Treading thin ice?

Patience is required with coach McCullum at the helm.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but three years is not enough time to accurately gauge a coach’s performance. Three years? That doesn’t even give a coach enough time to see a recruiting class through graduation. That being said, why do I hear that Robert McCullum is on the chopping block?

The USF men’s basketball team is riding a 14-game losing streak, remains winless in the Big East and can’t seem to finish a game. Doesn’t sound like a simpatico season, right? Well, that’s true, but that doesn’t change the fact that McCullum may be the best thing to happen to a basketball team that was rife with discipline problems. Want an explanation for players leaving?

Discipline can be tough to swallow. There are no coaches on the market who would be crazy enough to take that job. And regardless of who is on the market, the right guy is already employed by the University.

Has the USF community failed to remember what McCullum can do with the proper talent? As the 2004-05 season wound down, McCullum led the Bulls to three consecutive upsets with two of those upsets coming against ranked opponents. For all you basketball pundits out there, when was the last time that the USF men’s basketball team, prior to the Robert McCullum era, defeated a team ranked in the Top 25? The answer is 1992 when it defeated No. 15-ranked Tulane; it was also the last season the Bulls made the NCAA Tournament. If Tony Marquis is willing to succumb to 12 more years of futility after one bad year, that’s his problem. I, on the other hand, will see what recruiting in the Big East has in store for the Bulls.

My poor underling Marquis, as are many others in the sports world these days, is the kind of critic who jumps out of the car when the check engine light comes on. I’d rather wait for the tune-up. His reasoning for firing McCullum will likely match the same reasons why I call for panic mode to cease.

McCullum has control of this team but lacks the players to survive the Big East gauntlet. Losing seniors Terrence Leather and Brian Swift was a huge blow in the leadership department, and it seems that with the exception of a few players, no one has stepped up. Sophomore Collin Dennis shows promise, but the youth movement has led to a rash of turnovers. However, time will heal these wounds.

In three short years, McCullum has had to deal with countless players leaving the team, players being kicked off the team for violating team rules and the devastating loss of a player and team leader to cancer. Throw in a dash of injuries and lack of depth, and you’ve got a recipe for a losing streak and a bad taste in the fans mouths – that is, if the fans actually show up to the games. The team this year looks like an average Conference USA squad trying to find an identity. The problem is, USF is no longer in C-USA.

Let McCullum recruit quality athletes able to endure the rigors of the Big East and good results will follow. Sure, the Bulls have lost a lot of games, but how many games have they quit on? None. That’s the sign of a good coach with players willing to buy into his system and play roles.

A perfect example of a player buying in would be James Holmes. Holmes, a senior, was virtually nonexistent in the offense last season. He averaged 6.0 points per game and shot 34 percent from three-point range. This year, Holmes has taken the team on his back to the tune of 17.0 points per game but is still shooting 34 percent from behind the arc.

Firing Robert McCullum would be a huge step backward for the program. Equally, spouting off every coach’s name on the unemployed list, a la Quinn Snyder and Bob Huggins, doesn’t solve anything either.

And one last note to the fans: Remember last year when you all were chanting slurs at Huggins about being a drunk when Cincinnati visited the Sun Dome last year? You’re probably the same fans trying to set up as we speak – the same Huggins who McCullum knocked out of the C-USA tournament last year. You’re just as bad as Marquis. The only future the USF basketball team has is to stick with McCullum. Patience is a virtue.

-Mark Lennox

McCullum’s dismal record at USF leaves much to be desired.

It needs to be done.

It’s time to take a look at what coach Robert McCullum has or hasn’t done for the University of South Florida men’s basketball team. Unfortunately, phone calls to McCullum were not returned and Athletic Director Doug Woolard was out of town and could not be reached, but I can almost guess Woolard would say something along the lines of, “We do not comment on coaches during the season,” or, “We evaluate every coach at the end of the season.”

OK imaginary Doug, let’s evaluate him.

It would be foolish to look only at the 2005-06 season when assessing McCullum. It’s the basketball team’s first season in the talent-laden Big East, and any team would have difficulty making an impact in the conference – see the conference records of Louisville (4-8) and DePaul (3-9).

What is fair is to look at this season in the scope of McCullum’s three years with the Bulls.

This season USF is 6-19 and winless in its conference. Recognizing the strength of the Big East, the Bulls are 6-7 in non-conference games. Not a very good record considering USF’s six wins have come against teams that have a combined record of 60-94 – Alcorn State (6-17), Jacksonville (1-25), Georgia Southern (18-8), Stetson (11-18), Florida Atlantic (13-12) and Loyola Marymount (11-14). Of 334 Division I basketball teams, only 24 teams have worse records than the Bulls, and only USF and the Citadel are without a conference victory. The NCAA’s RPI rankings list the Bulls at 228th overall.

Since joining the fair University after a three-year stint at Western Michigan, McCullum has compiled a record of 27-55 with a 6-38 conference record in both Conference USA and the Big East. USF has also suffered its worst home loss under McCullum – an 85-40 drubbing at the hands of Louisville on Jan. 10, 2004 – and, with 14 straight losses, is experiencing its longest losing streak in school history, breaking the 1979-80 streak of 12.

Enough with the resume, McCullum has definitely left his mark – especially on his players.Never mind that McCullum has failed to bring in the one recruit that might make a difference or that USF hasn’t had a single first-team conference player under McCullum’s tenure, McCullum can’t seem to keep players around.

Since McCullum took over, at least 12 players – Sheldon Franklin, Jimmy Baxter, Yusuf Baker, Danny Oglesby, Ricardo Freeman, Sam Barber, Marius Prekevicius, Maurice Mobley, Brandon Stores, Montavious Waters, Konimba Diarra and David Sills – have left the team for various reasons.Let’s realistically look at the future of this team.

Is there any reason to be optimistic? Someone say something positive about McCullum’s time at USF, because I can’t think of anything. I can’t see a turnaround in the three years McCullum has left on his contract.

Speaking of McCullum’s contract, he earns $285,000 a year, which makes it almost impossible to let him go. Or is it?

If McCullum’s trend continues, the USF men’s basketball team will continue to be the cellar dweller of the Big East, and in these days of conference realignment, the powers that be in the Big East might one day come knocking on the door of the USF Athletic Department and ask that the Bulls take a hike – but that’s an extreme possibility. The point is, it’s time that USF to start acting like a team that belongs in a big-time conference instead of a small-time team in a big conference. Big-time teams don’t accept losing, big-time teams make the necessary changes, and big-time teams pay big buyouts.

After three years, McCullum made a decision to leave Western Michigan for Tampa. Perhaps USF should use that same amount of time to make a decision on McCullum.

-Tony Marquis