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Yes, folks, the search is over

4

April

My thumbs are tired.

In the 25 days since USF fired Robert McCullum, I've learned to text-message at levels Ron Zook would blush at. I've just now embraced punctuation in texting in the last 48 hours, and I'm still largely exclusively lowercase, like a 21st century e.e. cummings, but it's been a huge help. And the word I've texted the most, by far, is "thanks."

That I was able to be the first outlet to report Stan Heath's hiring is a huge pile of luck. I was in Cleveland at the women's Final Four, having a grand time at a great event that has very little to do with USF's coaching search. There are literally dozens of people who have helped me in the past three weeks, many of which I didn't know a month ago, all offering morsels of information and building a great deal of trust. Those people know who they are, and I'll take this forum to thank them for their invaluable help.

Here's luck for you -- I'm about to go into Pat Summitt's press conference on Monday morning at the Quicken Loans Arena, but I'd already decided to write about C. Vivian Stringer, and three blogger friends I'd eaten a quick lunch with basically talked me out of attending a presser I didn't need to go to. I sit down, follow up on a texted tip and get enough of the right information at just the right moment to feel confident reporting what I'd been waiting to report for nearly a month: USF had hired a coach.

It's an eternity waiting for someone else, anyone, to report the same thing you've reported, just to remove that tiny lingering doubt that you're completely wrong. You really want to be right, and first, but deep down, you really, really don't want to be wrong. It's scary.

Anyway, my favorite moment in the whole crazied search came late on the day that ESPN had reported that ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, once reported by ESPN as a candidate, had taken his name out of consideration. It's 12:25 in the morning, and I get a call on my cell from Dominique Jones, the Lake Wales senior who signed with USF last fall.

"Is this the St. Pete Times guy?" he asks, and I nervously say yes, this is him. "ESPN is saying USF hired this Fratello guy. Is that right?" he says, and my mind just spins. Mike Fratello? Czar of the telestrator? Could there possibly be a coaching name I hadn't already heard? "Fraschilla?" I ask, and Jones says yes, that's it, Fraschilla, and again, my mind races as I check all over the Internet, trying to find some confirmation so I can get something attributed in for our last edition. After a minute, I decide that Jones has misheard something on ESPN, tell him that Fraschilla had reportedly turned down the job. (It wouldn't be the first time somebody was reportedly out, then back in, so I didn't sleep well, even by USF Search sleeping standards).

Next favorite chaos moment came as I was racing to Cleveland's airport Monday evening. I'd gotten to the women's Final Four on Friday night, very nervous that USF would not only hire but unveil a coach while I was helplessly out of town, not due back until Wednesday morning. The women's Final Four means a lot because next year's is in Tampa, but I wasn't at all comfortable being in Ohio when I could be staking out the lobby of the Atlanta Hilton, where most of the coaches at the Final Four were staying. (The Hilton number is 404-659-2000, and I know this because I've called a lot, trying to reach people who don't want to be reached).

Anyway, I find out at 1 p.m. that USF indeed has a coach and is announcing him Tuesday at 4 p.m. (okay, make it 3:30), so I quickly call my editor and ask him if I can head back home early. All I'd miss was Tuesday night's final, which is late enough that my game story, on tight deadline, wouldn't be much better than what my paper could take from the Associated Press. I got the green light, got the last seat on the last flight out of Cleveland, then had to get back to my hotel room, pack up and check out, get back to the arena, write the Stan Heath story, return my rental car and get on a plane. (I'd write three stories about the women's Final Four on the flight home, filing them from the free wireless in the Tampa airport at just before 10 p.m.) All this after getting back in my hotel room from Sunday night postgame cavorting at just after 4 a.m.

So I'm driving to the Cleveland airport and I get a call from former Northwestern coach Evan Eschmeyer. I'd called his parents a day earlier, making background calls on the best players who had played under Kevin O'Neill, whose name was the last to float as a possible candidate for the USF job. I'd talked the night before to a player named Steve Hamer, who I'd covered a few times when he played at Tennessee while I was in school at Florida. I've made dozens of interviews in the last three weeks that are completely irrelevant now. If you need the home numbers of Anthony Grant's assistants, or the home number of the Winthrop player with the most unusual name (thus easiest to look up), I've got them.

Best irony of the whole deal: I was never able to reach Fraschilla, who seemed to deal exclusively with his employer, happy to drop his name in and out of the search. So the only thing I don't have in my story when my plane takes off in Cleveland is the "expert analysis" because the Vitales and Bilases of the world were busy working on the men's national championship Monday night. So I call Brian Landman, our FSU writer who's been my eyes and ears in Atlanta all week, and tell him if he can track down a pundit or two, get a quote, it'd be awesome to file it so the desk can weave it into my story. When I land, I find out that Brian has hooked me up with a quote from ... guess who ... Fraschilla. I can't make this up.

I'll have lots to blog about in the next week or two about Stan Heath. Before Cleveland's out of my head, I'll plug a great cover band, Moving to Boise, and say thanks again to everybody who's helped me in the last month, especially my wife Nicole, who's done far more parenting and diapering and tucking in than she should have to while I took a zillion phone calls and checked "Google News" a zillion times.

Blog entries are supposed to be short, quick-hit type deals, right? OK. Post your coaching-search questions here or send 'em to auman@sptimes.com and I'll promise to stay under 10,000 words next time.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 11:22am]

    

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