TAMPA — After back-to-back poor performances — and another season that could potentially be slip-sliding away — University of South Florida men’s basketball coach Stan Heath wants his team to display resiliency.
It’s a quality Heath needs, too.
With the Bulls (12-13, 3-9 American Athletic Conference) hosting the last-place Central Florida Knights (9-13, 1-10) today at the Sun Dome, fan grumbling has grown louder.
Two seasons after an NCAA Tournament appearance that seemingly marked a turning point in the program’s direction, the Bulls have dropped 24 of their past 30 conference games. They are the worst 3-point shooting team in America — 25.1 percent overall, 21.9 percent in AAC games.
Wednesday night’s 83-40 drubbing at Connecticut, when the Bulls shot just 24 percent overall and challenged the program record for fewest points (36), was stupefyingly bad.
“I was embarrassed,’’ USF senior forward Victor Rudd said. “I usually go back and watch games. I couldn’t watch this one. It was just too embarrassing.’’
Heath knows the fans are upset. And he understands that much of the wrath is directed at him.
“That’s the nature of the business,’’ said Heath, who is 97-123 with two postseason appearances in seven years at USF. “I’m frustrated. I’m mad at myself, too.”
“I’m sure (fans) are upset, just like I’m sure they were patting me on the back two years ago (when Heath was Big East Coach of the Year). I haven’t changed a whole lot. I know that’s part of the business.’’
Another part of the business is reality.
On July 6, 2012 — four months after USF came within a victory of the Sweet 16 — athletic director Doug Woolard rewarded Heath with a contract extension through 2017-18. After this season, Heath is locked up for four more years.
If Heath were to be fired after this season, USF would owe him the annual base salary of $375,000 for the life of the contract — or $1.5 million. Keep in mind that the state Auditor General recently criticized USF for paying a $2.5 million buyout to former football coach Skip Holtz, who was fired five months after receiving a contract extension.
No one knows who will be leading USF’s athletic program. Woolard, who hired Heath and gave him the contract extension, announced his retirement, effective June 2015, and USF is searching for a new athletic director.
Rudd said any criticism should be directed at USF’s players.
“(Heath) is not playing,’’ Rudd said. “All he can do is prepare us to win games. We’ve got to go out there and perform. That (game at UConn) was unacceptable. We know that.’’
As for Heath’s personal approach to bad losses?
“I kind of just stay the course,’’ said Heath, who will be paid $1.155 million this season, including supplemental income from a variety of sources, such as television revenue and shoe contracts. “I watch our film. I work out. I say some prayers. I talk to my wife.
“You have to put some blinders on a little bit.’’
Heath never expected his team to shoot this poorly. And the lack of offense often translates to defensive inefficiency, a contrast to the 2012 NCAA team that played lockdown defense.
Still, USF has much at stake. The Bulls are trying to reach sixth place, so they can avoid a first-round game in the league tourney. With six games remaining, a winning record remains possible.