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USF fires basketball coach Stan Heath

TAMPA — USF fired men's basketball coach Stan Heath on Friday, less than 48 hours after its season ended at the American Athletic Conference tournament with its ninth defeat in a row.

The school confirmed the dismissal of Heath, 97-130 over seven seasons, in a three-paragraph statement. Heath said he was informed Friday by executive associate athletic director Barry Clements, whom he said indicated USF wanted to go in a new direction.

Heath met with new athletic director Mark Harlan for roughly 20 minutes on Thursday but said Harlan indicated to him he wouldn't be the one deciding on Heath's future. Heath said his assistants have been retained for now.

"I have no hard feelings toward this university," Heath said.

"I'm not upset. I'm not bitter. I'm disappointed we didn't get things done the way I wanted them. I wish I would've had one more year. I think we could've gotten there."

Heath, 49, has four years remaining on the contract extension he signed in 2012, shortly after leading USF to the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament to cap the best season in program history at 22-14.

The Bulls have won 24 total games since.

Relying heavily on first-year Division I players this season, USF (12-20) lost six of its last seven games by 21 total points. In three losses, it had second-half leads of at least nine points.

Relegated to an observer throughout that skid was junior point guard Anthony Collins, an offensive catalyst of the 2012 team who played in only eight games due to lingering effects from offseason knee surgery.

Of the six regulars (excluding Collins) who averaged at least 20 minutes, four were first-year Division I players, including three freshmen.

"I know our team was young. I know our team was missing a really key player. But it's somewhat irrelevant," Heath said. "This day in age, it's about winning. They say a lot of different things, but it is about winning. You have to win games."

USF must pay Heath's annual base salary of $375,000 — about one-third of his compensation — for the remaining four years for a total of $1.5 million, according to terms of his extension.

The university's announcement of Heath's dismissal included no comment from school officials. But at Tuesday's news conference introducing Harlan, president Judy Genshaft strongly hinted she sought a shake-up with the program.

"It's hard to tolerate mediocrity … especially with a university that's on the move upward," Genshaft said after introducing Harlan.

"Everything else is moving forward except for our revenue sports, and we are real confident about (football coach) Willie (Taggart) moving forward. And we've got to get our (men's) basketball team moving forward as well."

Reaction from current Bulls players wasn't immediate, though via Twitter on Friday afternoon, freshman center Chris Perry said, "Somebody pinch me. This cannot be real."

Whether Heath's son Josh, remains at USF is uncertain. A freshman point guard out of Tampa Prep, Josh Heath relinquished his redshirt at the dawn of conference play due to Collins' injury. Stan Heath said he hasn't spoken with his son about his future.

"That's the only thing that's such a bummer," Stan Heath said.

"I get compensated pretty good. But my staff, my assistant coaches, their families, my family, those are my biggest worries right now."

Counting what Heath is owed, USF will pay nearly $7 million to coaches it no longer employs. Football coach Skip Holtz's buyout, five months after he received an extension, was $2.5 million. Holtz's predecessor, Jim Leavitt, was granted a $2.75 million settlement after contesting his firing on charges he struck a player.

Who will be USF's next coach?

A few potential candidates:

. Ben Howland (former Pittsburgh, UCLA coach)

Worked with new Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan at UCLA, which he led to three Final Fours.

. Steve Masiello (Manhattan coach)

Former Kentucky player and Louisville assistant has the Jaspers in the NCAA Tournament.

. Craig Neal (New Mexico coach)

Is 24-6 in his first season with the Lobos; would be endorsed by his predecessor, UCLA coach (and Harlan friend) Steve Alford.

. Jeff Neubauer (Eastern Kentucky coach)

A disciple of Michigan coach John Beilein has led the Colonels to four 20-win seasons and a berth in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

. John Pelphrey (Florida assistant)

As a head coach, Billy Donovan's veteran right-hand man led South Alabama and Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament.

. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss coach)

Has a 54-15 record in two seasons at Hattiesburg after success at Morehead State.

USF fires basketball coach Stan Heath 03/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 11:18pm]

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