Coach Robert McCullum surely feels under the gun.
Then again, like any coach, he’s optimistic with a fresh season ahead of him, though most know what happened last season. The Bulls suffered a 17-game losing streak, had only one conference win and were the punch line of the Big East.
But the bottom line with this team and this coach (who was brought in four years ago when the oh-so-great Seth Greenberg jumped ship for Virginia Tech): Improve this year, or that’s it.
McCullum can probably feel that lurking behind him. He most certainly felt it last year when he heard rumors that boosters wanted the then-available Bob Huggins hired to replace him.
McCullum could sit there and spout off clichÃ©s and repetitious sayings such as “We’re not thinking about last season,” “the future is bright” and “I’m not worried about my contract (which has three years remaining).”
But he hasn’t.
“We’re not going to worry about things we have no control over,” McCullum said hours before the tip-off of the season opener against Buffalo, “Some coaches win 17 or 18 games and still lost their jobs.”
Perhaps. McCullum said Seton Hall made the conference tournament – though lost in the first round – and its coach at the time, Louis Orr, was fired.
McCullum deserves credit for his attitude. Despite going 1-15 in the conference last season, he’s found a way to stay optimistic even though he still has a fair share of walk-ons and two transfers unavailable until December. He’s not saying first place in the Big East is a day away, but he’s ready to make a splash in this powerhouse kingdom of a conference.
“I am optimistic, by the time we get to that point, we’ll have a team in place that will have more options and more options readily available,” McCullum said.
The team is going to miss Solomon Jones, who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. McCullum even admits that Jones’ impact will be hard to duplicate.
Not to mention the Bulls are still waiting on possibly the best player they have who has never played a second of collegiate basketball: Chris Howard, whose ACLs are seemingly made of kite string.
McCullum will need to handle these situations capably, as he still doesn’t know what results this season might be considered acceptable.
Following his first season in Conference USA in 2003-04, when the team won just seven games, the team turned around and doubled its win total in the next season. They had a great trio of seniors playing their best – Terrence Leather, Brian Swift and Marlyn Bryant – but injuries and very little help from the backcourt to Jones, led the Bulls back to a seven-win season last year.
There were times McCullum and his team shined. Coaches such as Billy Donovan and Jim Calhoun will say he’s a great coach – perhaps not an excellent recruiter, but a good coach. The team itself demonstrated its resolve, fighting back against foes such as Connecticut and Villanova. They surprised many by grabbing that final win with an upset over then-No. 20 Georgetown.
The Bulls have size and shooting, and are hopefully returning to health, while McCullum plans to rely heavily on LSU transfer Kentrell Gransberry.
So with a month and a half until conference play, with the future still uncertain, McCullum has a huge task on his hands. In spite of this, he refrains from focusing on the negative.
“It would be foolish of me to worry about what we have to do, and how many years on the contract is left,” McCullum said.
“Again, what’s good enough?”
Probably about five to seven conference wins.