The USF athletic department knows nothing makes more noise than money.
It’s why those who control the purse strings were shouting from the Sun Dome rooftops Monday in announcing they had given men’s basketball coach Stan Heath 900,000 reasons not to change his mailing address.
The 45-year-old is not quite ready to move into the neighborhood shared by John Calipari, Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino, but he is close enough to be no more than a zip code or two away.
It says a lot. Heath’s new paycheck, including base salary and other services, will average $900,000 over the next five years.
That’s a lot more than chump change and shows the university is serious about trying to fill those empty Sun Dome seats with live bodies that might even rival the Cameron Crazies someday.
“The thing we haven’t been able to sell is tradition, and that is changing,” Heath says. “We are winning now, and our facilities are improving, which are two huge things. Our recruiting has picked up and we are attracting higher profile guys.”
This is a guy who seems to have a little bit of John Wooden in him, perhaps a softer version. His basketball knowledge is vast, and he is a guy players gravitate to in rough times.
“It still comes down to the basics for me, which is getting a player, developing him and building a team,” says Heath, perhaps borrowing a piece of Wooden’s pyramid of success.
This new contract is just as much about making a commitment to the program as it is to rewarding Heath. And that’s important to folks here, who don’t want to travel to Gainesville to satisfy their craving for big-time college hoops.
Make no mistake, Heath earned his money. He turned a doormat into a welcome mat and sounds like a guy who would’ve stayed for less, but USF didn’t want to risk losing him.
Under his tutelage, the program won 20 games for only the third time in history, went to the postseason for the first time in eight years and notched its first Big East Tournament victory.
“My family and I love being here and to have an opportunity to continue what we started means a lot to me,” Heath says. “We want to win championships and play at the highest level. It’s a process that takes a lot of work, but that is our goal.”
Heath received about a 33 percent pay increase, which is nothing to sneeze about in these troubled times. His pool for assistant coaches also got a nice $60,000 bump to $475,000, and he is now earning more than the previous two USF coaches combined.
USF is in the process of building the Muma Center, a state-of-the-art basketball practice facility, which is another indication the hardwood game is a serious subject at a school that gained entry into the Big East Conference because of football.
In a time of economic uncertainty, this is money well spent. If this program is able to come close to filling its 10,000-plus seat arena on a consistent basis, USF will get an investment return that will make Wall Street moguls jealous.
There is talk the program will take a step backward next season without Dominique Jones, the only NBA first-round pick in Bulls history. Heath is not buying into that.
“I love our front court. We have some real talented, experienced guys in Gus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous, who are the best you can find for what they do,” Heath says. “The experience factor in the backcourt is what we have to develop, and our trip to Brazil (August) will help us tremendously. No one player will do what Dominique did, but across the board this team may have more talent from top to bottom.”