Let’s face it: head coach of USF men’s basketball is a really, really tough job. Through 46 seasons:
- Conference championships: zero
- Conference tournament championships: one (1990)
- NCAA Tournament appearances: three
- NCAA Tournament wins: two. Both in 2012, one outside of First Four in Dayton.
There’s some other awful factors here too: you play in front of friends and family only some nights. There’s about zero faith in your program in the community, deservedly so by the way, and no one will believe in you and your vision until you actually win. Bulls fans in the Tampa Bay area have been sold a bill of goods from every new coach since Bobby Paschal retired. They don’t want to hear it anymore.
To be noted: the only man to ever step on an NCAA floor again as a head coach after leaving USF? Seth Greenberg. Seth had nine seasons at Virginia Tech, went to one NCAA Tournament, and probably got screwed out of two more bids by the selection committee. The other eight gentlemen never became a head coach again in college basketball after leaving Fowler Avenue (Bill Gibson passed away while holding the job in 1975).
Phrases like “sleeping giant” and “pregnant with possibilities” (shoutout Robert McCullum!) get thrown around at opening press conferences, and then releases emailed to media are how the people that said those words just a few years earlier get fired.
Plus your team is only the second-most popular in your own gym and practice facility because of a diehard-beloved and nationally-ranked women’s squad across the hall.
So keep this in mind: USF needs to sell a new coach on the program just as much as the coach needs to sell USF that he’s the right man for the job. There’s a few ways USF can go here, and it’ll be interesting to see how they choose to invest.
1: Aim high and spend a bunch of cash.
Richard Pitino is a name we’ve heard as a possibility for the USF job long before today, but that was before his program was 13-2 and likely heading for the NCAA Tournament this year. He’d cost a bunch of cash (his $1 million buyout alone from Minnesota makes this unlikely), but if USF could get a big basketball booster to write the check it’s possible. Believe it or not, you can argue there’s more of a booster base for a basketball coaching move at USF than a football move, because football moves cost more.
The last time USF did this was the hiring of Lee Rose in 1980, who previously got UNC-Charlotte and Purdue to the Final Four. He had a lot of success in Tampa, but finished fourth in the Sun Belt five straight years before a seventh place in his final season. He got the Brahmans to three NIT’s, but never the Big Dance.
2: Find a guy that can invest enthusiasm and give you an identity.
David Grace is another name we’ve heard for awhile, partially because of his being an assistant at UCLA while Mark Harlan was there. But his life story is what makes him so compelling, especially in a town with deep military ties like Tampa. 20 years enlisted in the Air Force, followed by some top-flight recruiting for the Bruins after stops at Sacramento State, the other USF in San Francisco, and at Oregon State as an assistant for President Obama’s brother-in-law Craig Robinson.
His unusual path and ability to recruit make him an attractive candidate, and he might be able to lean on his brothers down the street at MacDill AFB to help fill some seats on nights when it gets a bit lean in the Sun Dome. Plus he gives you an identity and a story to help sell to the national media as well as potential recruits.
But is that enough to get him to Tampa? He’s clearly a guy with a future... would he want his first step to be here?
3. Recruit a top-flight assistant.
Chris Caputo has been the right hand of Jim Larranaga for 15 years, and is the top assistant for the Miami Hurricanes, who have had tremendous success since Coach L came to Coral Gables. He’s a well-known and liked basketball guy that has been a part of a renaissance for The U, and helped get George Mason (GEORGE MASON!!) to the Final Four.
But he’s clearly a guy that’s taking the long-view on his first head coaching job, and turned down the Delaware job already last year. Here’s what Larranaga has said about him:
Sounds exactly like the kind of guy USF needs. But could USF convince him to take the job? That’s the question.
Anthony Grant is on the bench as an assistant to his former Florida Gators boss Billy Donovan for the Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder this season. He was fired at Alabama in 2015, but knows basketball in this state as well as anyone.
Grant went to two NCAA’s in three years at VCU, got a win over Duke in the tournament, and won the CAA regular season title in all three seasons for the Rams. He got to the NCAA’s just once for the Crimson Tide.
He’s also the only man that’s been on this list multiple times. We heard he was basically offered the USF job when Greenberg left in 2003, but chose not to take it. He got his name floated again when McCullum left. And again when Stan Heath left (if he had gotten fired at Alabama... that happened a year later).
He might be the guy that can turn it around, and will have learned things from his previous stops about how to deal with expectations in a forlorn program (Alabama) but also about how to win (Florida).
But he might only have one more chance at the apple in the big chair. Is he willing to cast what might be his final lot with USF?