USF announced men’s basketball coach Stan Heath had been fired after a seven-year tenure with the team, 72 hours after USF’s new athletic director, Mark Harlan, was hired.
The Bulls have only managed 12 regular season wins in each of the past two seasons with no postseason tournament invitations. This season ended with a 72-68 loss to Rutgers in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) tournament.
Harlan will lead the search for a replacement for Heath, who has a 97-130 record while at USF and will receive a payment of $1.5 million over the next four years.
USF began the year on a positive note, winning eight of its first 10 games despite junior guard Anthony Collins’ struggles with a knee injury. However, the team’s fortunes quickly took a turn for the worse as it hit conference play, where the Bulls finished with a 3-15 record – losing their last nine games.
Senior forward Victor Rudd offered insight as to why the team only won three conference games this season.
“Almost every new guy at the beginning of the season was playing well and they thought it was going to be easy coming down the stretch,” Rudd said. “They don’t understand that those are the easy teams. Those are the teams we’re supposed to blow out every game and they thought it was going to be like that coming into conference.”
While the team’s lack of success can be pinned on three inexperienced freshmen shouldering too much of the load coupled with the season-long absence of one of the team’s best players, it can’t be ignored that the Bulls finished last in the conference.
After the defeat to Temple on March 8, which dropped USF to last in the AAC, Heath admitted he knew winning is what the fans want.
“I understand winning, people want to win,” Heath said. “But it’s a process and you have a lot of young guys who are playing. They’ve never been here before. This time last year, they were playing AAU basketball and that’s the recipe for tough games.”
Heath’s dismissal is something fans have been calling for on Twitter for weeks, but Rudd and senior guard Martino Brock said they believe the critics don’t realize how difficult their coach’s job has been.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to coach young guys and new guys,” Brock said. “I think people take that for granted. They didn’t know how hard this conference was. Junior college and high school doesn’t simulate this, so people don’t know how hard it is for Coach Heath to show them and draw a picture of what they’re going to see on Game Day.”
The freshmen on the team had challenges transitioning into the college game, but the pressing question is if they will decide to stay with the Bulls now that their coach is gone.
These players were recruited to play for Heath, and since he is no longer with the team, transferring could arise as an appealing option to some players.
No players have commented on transferring yet, but it is a possibility, especially for guard Josh Heath, the coach’s son.
Josh was asked last week what he would do if his father wasn’t coaching for USF next year and he gave a noncommittal response.
“I haven’t thought about that yet,” Josh said.
But before he was fired, Heath said there was still room for hope for the team.
“There are pieces in place here that are really good, John (Egbunu) and Chris (Perry), I think, both have the chance to be all-conference type players,” he said. “With Collins back, you’re going to have one of the best point guards in the league coming back. Add some three-point shooting to this mix and all of a sudden, you don’t have some of the deficiencies on the outside that this team had.”
Apart from a tournament appearance in 2012, the team’s first in 20 years, the new coach will inherit a team that has been in a rut for years – the only question is if USF can pull itself out of it.