You could see it, no matter what.
There was standing room only, and you’d have to bob and weave and lean forward to see what surely everyone else saw.
The new men’s basketball coach, Stan Heath, walked into the Big East room flanked by Athletic Director Doug Woolard, and then Heath, just a little more than a week removed from Arkansas, sat down next to his wife, Ramona, and two sons, Jordan and Joshua.
But then pan to the man in a pinstripe suit sitting next to him. Yeah, that’s Woolard, who made his sixth hire during his tenure at USF on Tuesday.
But without a doubt, this was his biggest. It doesn’t take an expert to make that call.
But it’s probably going to be the one that receives the most scrutiny – the one that is examined under hundreds of microscopes.”(The past couple of weeks) have been pretty intense,” Woolard said following Tuesday’s press conference. “I’m very happy with the result.”
Woolard stood at the podium, and his eyes lit up. He must have seen the amount of people present, which nearly the entire athletic staff – some coaches included – all there to see the new face creating buzz.
He let the new coach speak. People hung on to Heath’s every word, carefully listening to him as if he were a Sunday preacher.Heath talked about community ties, winning and, most importantly, putting people back in the stands.
“I’m not going to paint myself green and take my shirt off for them,” Heath joked. “But I want to work with (the Student Bulls Club) and do what I can to fill the seats.”
Heath spoke as though he could have been a prophet. He said the right things – things such as that basketball games should be the things to see during the winter.
Music? It was like the words of God in the ears of those in that room. After years of a below .500 basketball record and more empty seats than Michael Richards’ next comedy show, it sounded as though Heath’s voice was golden. He likely has a green-and-gold cult following him already.
He came in as a man who’s more approachable than Santa Claus in December. How refreshing, especially when he talks about bringing the fans back.
“I think (fan attendance) was important to both of us. It really was,” Woolard said. “I know he’s passionate about that, and he said, ‘I want to do everything I can do to get students to the games.’
“He said that’s an important piece of getting that environment back at the Sun Dome.”
Guess what, folks: This man is reaching out. That’s something McCullum might not have done enough. Fans couldn’t confide in him, and eventually, they felt they couldn’t rely on him either.
They felt he didn’t reach out, and Heath is already doing that. He may not go all Bruce Pearl on you – which quite frankly can be a little too intense for most – but Heath said he knew the type of environment that can arise in the Sun Dome on a Wednesday evening.
He wants that, and apparently, he’s willing to do everything to get the seats filled. He knows winning is going to do that. Woolard does, too.
It’s easy to say this hire is going to define Woolard, because his others haven’t been as major as this.
No offense to the other sports that have received new coaches in the Woolard era, but basketball has always been his baby.”I loved his competitiveness,” Woolard said of Heath. “The more that I’ve been around him, the more I love that about him.”That was an easy call, too.
A harder call is whether Arkansas screwed up. Did it give up too early?
Or did USF, blinded by its losing mess of a program, miss what Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles saw after this season?
Woolard saw something – something that felt right for the first time in a long while for men’s basketball. Woolard and Heath spent more time together than Heath did with his wife at the Final Four in Atlanta. They connected. They said they did.
And Heath connected with USF.
Everyone saw that.