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Brian Gregory Is Perfect For USF, But You Wouldn’t Know That From Reading The Paper

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Local commentary on USF’s new basketball coach is missing a lot of relevant facts.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech
“I’m over here, guys! Could you stop talking about Florida Gulf Coast?”
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In putting together a round-up of news stories about USF’s hire of Brian Gregory, I discovered an interesting remark from Gregory’s current boss, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo:

Brian Gregory’s Georgia Tech teams were on probation? Why hadn’t I heard this until now? Here’s the story:

Demaryius Thomas, now an NFL star, received $312 worth of clothing from a former Georgia Tech football player who was then working for a sports agent. The NCAA warned Georgia Tech that this put Thomas’ eligibility in question. The school let Thomas play, tipped off another of their football players that the NCAA was snooping about, and generally interfered with the investigation.

And if there’s one thing that pisses off the NCAA, it’s interfering with their investigations. They gave Tech the Roto-Rooter treatment, which turned up some wrongdoings in men’s basketball under former coach Paul Hewitt. Punishments were handed down in summer 2011, just after Hewitt was fired and Gregory brought on to replace him.

After all that, Georgia Tech’s compliance department - which you might suspect by now was pretty bad at their jobs - failed to correctly track phone calls to recruits. Nine different Georgia Tech teams, including men’s basketball, placed at least 478 impermissible calls and sent at least 299 impermissible text messages to a total of 140 prospects, between March 2011 and March 2012. This was largely ascribed to “a compliance officer misadvising coaching staff members about documentation requirements, and the institution's failure to follow its established telephone monitoring procedures.”

These additional infractions extended Georgia Tech’s probation into 2017 (it’s not even over yet!) and imposed additional recruiting restrictions on men’s basketball. Cumulatively, the restrictions on Brian Gregory at Georgia Tech were:

  • A reduction of two men's basketball recruiting days during the 2011 summer evaluation period. (This means you can’t cast as wide a net for potential recruits.)
  • The number of evaluation and recruiting days for men’s basketball was reduced by 20 percent for September 1, 2012, through May 31, 2013. (Same.)
  • A limit to 10 official visits for men's basketball for the 2011-12 and 2012-2013 academic years. (This means you have to be very certain a player is interested to expend one of your few visits.)
  • Strict limits on the use of phone calls, text messages, and social media to contact recruits during September 2012. (Which means you can’t contact recruits, while other schools can. This turned out to be exceptionally punitive, as the NCAA lifted restrictions on the use of these tools in summer 2012.)
  • The stigma of being on probation, which includes having to make embarrassing disclosures to potential recruits about the situation.

So, Brian Gregory inherited some serious recruiting handicaps, as he tried to rebuild a program that wasn’t exactly going great guns at the time.

Does... that... sound... like... any school we know?

So yeah: USF’s new head coach has experience working under the kinds of restrictions USF is likely to be facing over the academic scandal, and possible APR problems from all the player departures that have happened. This seems like a really good qualification, and absolutely no one is talking about it.

Speaking of academics: Brian Gregory graduated 100% of his players who stayed four years. Why hadn’t I heard this until now?

According to his Georgia Tech bio, every senior who played for Gregory at both Dayton and Georgia Tech graduated, with one remaining player on track to do so after Gregory was fired. He was credited with raising GT’s Academic Progress Report and Graduation Success Rate scores to their highest levels ever. This seems like an outstanding qualification for USF’s new head coach.

Another interesting fact no one is talking about... Brian Gregory is close friends with former USF coach Stan Heath. Why hadn’t I heard this until now?

Heath and Gregory were assistants together at Michigan State, including their 1999-2000 National Championship team. (Maybe someday USF will hire Mike Garland.) Remember when Josh Heath transferred from USF to Georgia Tech after Stan was fired? That was in part due to their friendship. (And, no doubt, Gregory’s need to creatively fill out his roster.)

Even if they weren’t acquainted, Gregory’s career path is very much like Heath’s. Michigan State assistant; success at an Ohio mid-major; a firing from a Power 5 school that seemed a little harsh; no prior Florida roots. Considering Judy Genshaft basically fired Heath at Mark Harlan’s introductory press conference, it’s a little surprising that Harlan hired someone with such a similar profile. If USF’s new head football coach was a Kansas State assistant from the bay area who was pals with Jim Leavitt, do you think that would be a story? Would it be reason for optimism in the fan base?

The point of all this is not to make the case that Brian Gregory will be a success at USF. None of us can see the future. I wish only to point out some relevant facts that have been missing from the record.

Because the local news columns about this hire are some of the laziest writing I’ve ever seen.

Look, I understand why media outlets don’t devote a lot of space to USF men’s basketball. I understand why people might be negative about the program’s future. I even understand why columnists would bash the program; there’s a lot that deserves to be bashed. But I don’t understand why professional journalists can’t do a modicum of research, and provide a more complete picture of the hire, rather than the generic, empty fluff we’ve gotten.

