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Toughest coaching job? South Florida


Oct. 29, 2004
I recently had the pleasure of spending a day with Rick Harmon, the fine writer from the Tampa Tribune. One of the topics we discussed over breakfast at my favorite place, The Broken Egg , was the toughest coaching job in Division I revenue-producing sports.

My gut feeling is that the toughest one is men's college basketball at the University of South Florida.

Robert McCullum
Coach Robert McCullum might want to pray for a miracle for South Florida basketball.
I know that might come as a surprise to some, but think about this: Coach Robert McCullum has a tiresome task ahead of him.

Look at the competition he's already had to face, going 7-20 (1-15 in Conference USA) last season in his first year at the helm.

And next season, he has to go to the Big East, with Connecticut, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame on the slate along with Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul (these C-USA schools are also moving to the Big East).

McCullum has to deal with playing in an environment that, truth be told, is average at best.

Basketball has not caught on at South Florida yet, and the program hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1992. That spells trouble for recruiting, which is so important in building a program.

For every blue-chip recruit you get the opportunity to try to sign, you hear the news from Connecticut and Syracuse that they latched on to a McDonald's All-America. McCullum is in a difficult situation, and you only hope that the athletic administration understands how tough his task is.

When you look across America and think about tough jobs, what about Vanderbilt's football coach, Bobby Johnson? Playing in the SEC, life for the Commodores is very difficult, competing against the likes of Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina in your division, plus LSU, Auburn and Alabama lurking on the other side.

Basketball has not caught on at South Florida yet.
I only hope that the administrators who analyze and evaluate these coaches, as well as the fans who pass judgment on their abilities, take into consideration how difficult their tasks are. It isn't a level playing field, my friends. When coach McCullum walks into the house of a prospect, do you think he's looked at the same way or has the same shot as Jim Calhoun or Jim Boeheim?

Calhoun and Boeheim each have a championship ring (two for Calhoun at UConn). Selling the virtues of South Florida is not as easy as selling the exposure of Connecticut or Syracuse.

Some of us lose sight of that. Here's hoping that good things come McCullum's way. From all the reports I've received, he's a hard worker who is pouring his heart and soul into bringing some pride to the campus he represents. Stay tuned to see how it all plays out when South Florida moves to the Big East next season.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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