USF: F for Foolish


Reaching an agreement with a coach who thought he had a bachelor’s degree, but actually did not, was not enough embarrassment for one week.

Apparently, UNLV coach Dave Rice also bamboozled USF over the weekend.

Rice is receiving a contract extension with UNLV, his alma mater, after the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported USF offered Rice its men’s basketball coaching position on Friday. 

Sources later told ESPN there was no official contract offered, but rather that Rice could have the job if he wanted it.

But Rice didn’t want the job.

Instead, he flirted with USF to get an extension at UNLV, like the person that tells his significant other he’s been getting hit on lately to light fire under a stale relationship. Rice reportedly got some sweet program upgrades out of the deal, too – more serious commitment and some bonus chocolates all because of a wandering eye.

Rice played USF, and that’s the state of Bulls’ basketball.

What makes it worse for USF fans is the lack of honesty and transparency toward its dwindling fan base.

Rice flew back to Las Vegas and told the local CBS affiliate he had an “attractive offer” from USF, which UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy confirmed to the Review-Journal late Friday.

“Dave does have a solid offer from South Florida,” she said. “I really think that tomorrow we’ll have it resolved.”

They did get it resolved, but USF has yet to acknowledge it even met with Rice. 

It would be nice to see the same honesty coming out of the Lee Roy Selmon Center that came out of Las Vegas.

Not acknowledging important things seems to be the USF policy. After all, it only acknowledged the Steve Masiello disaster with a statement after it made national news.

But USF was also foolish to name Mark Harlan its new athletic director on a far-too-late date of March 11. 

Former Athletic Director Doug Woolard announced his retirement Jan. 16, and it took USF almost two months to find a replacement.

There were 34 candidates identified, but only Harlan ever showed his face at the 4202 E. Fowler address. Ironically, it was the same day he was interviewed by USF’s search committee in the morning, and introduced at a press conference in the afternoon.

When you have a men’s basketball team that, at the time, was on the brink of back-to-back 12-win seasons, it’s not enough time to settle in and make calculated decisions on the future of a program.

After the customary kissing babies and shaking hands phase, Harlan barely had time to let the ink dry on his contract before hitting the road to hire a new men’s basketball coach in the midst of March Madness.

USF president Judy Genshaft, the search committee and the Board of Trustees put Harlan in a bad spot.

Last Monday, The Tampa Bay Times obtained a copy of USF’s contract with search firm Eastman & Beaudine, the same firm that vetted all 34 athletic director candidates, to help it find a basketball coach.

The contract was dated March 12 – two days before USF Senior Associate Athletic Director Barry Clements informed Stan Heath of his firing, and one day after Harlan’s introductory press conference. USF’s chief of staff for the Board of Trustees, Cynthia Visot, signed the contract six days later.

USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman told the Times the firm was initially contacted to gauge availability and cost, and noted the deal wasn’t signed until after Heath’s dismissal.

The Tampa Tribune reported that Clements informed Heath the school would go in a different direction, and Heath said he believes his dismissal came from USF President Judy Genshaft and the Board of Trustees.

What’s left of USF’s fan base deserves a much more open and honest administration.

But it has to be rough for an athletic director who is probably still living out of a suitcase to hire a new head coach, and Harlan deserves some slack in that area.

He probably doesn’t know any street names besides the ones he takes to work, and the administration expects him to hire a coach after it fired the last one.

Harlan was scheduled to start officially on April 7, but moved the date up two weeks so he could formally get started on a coaching search.

It was a smart move on his part, in all likelihood sensing it’d be difficult to hire a coach when he himself wasn’t officially on staff yet. 

But Harlan is not excluded from blame.

His first week on the job went about as poorly as it possibly could have, and he could do himself a favor by putting the kibosh on trying to hire head coaches from better programs. 

There’s no reason for Rice to leave his alma mater, a school where he’s won 20-plus games in three straight years, to go to a school where only one coach – Heath – has won 20-plus games more than once.

Unlike USF, UNLV actually has a rich basketball history: one National Championship, four Final Fours, five Elite Eights – none of which USF has.

Rice produced the No. 1 NBA Draft Pick in 2013, Anthony Bennett, and already has two ESPN four-star freshmen on his roster from the 2013 recruiting class. He has commitments from two five-star prospects and another four-star.

Harlan should have known better.

It’s nice to have great facilities and USF should receive kudos for the vast improvements in recent years under Woolard.

But facilities do not make or break a program. Great coaches do. 

That’s how small schools make the NCAA tournament, and how mid-majors go on Cinderella tournament runs.

USF and Harlan need to stop overvaluing the quality of the men’s basketball job just because there are freshly painted green and gold facades everywhere and a sparkling new court.

A pound of makeup can make you more attractive, but right now there’s not enough makeup in those facilities to cover up the backpedaling and lack of openness with the USF community.

Sure, it’s a better job than when Heath started in 2007, but if it were such a good job, coaches would be lining up for it. Instead, in Rice’s case, it’s being used in contract negotiations.

Harlan deserves some blame on two failed hiring attempts, equally shared with USF’s administration and the search firm, but where Harlan could make huge strides with the fan base is by keeping his word.

He could do himself a favor by telling fans the truth. 

But it appears he’s already drinking the administration’s Kool-Aid.

Harlan sat with reporters the day he was introduced in a private question and answer session, and said it was important to be “transparent” with fans.

He set up a Twitter account to “let the fans know what he’s thinking,” and said he’d listen to student-athletes for a few weeks before acting. 

But sending congratulations, rooting for the women’s basketball team in the WNIT and telling fans to pack the Sun Dome on Twitter isn’t even close to all that Harlan is thinking.

No one expects daily journal entries, but openness with the fans he said he’d be so eager to listen to is a great starting point in relationship mending, because they have a lot to say right now.

The least USF and Harlan could do is acknowledge that an offer was made to Rice, and be up front with fans. As of right now, USF has said Harlan won’t comment until a hire is made.

Maybe the third time will be the charm in the jilted love story that has become USF’s coaching search.