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History is some comfort

There often is a tumultuous period after a new coach arrives, one that includes more losses than wins and players coming and going rapidly.

Robert McCullum and South Florida are immersed in such transition pains. The Bulls are 6-9, 0-4 in Conference USA heading into today's game vs. Houston. Four players have departed since October.

The Bulls don't have to look far to find major programs that suffered similarly and emerged successfully.

In Gainesville, coach Billy Donovan has led Florida to 22 or more wins five straight seasons. But UF had a losing record his first two.

Donovan said that's part of the transition process, and you have to stick to your guns.

"I think you've got to have a system and a style you believe in and a philosophy you believe in," Donovan said. "Obviously any philosophy or style will take tinkering or adjustments; you always have to do that. But the core of what you believe in has to be there. Players (can't) see you changing stuff or (be) unsure."

Up the road in Tallahassee is the master at enduring difficult transitions, Leonard Hamilton. At Oklahoma State he won eight games his first year, 34 his last two. At Miami, he averaged 8{ wins his four seasons, 20 his last four.

At Florida State, Hamilton was 14-15 last season, his first. The Seminoles are 14-6 this season, including ACC wins over Maryland, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

McCullum is friends with Hamilton and knows such blueprints well. He was 7-21 his first season at Western Michigan, 20-7 his third (last season), in which WMU benefited from a foreign tour in the offseason.

"Without question you can't (implement your entire system) in the first year," McCullum said. "My second year at Western Michigan we executed better, and my third year, my gosh, guys had such a good feel, such a good understanding."

USF has experience with transition pains. McCullum's predecessor, Seth Greenberg, was 8-19, 2-12 in C-USA his first season. The next six seasons the Bulls' worst record was 14-14.

Exacerbating USF's recent woes _ the Bulls have dropped four straight by an average of nearly 29 points _ has been wholesale personnel changes.

Since McCullum took over in April, seven players have left the program: five scholarship players, signee Ricardo Freeman and walk-on Alton Darling. Also, Marlyn Bryant tore an ACL this month and is out for the season.

Six newcomers have stepped in: junior college transfers Bradley Mosley and James Holmes, freshman Konimba Diarra, Central Florida transfer/walk-on Brian Graham and two other walk-ons.

"Everybody has had to adjust and learn a new system," said point guard Brian Swift, who has played the most minutes of USF's four remaining holdovers from last season. "It was hard at first, and we've had to get that chemistry down, but we're doing much better with it.

"If everybody was still on the team, I think the transition would have been much easier and things would be better right now."

In Donovan's first season at UF, 1996-97, walk-ons Dan Williams and Joel Reinhart occupied spots in the playing rotation as the Gators went 5-11 in SEC play. Three years later, with Donovan's recruits versed in his all-court style, Florida reached the NCAA championship game.

"You have to get your system in," Donovan said. "Maybe you inherited a team that can't play your system, and you have to recruit a different player to play your system. But it's important you establish that foundation.

"(McCullum) is a guy that I think has his philosophies and views, and probably has strong beliefs in those, and now he's got to get those over (to his players). It will be a matter of time for him."

On a skid and with a revolving door roster, USF's oncourt success seems a long way off right now.

"It takes time," McCullum said.