Should Murry Bartow get a serious look for the USF job?
Ignore the perpetually revolving door in the USF men's basketball facility. Murry Bartow had nothing to do with that litany of player dismissals and departures.
Turn away from the Bulls bench, nearly as thin as the one Norman Dale inherited in Hickory. That's not Bartow's doing either.
And try, at least momentarily, to forget about the win-loss record (6-12, 0-7 American Athletic Conference). USF has no seniors, no go-to scorer, and one bona fide point guard (a freshman). Neither Murry Bartow nor Gene Bartow nor Gene Hackman could salvage a season with such limited resources.
But do consider the intangibles. Observe the energy that emanates from that short bench. Assess the on-court effort in this forlorn season. Notice the lit window, sometimes after midnight, in Bartow's temporary office. If you can, chat up a USF basketball alumnus or two (we have).
Then ask yourself: Should Bartow -- the Bulls' interim coach -- be given a serious look for the permanent job?
Who knows, you might -- might -- warm up to a notion that once seemed implausible.
What seems clear is, the Bulls have warmed up to their new leader, who took over when Orlando Antigua was fired Jan. 3.
"He's a worker. He comes in early and stays late," veteran forward Bo Zeigler said after the Bulls' 79-67 loss Saturday to Tulsa, when they had seven scholarship players available.
"I think when you do something like that, it ignites your players because they know you care, so I think guys are giving extra effort. Not that they weren't before, but obviously when a coach comes in every day and gives the same energy and consistency, you have no choice but to bring the same thing."
Granted, if a kid on scholarship felt otherwise, he likely wouldn't say so in a postgame press conference. A more compelling testimony of Bartow's immediate impact has been offered in 40-minute increments.
On Saturday, USF had no offensive rebounds at halftime, but finished with an 8-6 advantage in that category. Ten days ago at Memphis, the Bulls trailed by 16 with eight minutes remaining, but cut their deficit to two before ultimately losing 62-56.
A 14-point halftime deficit at SMU on Jan. 7 was trimmed to five before the Mustangs resumed their 3-point barrage and won 84-65. If the Bulls seem slow afoot on offense at times, it's likely because they're adjusting to the nuances Bartow has installed.
That, or there's simply no slasher or creator to feed when the shot clock's dwindling. Practices, meantime, have been crisp and meticulous, with "100 miles an hour" serving as a Bartow mantra.
"Our practices have been great, the energy's been great, the buy-in's been great," Bartow said. "We've just got to play a little bit better. There's not much margin for error."
Bartow, who amassed a 327-248 record with eight postseason trips in 18 prior seasons as a Division I head coach, was saddled with that slim margin. Consider all that transpired before he was promoted.
Two veterans (F Chris Perry, PG Roddy Peters) were let go in the offseason. The two most prominent signees, including four-star F Troy Baxter, never made it to the preseason (Baxter now is playing at UNLV). An NCAA probe, reportedly for possible academic improprieties, was launched.
And sophomore PG Jahmal McMurray, the team's most viable scoring option, abruptly quit on Dec. 20, shortly after returning from a six-game suspension.
"These guys have been through a lot, tough transition," Bartow said. "But I'm just telling you, they're fighting and competing and working."
If they start winning, even a little, the clamor for Bartow to get more than a mere courtesy interview could grow.
Five of the Bulls' next six games, starting with Wednesday's home contest against Connecticut (8-11, 3-4), are winnable. Moreover, the bench will be fortified by the return of freshman Malik Fitts (7.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg) from an ankle injury.
"One of these days it will show up on the scoreboard," Bartow said. "But these guys are fighting. They're fighting and I'm proud of the fight."
If they persist, Bartow has a fighting chance to stick around.