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McCullum moved by outpouring of support

As Robert McCullum prepared his team for tonight's game against No. 2 Connecticut before a potential sellout Sun Dome crowd, the Bulls coach was buoyed by a show of support.

"I can't tell you the number of calls and e-mails I've gotten today," he said. "I've been bombarded. It has certainly been a positive thing for me."

The resounding message from Bulls boosters Tuesday: This won't be McCullum's last week as USF coach.

"We've gotten an awful lot of calls from boosters very interested in making it known to the president and the athletic director that they strongly support our basketball coach," said Vicki Mitchell, USF's associate athletic director for development. "Coach McCullum and our donor base have the same expectations for this program, and there's a lot of faith in his ability to make it happen."

This, one day after SI.com reported that a group of boosters was talking with the attorney for former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins about bringing him to Tampa as Bulls coach next season. The report, citing an unnamed source, was widely and vehemently dismissed by prominent boosters.

"The bottom line is Bob Huggins is never going to be coaching here at USF," said Mike Charles, president of USF's booster club. "If they did that here, they would be turning their backs on what they've been trying to do here for the past 10 years. That could never happen."

Athletic director Doug Woolard declined to comment, following a policy of not discussing coaches' job status during their seasons. USF president Judy Genshaft said through a spokeswoman that with no coaching vacancy, there was no need to address the matter.

The Bulls have lost a school-record 16 straight and are 0-14 in their first season in the Big East, but this has followed a slew of injuries and unexpected departures from a team already picked to finish last in the 16-team conference. McCullum has three years left on his six-year contract, and buying him out now would cost the school nearly $900,000.

"It's totally unfounded and unwarranted from our perspective," said Mike Lewis, executive director of the Bulls Club. "To think he can't coach is ridiculous by how many games we've been in. We haven't won many of them, but what he has accomplished, for most people, is a sign we're making progress."

Joe Tomaino, director of major gifts for the Bulls Club, said the response Tuesday impressed him as few things have in four decades at USF.

"I've been here since 1966 and have seen a lot of things go down," he said, "but the amount of calls today, just the groundswell of support for the guy, has been tremendous."

Eight of USF's league losses have been by seven points or fewer, and the Bulls have stayed close in games they shouldn't despite having only six or seven healthy players. Losing their final two would give the Bulls (6-21) the worst record in their history.

The increased attention led McCullum to close practice to the media Tuesday afternoon, intended, he said, to help his players focus on the challenge of upsetting the Huskies.

Fund-raising officials said they have received so little negative response from boosters concerning McCullum's future that they question whether the report's boosters exist.

"I haven't had one that's supporting that story," Lewis said. "Who are these people? What's going on? I don't know who these people are."

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