I speak of Tom Jones’ “Coach Next”, and Martin Fennelly’s “Flunk City” articles. These columns could have been written by the scripts that write the “12 Blankiest Blanks” crap that pollutes the Internet. They contain no information whatsoever about Brian Gregory, or even USF. They don’t even mention the academic scandal, player defections, attendance problems, or the airport fiasco. They’re that lazy.

Let’s start with Jones, who bemoans USF’s failure to make a splashy hire. This is an arguable point, but he undermines it by then asking why any good coach would take the job. So he’s chastising USF for not getting a sexy coach into a job nobody wants?

You can smell the Google tracks all over this piece. He calls Gregory “A 50-year-old whose career coaching highlight was getting to the second round of the NCAA Tournament eight years ago.” Then he rattles off Joe Dooley, Anthony Grant, “LeBron James’ old high school coach”, Kevin Keatts, and Steve Forbes as coaches USF should have pursued instead.

The implied argument is that Gregory is old, lacks post-season success, and that USF should pursue a winning coach from a smaller school. But of those men, only Keatts is younger than 50; none has ever advanced beyond the round of 32; and only Grant has even won an NCAA Tournament game. Jones also ignores that Gregory was a successful mid-major coach, at Dayton; that Grant was fired from Alabama; and that Dooley had an unsuccessful tenure at East Carolina. Again, he undermines his own argument, but this seems more like sloppy research than anything else.

Jones also seems not to realize that “Second Round” meant “round of 32” eight years ago. When the field expanded from 65 to 68, the NCAA started calling the round of 64 the “Second Round”, whereas before this meant one round later. Wikipedia follows this convention. So if you’re a lazy writer looking for a reason to bash the new coach, “NCAA Second Round” might jump out at you. Either he doesn’t know the difference, or he’s mocking Gregory for having matched USF’s greatest NCAA Tournament achievement.

Jones obviously has little interest in this topic, but has been tasked with putting together several hundred words about it. So we get remarks like:

Whenever a sports team hires a new coach, we all immediately ask the same question: Good or bad hire? The answer is not so cut-and-dried. Or exciting. Instead, the answer is, "Who knows?" accompanied by a shrug and, maybe, a yawn. But this isn't the type of hire that excites whatever little fan base remains and entices skeptical recruits. This is the man who is going to turn USF into a winner? This is the best USF could do? Was there no one else? We’ll believe it when we see it.

These 91 words contain no information whatsoever. They are cliches, that could be about absolutely any new head coach at absolutely any school in absolutely any sport. I find this sort of empty writing an increasing problem in mainstream news articles. In our staff chat, I edited Martin Fennelly’s piece about the airport fiasco from 400 words to less than 250. (Nate convinced me to keep the joke about Murry Bartow trying to hide by adding an A to his name.)

Then it’s on to this factoid, which the local columnists love to pile on for some reason:

So far, Mark Harlan is 0-for-2 on basketball hires. Harlan had to turn to Antigua after his first hire, Steve Masiello, was discovered not to have a college degree as his resume stated.

Oh, let it go already. Steve Masiello lied to USF. Mark Harlan’s only failing here was not being a mind-reader. There was no reason to doubt Masiello’s resume until it was thoroughly checked out. When the discrepancy was discovered, Harlan upheld university policy regarding open positions, which was the correct thing to do.

You want to bash Mark Harlan for something? Bash him for hiring Orlando Antigua instead of Eric Musselman, who is doing masterwork at Nevada. After two years, he’s 52-20, with an NCAA bid, a Mountain West championship, a CBI Championship in his first year, a highly-rated recruiting class, and one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Why hadn’t I heard this until now?

Next, we take a look at Fennelly’s piece. The “Flunk City” title seems like a shot at USF’s academic problems, but they’re not mentioned at all. He uses the term “Gunk City” the rest of the way, as if he changed his mind halfway through and forgot to update the headline. (Was “Junk City” too elusive or R-rated for this comparison?)

But the headline isn’t even the first bit of sloppiness in this piece:

Would you people please get the school’s goddamn name right? The photo is credited to a Times photographer, so this can’t be passed off as a wire service error. The caption of the other photo contains the same error. Someone who lives in Tampa Bay, and works for a major Tampa Bay news outlet, wrote that caption. This is unacceptable.

It is not pedantry to expect professional journalists to get facts right. When I went to journalism school, any misspelling of a person or institution’s name was considered a fact error, and an automatic failing grade for the story. This piece has at least three such errors: “Southern Florida” twice, and calling Andrew DeClercq “Andre.” (The latter has since been corrected, but “Southern Florida” remains. Feel free to conjecture about how much less important USF is than a Gator from 25 years ago.)

Let’s move on to the piece itself:

the little school from Fort Myers everyone loves and nobody slams — Florida Gulf Coast University.

