For the third time in 16 months the University of South Florida is on the lookout. The school’s two major revenue-generating sports, football and men’s basketball, in addition to a Director of Athletics have (or have had) job vacancies. It’s time for a(nother) major hire on Fowler Avenue.
Less than two days after USF lost in the opening round at the American Championship in Memphis, men’s basketball head coach Stan Heath was fired. After a record of 12-20 (97-130 over seven seasons), and four years remaining on his contract, the university opted to make a move.
Am I surprised? Well, yes. And no.
Yes, I’m surprised that the administration would fire Heath so soon after the greatest season in school history (2011-12) which included a record-tying 22 wins and the first two NCAA Tournament wins in USF history. Yes, I’m surprised because Heath just brought in one – if not the best – recruiting class in school history and often had three of those true freshmen on the floor at the same time. Yes, I’m surprised because arguably Heath’s best player, preseason All-Conference selection Anthony Collins, played only ten games for the Bulls this season (and went 8-2 over that stretch).
No, I’m not surprised because USF hired a new athletic director this week in UCLA’s Mark Harlan and AD’s usually want their own coaches in place – especially if the old coaches aren’t winning at an acceptable rate. No, I’m not surprised because Heath followed up that magical ’11-12 season with back-to-back 12-win seasons. And no, I’m not surprised because those two disappointing seasons came after the schools delivered the brand new Pam & Les Muma Basketball Center as well as a $35-million complete renovation of the Sun Dome.
I’ve worked with Stan Heath for all seven of his years with USF. And this is the third time I’ve watched the USF men’s basketball coach be fired in my 17 years doing the play-by-play. This one cut the deepest. You will not meet a better man. He’s upfront with you. He’s honest. He cared about the image of his team and the image of the university. He answered every question – good or bad, win or lose. His only problem? He didn’t win enough games.
So what happens next? The team has a nice young core to build on for next season. True freshmen John Egbunu and Chris Perry were both named to the AAC All-Rookie team last week. And Stan’s freshman point guard son, Josh, was pressed into duty and played brilliantly. How many of those kids will want to stick around? And will the two high school sharpshooters (which this year’s team sorely lacked), Troy Holston and Dinero Mercurius, ever make it on campus?
So the search begins. The big names are out there … Ben Howland. Bruce Pearl. The up-and-comers names are out there … Louisiana Tech’s Mike White. Green Bay’s Brian Wardle, Manhattan’s Steve Masiello. Florida assistant Matt McCall. And the looking-to-get-back-in names are out there too … John Pelphrey. Jeff Capel.
I don’t know which way Mark Harlan is leaning. But this is a good job with excellent facilities and a fan base that desperately wants to support a winner again.