MasielloGate is gone but not forgotten. And as part of the aftermath, winning the press conference and getting the fans and donors re-engaged becomes even more of a priority for the new coach that everyone will know was the second choice at best. There's still some coaches on the board that can help USF get an early boost of fan support. We'll rate the contenders, and how we project the reaction will be with what's left of the fan base.
It is also our belief that at this point winning the press conference and the rollout is beyond crucial since there's so much apathy around the program. Bringing in a solid but unknown coach that want's to slowly build a program the traditional way is much less likely to work here than most places. That's because what fans are left aren't going to be patient because they've been told to be patient for over two decades now. And with the exception of The Glorious Dentist Chair of 2012 (which I guess now ends up in the annals of history as a statistical outlier of many standard deviations), the payoff has simply never come. Since the Dentist Chair, USF is 24-39 against competition that's gotten easier each season.
By the time a quality-but-no-name-or-sizzle coach comes in, does a complete teardown, then starts to put together a second or third solid recruiting class (difficult because it's hard to recruit in front of empty seats), the fans will have checked out on this team again. We still won't haven't sold any luxury suites in the Sun Dome, much less its naming rights. You figure out the rest later, but getting some passion and enthusiasm back in the building is the first priority.
Derek Kellogg: Head Coach, University of Massachusetts.
Kellogg is very similar to Masiello, but he's got more experience and comes from a better league. The Minutemen were a six seed in the dance this year despite finishing fifth in what was a loaded A-10. They play a fun and exciting style, and he's shown the ability to develop players like Raphiael Putney. You could argue he should have been a choice over Masiello in the first place with his ability to recruit Florida (two Florida guys on his roster currently).
He's also a John Calipari disciple having spent eight seasons in Memphis doing a whole lot of winning. He returned to his alma mater UMass six years ago, so he can take full credit for the rebirth of what was a barren program in Amherst. If you want the guy that's as close to Masiello as possible, but with a diploma, it's probably Kellogg. We've written previously about Kellogg here.
Projected Reaction: Solid fist pump, lots of high fives exchanged. This guy is good. Maybe losing Masiello was a blessing??
Orlando Antigua: Assistant Coach, University of Kentucky.
Antigua might be the best young assistant in America today, and we know he can recruit because he's been at the side of the NBA Prep School Headmaster John Calipari since 2008 at Memphis and now UK. Prior to joining the NBADLNCAA's Wildcats, Antigua played at Pitt from 1991-95, and after a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters was an assistant for the Panthers under Jamie Dixon.
As far as character... well, read this. He's a special guy with an incredible story. Plus if you watched Calipari-coached games from up close (which I have several times), Antigua isn't just the recruiting guy: he's calling out opposing plays and does game scout and X's and O's often. Cal doesn't get nearly enough credit as a game coach as he should, so Antigua will have learned from a good one.
The downside is of course he's never been a head coach before. But if anyone in America is qualified for this job that hasn't, it's Antigua.
Projected Reaction: We're sure as hell get some talent in the door, and we're immediately interesting. We know he can sell. Can he be the head guy? Let's take a chance and find out. Let's do this!
Shaka Smart: Head Coach, Virginia Commonwealth University.
OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH WAIT yeah this isn't happening we just don't have the money.
Projected Reaction: We've already offered to go streaking in a Speedo. Whatever else it takes, just let us know.
Mike White: Head Coach, Louisiana Tech University.
Born in Dunedin, White has been to the NIT the last two years in his three seasons with the Bulldogs. He did win 29 games in Ruston, Louisiana this year which is absolutely an accomplishment because, well, Ruston. Also brother to Danny White (former USF AD candidate, AD at Buffalo), son to Kevin White (AD at Duke), and brother to Brian White (Assoc AD at La Tech).
White played four seasons at Ole Miss from 95-99, and was an assistant in Oxford from 2004-11. Downsides are he's never actually gotten to an NCAA Tournament as a coach (granted he's only been a head coach for three seasons), and he's clearly being groomed for bigger things. USF is a stepping stone job for him (as it might be for any of these candidates), but he'd only be able to go somewhere better if he won here. Would fans be ok with hiring a guy that's likely to dip out of town after any level of success? And what's his relationship with Skip Holtz (ok, I'm kidding... sort of).
Projected Reaction: Quite mixed. Some people are on board, but it's certainly not the splashiest name in the book either. Could go either way, but absolutely not a total win.
Bob Hoffman: Head Coach, Mercer University.
Look, I LOVED watching that Mercer-Duke game. The Bears played absolutely fearlessly, and were clearly well-coached. But I don't see how a 56-year-old coach* that has had great success this season (they did beat Dunk City on the road to win the A-Sun tourney) but not before gets the fans juiced. Despite being NCAA darlings the last two seasons, the A-Sun isn't a mid-major but a low-minor.
Hoffman is clearly an honest and engaging guy and he's easy to root for. But can he recruit at the level necessary to win in the AAC? Hoffman also said he interviewed with USF on Monday, but hasn't heard from the Bulls as of close of business yesterday.
Projected Reaction: These press conferences are going to be great. We got a nice guy. But he can win here and recruit at this level? This probably doesn't end well. No Mr. Ticket Sales Guy, I won't need anymore seats next year.
Craig Neal: Head Coach, University of New Mexico.
"Noodles" has only been the head coach at The Pit for one season, but he's got a long resume. Undergrad at Georgia Tech (All-ACC his senior year), then several years as a journeyman in the NBA, CBA, and Europe. After joining the Toronto Raptors as a scout and then assistant coach, Neal went to Iowa to work for Steve Alford in 2004 then followed him to New Mexico, where he took over as the head coach when Alford went to UCLA last season.
This report from Gary Parrish could be totally legit as Neal is certainly connected to Mark Harlan via his old boss Alford. But it could all be a leverage play too as Neal had great success in Albuquerque this season, but his boss is refusing to renegotiate his contract. Yes USF in theory could offer more money, but is USF a better job? The Pit is one of the cathedrals of college basketball, and having a rabid fan base as the only game in town is a lot different than being part of the back pages in Tampa. The Mountain West is a good hoops league too (maybe just a notch below the AAC), but it's a lot easier to win 20+ games at New Mexico than it is at USF right now.
Plus he's only been there one season, and does USF want a guy that's willing to pull the ripcord so soon?
Projected Reaction: Yeah, ok, maybe, but I'm certainly not overwhelmed. You'll need to show me something. And soon.
John Pelphrey: Assistant Coach, University of Florida.
The team that just fired a former Arkansas head coach can't replace him with the guy who replaced the guy you just fired in Fayetteville. Sometimes it's that simple. The optics are awful, and Pelphrey got run out of Arky on a rail. After getting to the NCAA's his first season (mostly with Stan Heath's recruits), Pelphrey went 16-32 in conference at a school that ranks just behind UK and UF in terms of basketball history in the SEC.
He did turn South Alabama around before getting to the Razorbacks, but again, this just can't happen. By all accounts Pelphrey is a good coach, and I remember being impressed seeing him in the Sun Dome with USA many years ago when he was considered a rising star in the profession. He should get another shot to be the head guy somewhere. But it can't be here, now.
Projected Reaction: When the hell are we ever going to learn??
Ben Howland: TV Analyst, Fox Sports.
Everything we're hearing is this will never, ever happen. Let's just leave it at that.
Projected Reaction: N/A
* We said Hoffman was 60 at first because we heard that somewhere on TV. Oops. Corrected.