Ah, the standard mid-March Why Can’t Our Lousy Big School Play Basketball Like This Year’s Plucky Little School column. Tell me, Mr. Fennelly, what is it about FGCU that USF should emulate? Recruiting approach? Style of play? Marketing to local fans? What about the challenges USF faces? The academic scandal? The attendance woes? Players leaving the program in droves? And what of Brian Gregory? Does he have any strengths or weaknesses relevant to the USF job? The column addresses absolutely none of this.

Moving on:

We fall out of bed and land on NCAA basketball.

Second worst in America.

That's how meaningless USF has been.

Gregory has his job, and we have ours.

We are a basketball hotbed. Keep thinking that.

Now, I want everyone in Tampa Bay to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket.

I don't mean some of you. I mean all of you.

I don't care if your dog helps. One ruff for Purdue, two for Vermont.

Dear Martin Fennelly.

Please stop doing this.

And this.

Do you know what I mean yet?

I mean, putting each sentence in its own paragraph.

As if words are more powerful when presented this way.

They're not.

Dramatic, pretentious spacing does not disguise empty writing.

It’s also the signature tactic of a certain Orlando-based columnist who is very unwelcome in these parts.

So knock it off.

Please.

OK, enough of that. Fennelly then attacks the recent report naming Tampa the second-worst college basketball city in America:

I seriously question the report's metrics. The rankings are out of whack. But so is USF. You can't even see whack anymore.

Huh? Is this some attempt at 90s slang? And that Country Bear Jamboree reference is even more out of date.

Area resident Dick Vitale is beside himself, which means they're both talking at once.

OK, that’s pretty funny.

In a very roundabout way, Fennelly argues that the low rating of Tampa as a college basketball town doesn’t acknowledge the area’s success hosting mens’ and women’s Final Fours, NCAA regionals, and SEC and ACC conference tournaments. This is an excellent point, but he does nothing with it. He doesn’t say “Tampa will support good college basketball, something USF is not providing.” That would have been a good column. Instead, we get more empty words:

They've got Dunk City.

We've got Gunk City.

Brian Gregory, the new men's basketball hire at USF, is charged with changing that. I hope he does. I wish him luck.

USF has a very nice facility on Fowler Avenue. The only thing missing are players and fans.

It's so bad that people will buy into anything at this point.

Over in Orlando, Dunk City is back, with more dunks than it had in 2013, when it created fans across America with a high-flying run to the Sweet 16. It faces Florida State tonight. FGCU even has a copyright on "Dunk City."

Maybe one day USF can have a copyright. Or that much fun. If FGCU can do it, USF can. USF should be able to put together a coach, some players and make an occasional NCAA Tournament.

137 more words devoid of any insight. This isn’t even criticizing USF; it’s saying “USF sucks” in ways that pad out a word count. This is an article from the 2000s asking why Washington State can’t be Gonzaga, with only the proper nouns changed.

Fennelly makes another good point, that USF should try to recruit local stars. But he puts this in terms of 5-star recruit Kevin Knox. Signing a local 5-star recruit is nearly impossible for even a good USF program, and men’s basketball is not that program. This betrays a lack of insight to USF’s circumstances. A more astute angle would be Murry Bartow’s comments that needs more Florida players overall. Or Joey Knight’s observation on Twitter that the better USF teams had larger numbers of in-state players.

Speaking of Joey Knight, why didn’t he write these columns, or at least contribute to them? He covers USF basketball every day (a thankless job that drove us mad), and knows far more about the program than Fennelly or Jones.

Fennelly then lists historical college basketball players from Tampa Bay, like DeClercq, most of whom who never would have signed with USF either. The one who did, Charlie Bradley, became an all-time USF great. This, too, would have been a good angle: “USF landed a superstar from Robinson High over the predations of bigger schools 35 years ago, so why not now?” But he ignores Bradley’s historical significance, including him only as a name in a Googled list, not even mentioning that he played for USF.

To summarize: USF men’s basketball has become so irrelevant that local news columns don’t even bother keeping up with it anymore. While I think they could try a little harder at their jobs, columnists will have their own opinions, and these pieces reveal how little they care about the local college basketball team. In the middle of March. They don’t address, or even make fun of, USF men’s basketball’s well-known challenges. They didn’t bother learning anything about the new coach. They just slapped together obligatory columns full of generic commentary, because who would notice anyway?

To sum up what they didn’t tell you: Brian Gregory had a long run of success at Dayton; was hindered at Georgia Tech by NCAA punishments for things that weren’t his fault; has experience operating under the kind of limitations USF may face; has an outstanding track record academically, something USF could use after the Orlando Antigua scandal; and a very similar career path to former USF coach Stan Heath.

Whether these traits will ultimately make him successful, we have no way of knowing. But the hire of Brian Gregory is a reason to hope for USF men’s basketball again, or at least care about it. The program has fallen so far that just getting anyone to care about it again would be progress.