Heath needs time to improve Bulls

Last year, the football team gave USF a feel-good story. Fueled by the upset of two ranked teams in Auburn (No. 17) and West Virginia (No. 5), the Bulls went from almost-there to the nation’s second-best team.

The basketball team – with all of the hype that surrounds the hiring of a new and talented coach – had the tools to be the surprise sleeper of the Big East.

Despite the positive energy at the beginning of their respective seasons, neither team managed much. The football team suffered the worst loss in Sun Bowl history and the basketball team won just three conference games – despite having two more games than the year before.

Now, there is a frenzy surrounding the football team – a bull’s-eye on their backs that comes with being a contender. With all of that attention, people may feel like the basketball team isn’t getting the recognition it deserves.

That’s not entirely true.

Athletics took a step in the right direction by hiring Stan Heath to coach the basketball team. As far as recent coaches go, he has a much better resume than his predecessor, Robert McCullum – who was 40-76 in four seasons at USF.

Heath went 12-19 in his first season at USF, mostly with players recruited and brought in by McCullum. McCullum also brought three NCAA postseason appearances and 112 victories to the Bulls.

There were whispers in March 2007 that Bob Huggins, who has more than 600 victories and 18 straight postseason appearances on his coaching resume, was a potential candidate to replace McCullum.

Huggins, who was born in Morgantown, W. Va., decided to coach for his alma mater, West Virginia University. Obviously, USF couldn’t compete with a school that had more talent and sentimental meaning to Huggins.

Another important step for USF basketball was the announcement by Athletics Director Doug Woolard in March of Leslie and Pamela Muma’s donation of $3 million for a new basketball facility, which may be added to the Sun Dome or stand alone near the Athletics Building.

The addition will help Heath recruit better players and give USF a chance to compete in the Big East. Because the facility needs more funds, however, it may take a while for the recruits to buy into it.

As for the football team, Athletics did something that could be detrimental in the future by signing a 25-year lease renewal with Raymond James Stadium. While this move allows the Bulls to have precedence in scheduling games, it also means there is no hope for an on-campus stadium any time in the near future.

Schools such as Florida, Florida State and even rival Central Florida have on-campus football stadiums, and the house is always full. It took USF rising to No. 18 in the nation to have its first sold-out game.

While the Bulls had the largest rise in attendance of any school last season, USF could not keep the stadium full after losing three consecutive conference games – which killed any hopes of a Bowl Championship Series berth.

To say that basketball should be swept under the rug is a little unfair. Football may be more popular, but that’s because the team was winning. If USF has a bad season or two, how will the fans react?

Judging by the aftermath of a 38-33 loss to Cincinnati, in which the field was littered with anything that wasn’t attached to the ground at Raymond James, they probably wouldn’t react well.

What about Bulls in the pros? The football team had four players drafted or signed in April -?nearly as many as the basketball team has seen go to the NBA in its history. That’s Jim Leavitt being able to bring better individuals in, because his position hasn’t been a revolving door.

If football really was the focus of the Athletics Department, USF would probably have better than a 1-2 bowl record.

The basketball team has been in a period of transition, with three coaches in five seasons. Heath, however, has the experience and support of the Athletics Department to make an eventual change.

There is a lot of hype surrounding the football team going into the 2008 season. Little is expected out of a basketball team that lost its starting center, Kentrell Gransberry, as well as five players who were released from their scholarships.

If Heath is able to turn things around – and judging by recent history, that’s a big if – the basketball team could be the next feel-good story for USF fans.