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USF to name new coach today

Stan Heath becomes the men’s basketball coach exactly one week after being fired from Arkansas.

Stan Heath will take the reins of the men’s basketball program today at 3:30 when he is introduced as the next head coach of USF.

On Monday, Heath agreed to a five-year contract that could be worth as much as $4.27 million with incentives, ranking his deal as the fifth largest in the Big East Conference.

“I think South Florida is a sleeping giant,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I think it’s a great opportunity and what I like about it is (Heath) is really excited … I spoke with him earlier today and he’s really happy to be at South Florida.”

Heath served as an assistant coach at Michigan State for five seasons and Izzo considered him to be one of his top recruiters. Heath was instrumental in bringing in Jason Richardson, Zach Randolph and Marcus Taylor.

During his tenure at Michigan State, the Spartans won the NCAA Tournament Championship in 2000 and went to three straight Final Fours.

“(Heath) did a really good job for me while he was here,” Izzo said. “I don’t think there’s any question he can recruit and he can coach. I think this is a great deal for him. The way it ended at Arkansas is going to motivate him even more.”

Heath, 42, was fired after five years in Arkansas after the Razorbacks fell 77-60 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. While in Fayetteville, Heath compiled a record of 82-71 with back-to-back 20-win seasons and consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

His impact at Arkansas was felt immediately, as Heath brought in the No. 7 recruiting class in the country and Arkansas had the No. 14 ranking class in the country last season. Al Jefferson (Boston Celtics) and Ronnie Brewer (Utah Jazz) are among his prized recruits.

Izzo feels Heath can turn around a program that went 4-28 in two years of Big East play.

“I think Heath has a great advantage that he can join a program and really build it,” Izzo said. “But he is really a great coach and he’s in the Big East, so that’s a plus.”

Patrick Beverley, the reigning SEC Newcomer of the Year, previously said he would follow Heath to a new university. It is uncertain whether he will remain in Arkansas under new coach Dana Altman, who was introduced as Heath’s replacement yesterday.

Prior to his time in Arkansas, Heath spent one season at the helm for Kent State, leading the Golden Flashes to their lone Sweet 16 appearance before falling to Indiana in the South Region Finals in 2001. Under Heath’s guidance, Kent State set the Mid-American Conference record for victories in a season (30) and became the first team in conference history since Ohio in 1964 to advance to the Sweet 16.

For his efforts, Heath was named MAC Coach of the Year and was selected as the national Rookie Coach of the Year by both and Thirty wins tied Heath for third all-time by a first-year Division I head coach.

Former player Tony Grier feels Heath was the premier coaching candidate available and glad Athletic Director Doug Woolard was able to sign him.

“No question, I think he is the right guy to bring into the South Florida program,” Grier said. “His history is strong, working with Tom Izzo at Michigan State and obviously he has a knack for bringing in the right guys to a program.”

Heath replaces Robert McCullum, who led the Bulls to a 40-76 record in four seasons at USF. The Bulls never won a Big East game away from the Sun Dome during his two years in the conference.

After finishing 7-22 two seasons ago – tied for the third fewest in school history – and having won only seven games twice during his tenure, Woolard said the team must show “significant improvement” or a change would be made.

This year, the Bulls finished the season 12-18 and McCullum was fired.

“When I stepped back and looked at the entire past four seasons, I did not see enough progress in our program over that time,” Woolard said in a press release on March 9. “We will begin a national search immediately to secure the very best coach for the University of South Florida. We will move as quickly as possible, and we will be as thorough as necessary.”

The addition of Heath just three weeks later shows Woolard’s commitment to improving the only team in the conference to fail to qualify for the Big East Tournament over the past two seasons.

“He’s a players’ coach and I like that. He has as good of a chance as anybody to succeed here,” Grier said. “I think we can honestly win six or seven games (next year) and get to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. That’s not a lot to ask.”

Former player and assistant coach Tommy Tonelli said Heath has the ability to turn USF into a respectable basketball team quickly.

“With Heath working for coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, that speaks for itself,” Tonelli said. “I think it’s great … he’s had great success and he can really transform this team into something special.”

During the program’s 35-year history, the Bulls have never brought in a coach with the national prominence or pedigree Heath has and his presence is leaving those close to the team optimistic heading into next year.

“There was not a better candidate to take this job,” Grier said. “If we didn’t get Stan Heath, it would have been really difficult to reboot this program. He was the No. 1 guy and we got him.”