No room for rumors

It’s alive.

Breaking news, anonymous sources, disputed claims and inside information. Everyone is buzzing about the future of coach Robert McCullum.

It’s spread like a virus, and even Athletic Director Doug Woolard – Woolard could not be reached for comment due to illness – has caught it.

The rumors have a life of their own. Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis wrote, “Third-year coach Robert McCullum is not expected to return after USF’s season ends this week with home games against Connecticut and Georgetown.”

But most importantly, the rumors of ex-Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins coming to USF and the boosters trying to buy out McCullum’s contract have been an unneeded distraction. Because it has moved attention away from more deserving programs and put it on anonymous USF boosters and a coach with a soiled reputation is reason enough to ignore it.

There are at least two more reasons to ignore all the rumors.

No. 1: coach Jim Leavitt, who guided USF to respectability in the official sport of Florida. No. 2: coach Jose Fernandez, who was at Georgetown securing the seventh seed in the Big East Tournament for the women’s basketball team Tuesday night.

Leavitt’s accomplishments are well known: He took the Bulls to their first bowl game and made a respectable team in the Big East in only 10 years.

But the women’s team and Fernandez’s historical run to what might be the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth has been overshadowed by the mere mention of Huggins.

By the end of the women’s 71-57 win over the Hoyas, the news about McCullum had reached Fernandez in Washington, D.C.

Fernandez empathizes with McCullum’s situation because in Fernandez’s first year of coaching, the Bulls went 4-24 and won only one game in Conference USA.

“With that stuff going on, hopefully it’s not a distraction to him and to his staff,” Fernandez said. “You’re a human being when that stuff is being talked about. How can you not take it and have it bother you a little bit?”

Fernandez also said that what McCullum has gone through with injuries and the death of Bradley Mosley doesn’t compare to the distractions from certain articles.

McCullum doesn’t think his players will be distracted.

“I don’t anticipate that it will. Distractions happen all the time; different types of distractions are something we talk about with our players the first day we come together as a team,” McCullum said. “To be successful in any endeavor you have to be able to eliminate or minimize distractions, and our guys hear that constantly, and this is no different.”

It’s a big job for McCullum to minimize the enormous distractions his players are facing – a job that might be too much for the third-year coach to handle.

“As a head coach, it’s my responsibility to try and take the pressure off our players, not just now, but always,” McCullum said.

But when does the pressure get to be too much? When do anonymous sources come forward? When do rumors become fact?

Make no mistake, a Huggins hire would change the face of USF. Forget basketball. If the rumors are true, Huggins’ stocky and surly profile will come to mind anytime someone mentions USF.

To some, mentioning Huggins in the same breath as USF is an accomplishment in itself. It signals the entry of the Bulls into the big time. But Huggins comes with baggage – a DUI – and one more slip-up could bring more embarrassment to a school that doesn’t need it. USF isn’t the University of Texas El-Paso. It’s not where embarrassed coaches get their second chance, and it’s not the barren wasteland of college basketball – even though it may feel like it sometimes. If USF wants to be big-time it will ignore Huggins and the anonymous sources and the articles.

I’m going to. Because if I hear one more mention of an anonymous source, I’m going to end up like Woolard.