As the search for the next men’s basketball coach stretches into the third week, two candidates have emerged to the forefront: former Arkansas coach Stan Heath and Kevin O’Neill, who spent time at Marquette, Tennessee and in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors.
Athletic Director Doug Woolard spoke with Heath during this weekend’s Final Four in Atlanta, but no formal arrangements for a visit to the USF campus have been made.
Heath spent the previous five seasons at Arkansas, leading the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament for the past two years, but the team fell in the opening round in each appearance.
During his tenure, Heath led Arkansas to an overall record of 82-71 but his 31-49 record during Southeastern Conference play may have been a significant factor in the program’s decision to change leadership.
The 42-year-old Heath leaves behind one of the most talented teams in the country, including guard Patrick Beverley, the SEC Newcomer of the Year. Arkansas had no seniors on its roster this season.
Recruiting is one of Heath’s strengths as his 2003 class was ranked No. 7 and his 2006 class was No. 14 in the nation and second best in the SEC.
Prior to his time in Arkansas, Heath spent one season at the helm for Kent State leading the Golden Flashes to their first Elite Eight appearance in 2002, the most successful season in the program’s 94 year history.
Heath spent five years as an assistant coach at Michigan State under Tom Izzo and helped the Spartans to three Final Four appearances and the 2000 NCAA National Championship.
Heath will be paid $900,000 over the next three seasons as part of the contract extension he signed with Arkansas three years ago.
O’Neill has become the latest coach to be considered for the USF coaching vacancy. On ESPN radio, college basketball analyst Andy Katz reported the Bulls were close to “locking up” O’Neill but may be waiting for Heath to accept an offer first.
The 50-year-old O’Neill has college head-coaching experience at Marquette, Tennessee and at Northwestern and spent one season with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
While at Marquette, O’Neill led the Golden Eagles to two NCAA Tournament appearances and one Great Midwestern Conference Championship.
Known as a defensive specialist, O’Neill’s influence could be seen during his time as an assistant with Jeff Van Gundy’s New York Knicks of the late 1990s and the Detroit Pistons from 2001-2003 before joining the Raptors.
O’Neill hasn’t coached since he served as an assistant with the Indiana Pacers during the 2005-06 season.
As of late Sunday night, the basketball court in the Sun Dome was not arranged for campus tour, indicating tha Woolard showing the athletic facilities to a potential candidate is unlikely. After tonight’s championship game between Florida and Ohio State, other candidates may become available for USF to contact.
Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois was listed as a potential replacement for Robert McCullum, but has signed a seven-year deal worth $750,000 annually to remain with the Salukis, eliminating another candidate for USF.
Along with O’Neill and Heath, former St. John’s coach Mike Jarvis, former Villanova coach Steve Lappas and former Virginia coach Pete Gillen remain as options.