Of all the USF'ings, this one might have been the most appropriate.
USF got run-ruled 10-0 by Rutgers in their first game of the 2014 AAC Baseball Championships in an embarrassing performance. It looked hopeless as the defense was obscenely bad and it seemed to slowly start to bother starter Casey Mulholland. Because of the tiebreaker that if three of the four teams are tied with 2-1 records after pool play the highest seed goes through, USF looked to be in serious trouble. They would need the last four games in their pool to break their way to have any chance to advance.
They caught that lightning in a bottle. Memphis upset Rutgers, then the Bulls got a monster start out of Jimmy Herget in a 2-1 win over #5 Louisville. Louisville then helped the Bulls even further by beating Rutgers 9-2 to set up what should have been a layup to get to the championship game for the second time in three years. Memphis was already eliminated, so they had nothing to play for but pride. The Bulls got a gift wrapped in gold foil paper and hand delivered, and were going to have a chance to send out Lelo Prado with a bang that wouldn't ever be forgotten.
Instead USF left 10 men on base, had their three-hole hitter take a golden sombrero, and wasted a fantastic six-inning start from freshman Brandon Lawson in losing 2-1. They scored three runs in 25 innings in the tournament. It's the exact same problem they've had all year, and for most of the last decade for that matter. They simply can't hit.
With the exception of draft-eligible junior shortstop Kyle Teaf (.354/.479/.416), absolutely no Bulls position player should be a lock for any playing time next year. Levi Borders is a fantastic receiver and defensive catcher, but is also draft-eligible and might not return despite hitting just .243/.341/.317. Otherwise... there's not one player on the field every day you'd refer to as "good." And that's a problem. Austin Lueck (.277/.369/.372) is the closest, but he's a junior and could leave too. We've heard good things about freshman Clay Simmons who missed the season with injury, and we like freshman Luke Borders and think he can develop into a good player... but otherwise there's not much there, there.
Mulholland (4-3, 3.65 ERA) and quality bullpen arm Jordan Strittmatter (1.93 ERA, 4 saves) can both head to professional baseball as juniors this year too, joining seniors Lawrence Pardo and Janick Serrallonga as pitchers that made significant contributions this season. There's still a lot of talented arms returning for the Bulls, with Herget (8-6, 1.26 ERA) and Lawson (3-1, 3.74) giving the Bulls one guaranteed superstud ace and one potentially high-quality arm to throw on the weekends. You need top-flight starters to have any chance to compete in modern college baseball, and you can win with specialists out of the bullpen to complement them. Finding a hammer to replace Strittmatter if needed would be a top priority, but if that's done USF could be somewhere between above-average and great from the mound next season.
A new coach coming in here and recruiting bats on bats on bats is what this program needs. Also someone to spark the interest of young people in Tampa to think of USF as a baseball destination school instead of a second choice. If Louisiana-Lafayette can do it, so can the Bulls in a hotbed of high school baseball. There's plenty of talent in the area, it just needs to be found, kept home, and developed. Remember: this is the school that once rejected Tino Martinez.
Over the last 10 days I've had a ton of names floated to me for this job, including BIG names in the world of college baseball as well as the professional ranks. Joey Knight pulled the list of guys that applied online, and it was like opening a pack of 1991 Topps cards: Chris Sabo!! Von Hayes!!... and a bunch of commons and guys that never quite made The Show.
USF also needs to take a look internally too. Assistant coach Chris Heintz is a former MLB'er, a USF Hall-Of-Famer, and someone with deep and meaningful ties to the program. His wife has worked with Ken Eriksen at USF Softball for the last 14 years, and he'd give his right eye for the team he loves. Let's hope his candidacy isn't tainted by the struggles of the past few seasons as assistants can only control so much. Heintz was also a manager in the Twins organization so he has a track record as the head guy before, though college baseball is of course as much about recruiting as anything.
Pitching coach Lance Carter would also be a great choice as his work with the top end of this staff would indicate, but we're not sure if he's finished with his bachelor's degree yet or if he's still in process. He turned pro after one year of junior college and there's no degree listed on his bio on the USF website. If he's done with school, he absolutely deserves a look too.
We'll see what direction Mark Harlan chooses in time, but this will be a great job for someone. And that someone will need to add some offense to this squad immediately, be it through transfers or beating out other schools for talented freshman and praying they don't get drafted.
Lelo Prado left a base of quality pitching to work from here, but it's time to get to the next level. And in a hurry.