On Friday, South Florida announced some rather positive all-around athletics news: Both football coach Skip Holtz and men's hoops coach Stan Heath were awarded contract extensions last week. Holtz's deal was extended until 2017; Heath's deal was extended three years, through the 2017-18 season. This kind of confidence in both revenue-producing programs is a sign that things are looking up at South Florida. It's a positive all-around step.
In Heath's case specifically, it's impossible to argue the contract wasn't well-deserved. In fact, it's a good opportunity to evaluate and place in context just what Heath accomplished at USF last year.
The Bulls are not a traditional basketball power, and that is putting it lightly. According to my trusty ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia, South Florida has never won a regular-season conference title, even back when it was a member of the Sun Belt; its only accomplishment of note is a 1990 Sun Belt conference tournament title. Until last season, the Bulls had made exactly two NCAA tournament appearances, and had spent a total of zero -- yes, zero -- weeks in the AP top 20/25 all-time. The history of South Florida basketball has been defined by apathy. You could argue this isn't really a "history" at all.
Not only did Heath get the Bulls to a 22-14 record and a place in the NCAA tournament last season, just the third in school history, he also rewired his team's approach and laid a foundation for immediate future success. In 2011, the Bulls played a brutally slow, aesthetically agonizing style of basketball. It wasn't pretty, but the defense it bred -- hard-nosed, tough half-court defense that ranked No. 13 in the country in defensive efficiency -- just plain worked. Meanwhile, Heath handed the offensive reigns over to a freshman, point guard Anthony Collins, who executed the dribble-around-for-30-seconds-and-then-try-to-score offense admirably well. Now, with Collins a likely four-year starter, the Bulls have a clear baseline in place.
There is much work to be done at USF, obviously. The fans still need to come around, and Heath hasn't turned the tourney appearance into many highly touted recruits in either the 2012 or 2013 classes. But when you compare where South Florida was for much of its history, and you consider the league it plays in, and the frontier it is chasing, it's clear that what Heath started when he took over in 2007 is finally beginning to bear fruit. The Bulls aren't going to be competing for a national title anytime soon, but they're a college basketball entity now. That's major progress, in and of itself.