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Source: Rice not a candidate for USF job

TAMPA – UNLV’s Dave Rice is no longer a candidate for the University of South Florida’s men’s basketball job, according to a source close to the USF coaching search.

Rice spoke with USF athletic director Mark Harlan in Tampa, but never received an offer or specifics on a potential contract. Rice returned to Las Vegas on Friday, where it was reported he had received a USF offer, causing UNLV officials to huddle and discuss how they could keep their coach.

Harlan already has turned his attention to other candidates.

Potential USF targets include Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg, New Mexico coach Craig Neal, Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, Florida assistant John Pelphrey and Florida State assistant Stan Jones.

Louisiana Tech coach Mike White had been mentioned prominently early in the coaching search, but isn’t believed to be a current USF target.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, quoting sources, said Rice received a six-year contract offer from USF worth $1.3-million per season. Rice is making $700,000 per season at UNLV.

ESPN reported that Rice never received an “official offer’’ from USF, but there was an understanding he could have the job. When Rice returned to Las Vegas and reports began circulating about him having a concrete offer, though, the landscape quickly changed.

The latest twists and turns occurred as USF tried to distance itself from the fiasco of Tuesday night, when Manhattan College coach Steve Masiello accepted the job and signed a five-year, $6.2-million deal, only to have his candidacy rejected when Eastman & Beaudine, the search firm retained by USF, determined that he had lied on his resume and never received a degree from the University of Kentucky.

With academic credentials under tighter review, it was worth noting that Rice received a bachelor’s degree and MBA from UNLV, where he was also a Rhodes Scholar candidate.

Rice, 45, is 71-32 in three seasons as UNLV’s head coach. Following the 2010-11 season, Rice succeeded Lon Kruger, who shifted to Oklahoma. Rice’s Rebels took first-round NCAA tournament defeats in each of his first two years, then finished 20-13 this season, which resulted in no postseason invitation.

He has come under fire recently for what was considered an underachieving season. But a standout incoming recruiting class fueled optimism. If Rice left for another job, though, those recruits could scatter and kill any momentum for the new UNLV coach.

Rice spent 11 seasons as UNLV assistant coach and also worked on the staffs at Utah State and Brigham Young.

Rice has three more seasons remaining on a contract. Upon his return to Las Vegas on Friday, UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy took a proactive approach.

“Dave does have a solid offer from South Florida and it’s a good offer,’’ Kunzer-Murphy told the Review-Journal. “We want to keep him. There is a real push to try and keep him here.’’

The Review-Journal reported that Rice wanted to see financial improvements in the UNLV program, beyond his contract, such as more chartered flights for road trips.

“We talked about what he wanted to see here and we’ll address it,’’ Kunzer-Murphy said. “The president and I feel strongly about wanting to keep him.’’

There might be extra urgency because UNLV seems on the verge of turning the corner.

Rice has attracted one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to UNLV, including Rashad Vaughn of Las Vegas Findlay Prep, Dwayne Morgan from Baltimore and Goodluck Okonoboh of Wilbraham, Mass. Rice’s top assistant, Heath Schroyer, just departed for the head coaching job at Tennessee-Martin.

USF is seeking to replace Stan Heath, who was 97-130 in seven years, including a 12-20 mark this season, which concluded with a nine-game losing streak. The Bulls were 3-15 in the American Athletic Conference. Heath lost 32 of his last 38 league games, including tournament play.

Heath was fired on March 14 with four seasons remaining on his contract, which was renegotiated in July 2012 by then-AD Doug Woolard, following USF’s first NCAA tournament bid in 20 years. Under terms of that contract, after his firing, Heath must receive a $1.5-million buyout payment from USF.

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