USF Bulls | Heath's firing leaves questions unanswered for program

adell@bradenton.comMarch 15, 2014 

AAC USF Rutgers Basketball

Stan Heath, center, watches the action late in the second half of a game against Rutgers at the AAC men's tournament on Wednesday in Memphis, Tenn. ASSOCIATED PRESS


TAMPA -- The firing of USF head basketball coach Stan Heath on Friday by new athletic director Mark Harlan leaves unanswered the same questions that existed when he was hired.

When Heath took over the program in 2007, it had no clearly defined goals or expectations from the school's administration. The only directive was to win, but the Bulls were the stepchild in the powerful Big East.

Things were supposed to improve this year when USF moved to the American Athletic Conference, but that league turned out to be extremely competitive with five teams in the top 20.

Heath had a young team with potential this past season, but also carried some glaring shortcomings.

The Bulls ranked last in the country (351st) in 3-point field goal percentage among NCAA Division I schools shooting an embarrassing 25.8 percent from beyond the arc.

When USF fired Robert McCullum in '07, a lot of attractive candidates stayed away because the program was perceived as a basketball graveyard.

Seth Greenberg was heralded when he was hired as head coach in 1996, calling the USF basketball program a sleeping giant.

He never woke up that giant and never made the NCAA tournament in seven years, and his best season was 19-13. He bolted for Virginia Tech and in nine years there had four 20 wins seasons.

After he was fired, McCullum reportedly told others he never would've taken the job if he had known USF was going to join the Big East.

The challenge did not scare Heath, who was fired by Arkansas despite leading the program to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and winning 20 plus games each of those seasons. He took Kent State to the elite eight in 2002 and qualified for the NCAA tournament in three of his six seasons as a head coach before coming to USF.

He was 30-6 at Kent State, 82-71 at Arkansas and 97-130 at USF making the NCAA tournament once in his seven years with the Bulls.

Heath is only men's basketball coach at USF to win an NCAA tournament game and ended a two decade drought when he took the program there in 2012.

This past season, USF had to rely heavily on its freshman class. The Bulls were second in the AAC in minutes played by freshmen. John Egbunu , a 6-foot-10 freshman, led conference freshmen in minutes played, and 6-8 freshman Chris Perry was third.

The only team to play more freshmen was surprising SMU, and it had the legendary Larry Brown, who is a league of his own with NBA and NCAA titles as a head coach.

Losing point guard Anthony Collins about midway through the season turned catastrophic for the Bulls. They faltered down in close games, losing eight of nine games decided by five points or fewer without him.

USF is now in a Catch-22. The AAC will lose Louisville next season and is considered more of a mid-major. The competition won't be as tough on the floor, but the recruiting might be more difficult.

There are a lot of names being floated around regarding Heath's successor. The most intriguing is Ben Howland, who was head coach at UCLA and worked there with Harlan.

Howland was fired after the 2013 season despite taking the Bruins to three Final Fours from 2006 through '08 and winning four Pac 12 titles.

During Harlan's introduction earlier in the week, USF president Judy Genshaft took aim at the school's revenue producing sports, which in actuality are only football and men's basketball.

"It's hard to tolerate mediocrity. Especially with a university that's on the move upward," Genshaft said. "Everything else is moving forward except for our revenue sports. I'm real confident about Willie Taggart moving forward. We've got to get our basketball team to move forward as well."

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