From Big South to Big East?
Here's the central caveat to Wednesday's escalation of USF's search for its next men's basketball search: Doug Woolard is really the only person who knows where things stand. We know that Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall has stepped to the forefront of the Bulls' search, with enough pressure that the Eagles brass sat down to lunch with Marshall and offered to double his base salary, and while that's only a portion of his overall compensation, it represents about a 50 percent raise, to nearly $400,000 a year, a big step for a comparably small university with no football team for revenues.
Men's basketball is king at Winthrop, and USF has a chance to take away the Eagles' best asset -- Marshall has taken Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine years, and without that, I'm not sure how many of you reading this would know what state the school is in. But do you know how much USF's offer would be? We can speculate, sure, that the athletic budget has doubled since Robert McCullum got his deal, but when you take in the two years that McCullum will still be paid and the $100,000 buyout that Marshall has in his contract, USF is making a $500,000 investment just in the transaction, before they get to Marshall's new salary.
ESPN.com's Andy Katz has been in good communication with someone in Marshall's camp, perhaps Marshall himself. I can tell you that Marshall did not fly to Tampa on Wednesday night, as an ESPN.com report suggested he might. That's not to say he won't be here today, either. But remember, too, that Marshall has coached in his native South Carolina for the past 17 years, and last summer, one day after accepting an in-state job at College of Charleston, he changed his mind and backed out, returning to Marshall. So USF fans could read their dream headlines of landing a coach, see him introduced with a green-and-gold tie, then learn the next day that USF was back to searching every which way.
I talked with a USF booster right after McCullum's firing who is close to Marshall, who told me the timing right be right for the Bulls. I hadn't included Marshall among six possible candidates the day after McCullum's firing, mostly because I did not think USF could get him away from South Carolina. I'd pegged him as waiting for an opening at South Carolina or Clemson, which would allow him to move into college basketball's elite conferences without leaving his home state. The Gamecocks' job now seems spoken for, at least for another year, and while I've heard Clemson's Oliver Purnell (who has started a solid turnaround with the Tigers) mentioned as an outside candidate for the Michigan job, I don't know that his job will come into play either.
Two things I could not discern Wednesday night: first, whether USF had actually made an offer, and second, whether New Mexico was the only other suitor trying to wrest Marshall from Rock Hill. Iowa suddenly has an opening, for instance, and nobody knows who's on their short list. The Big Ten now has three openings, and their hirings are sure to set off a run of dominoes that could impact every other job search in the country. I think USF is in position to make an offer compelling enough to lure Marshall away -- if they weren't, he'd have signed a new deal with Winthrop already. Just on my own speculation, it's hard for me to imagine that being for less than $500,000 a year, and just as difficult to fathom it going higher than $750,000 or so, just knowing that anything much higher might get noticed by the other big coach on campus, who's been around a little longer and might take exception. As huge a season as Big East football had last football, its greatest visibility is still as a basketball league, and I think Woolard is aware of that when he thinks about the check he'll write.
Both sides have been impressively quiet about this. I think Marshall is especially protective of his players after the mess of last summer, leaving and staying in a matter of 24 hours. So he's unlikely to make a decision without letting them know first, and at the same time, Woolard's probably smart not to introduce his new coach without having a document signed. Marshall would bring a well-earned reputation as a coach who can take a program to places it's never been. He has no ties to the Big East, no ties to Florida, so it'd be a case of Woolard putting familiarities aside and going after the best coach he could find and letting him establish himself in new surroundings. That said, two days ago, all the talk was about the decision John Pelphrey had to make, so I'm not going to be surprised by anything.
I can't remember a time since I've been on the beat when more people were asking or talking about USF basketball, and for Woolard and Bulls fans, that's certainly a good thing. So offer up your thoughts with posts here or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Whenever USF names a coach, I'd imagine we'll run a couple of responses from readers, so might as well start now ...