A week after completing his fourth straight losing season as the men’s basketball coach at USF, Robert McCullum, 52, was fired Friday with two years remaining on his six-year contract. USF will buy out the remainder of McCullum’s contract at a cost of $430,000.
The Bulls finished the 2006-07 season 12-18 overall and 3-13 in the Big East, putting them in 14th place in the 16-team conference. USF upset then-No. 21 Notre Dame on Feb. 3, but McCullum and the Bulls failed to win another game after that and finished the season on a seven-game losing streak.
“It really wasn’t about one season,” Athletic Director Doug Woolard said in a phone interview Friday night. “What I did was deliberate in my assessment because our program really deserved nothing less than that.”
Although Woolard said after USF finished 7-22 last season that he wanted to see “significant improvement” from McCullum and the basketball team this season, he wouldn’t say what the Bulls would’ve had to do this season for McCullum to keep his job.
In four years at USF, McCullum was 40-76, including just 10 wins in conference play. Since joining the Big East in 2005, the Bulls have won just four conference games, none of which came on the road.
“When I stepped back and really reviewed the entire past four seasons … it became apparent that we needed to be further along than that over a four-year stretch, so there really wasn’t any single factor,” Woolard said. “It was just looking at the whole body of work over four years.”
Only the top 12 teams in the conference make it to the Big East Tournament, and since the conference was restructured in 2005, USF is the only team that has missed the tournament both years.
The day before the Bulls’ final home game of the season, McCullum said he was never told USF had to qualify for the Big East Tournament for him to return next season. McCullum also said the term “significant improvement” is relative, and while the Bulls won five more games overall and three more in conference play than last season, it wasn’t enough for Woolard to retain McCullum.
“I don’t know what they wanted (the record) to be — if they wanted to be substantially over .500, if they wanted to be just .500 or if (McCullum) just had to make the Big East Tournament,” senior guard Chris Capko said. “I don’t know what it would’ve taken for him to retain his job.”
Before even playing a game in their first season in the Big East in 2005, the Bulls battled with adversity when guard Bradley Mosley died of cancer in October. Then potential starting point guard Chris Howard injured his anterior cruciate ligament, forcing him to take a redshirt. Things didn’t improve when the season began, as the Bulls set a school record with 17 straight losses.
Injuries continued to plague the team this season, as seven of the Bulls’ 12 scholarship players missed at least one game due to injuries.
“He had some unfortunate circumstances, and if I had a son I would send him to (McCullum) because he teaches (players) what’s right and wrong, and he makes them better players, better people,” assistant coach Greg Gary said. “I feel very, very bad for coach McCullum. He’s an unbelievable person, and I’m very disappointed for him.”
Capko, who played in 65 games under McCullum, understands the desire of fans and administration for USF to be successful in the Big East, but doesn’t think McCullum was given enough time to turn the Bulls around in what he called a “powerhouse basketball conference.”
“I think you have to be realistic in our expectations, and I don’t think two years was enough,” Capko said. “But I do understand the nature of it, I do understand it’s a business and I do understand that the fans want to win.”
McCullum could not be reached for comment Friday night.
For continuing coverage of McCullum’s firing, visit The Oracle Sports Blog.