spending the year doing private coaching clinics.
Other candidates for the permanent job, in addition to Saia, are expected to include (but not be limited to) Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal (a USC grad), Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon and former Utah coach and current ESPN analyst Rick Majerus.
"We will begin an immediate search for a new coach," Garrett said. "As an athletic director, I am always aware of prospective coaches in all sports who fit our profile. These people will be considered in our search."
Assistants Bob Cantu, Eric Brown and Mike Johnson will remain on staff under Saia.
The Trojans were sixth in the Pac-10 last year. They were expected to challenge for a postseason berth this season.
Firing a college basketball coach in December is extremely rare, but it has now happened for the second straight season. St. John's fired Mike Jarvis last year.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.