For the University of South Florida athletic department, there was an obvious constant that lasted all year.
The Bulls moved into the American Athletic Conference, a league that will continue to morph and evolve into next season.
Doug Woolard, the athletic director since 2004, stepped down in January, giving way to UCLA’s Mark Harlan.
Men’s basketball coach Stan Heath was fired and Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua was hired. Baseball coach Lelo Prado, who failed to make an NCAA regional in his eight seasons, resigned and moved into Harlan’s athletic administrative cabinet, giving the department yet another key hire to pursue.
And it all comes after the tumultuous first year of football coach Willie Taggart, whose Bulls stumbled to a 2-10 finish amid diminished crowds at Raymond James Stadium and growing fan apathy.
Some USF fans might see underachievement and slippage for the school’s spot in the college sports power structure.
Harlan said he sees opportunity.
He’s determined to make USF athletics a vital part of the Tampa Bay sports scene, while giving the Bulls every opportunity to compete for conference and national titles.
“We are not here to make excuses,’’ Harlan said upon his hiring. “We are here to graduate our student-athletes, help them win conference and national titles and that’s what’s going to drive us. It is time to compete. It is time to win. And it’s also time to have a lot of fun.’’
Today, The Tampa Tribune looks back at USF’s athletic year — and looks forward to what might happen next.
DeDe Lattimore (Football)
Middle linebacker finished as the program’s No. 2 career tackler. In the season finale at Rutgers, with only pride at stake, he showed up shirtless for warm-ups in freezing temperatures. He had a career-best 18 tackles, playing with sideline-to-sideline intensity. Afterward, he bid farewell to USF in tears. Lattimore signed a free-agent contract with the Chicago Bears.
Inga Orekhova (Women’s Basketball)
She helped the Bulls to three consecutive postseason appearances, narrowly missing a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in 2013. A dead-eye perimeter threat (81 3-pointers) and excellent free-throw shooter (school-record 89 percent), she had 1,072 career points and went to the Atlanta Dream as the WNBA draft’s 18th overall selection.
Sara Nevins (Softball)
Any discussion of USF’s all-time greatest athletes must include Nevins, a left-handed pitcher who led the Bulls to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a 2012 trip to the Women’s College World Series. She was 101-35 for her career with 1,103 strikeouts (57th all-time in NCAA Division I). She had eight career no-hitters, including two perfect games, and was pitcher of the year in two different conferences (Big East, AAC).
Victor Rudd (Men’s Basketball)
One of the most spectacular basketball players in USF history, perhaps second only to all-time leading scorer Charlie Bradley in terms of crowd-pleasing style. Three of his dunks this season made the nightly ESPN SportsCenter top 10, including two that were judged the No. 1 play. Rudd finished with 1,216 career points in three seasons, good for 10th all-time at USF. He could get drafted, but either way, he’s bound to get an opportunity to play in the NBA.
Kourtney Salvarola (Softball)
Arguably the best position player in USF softball history, the shortstop finished with a program-best 36 career home runs, 156 runs scored (second) and 150 RBIs (fourth), while batting a career .322 and constantly displaying eye-popping plays on defense.
“Thought an organization with 5 Super Bowl titles would have stricter draft criteria. Clearly, integrity & character are not a priority.’’
— Twitter feed of USF strength and conditioning coach Hans Straub, referring to Bulls DE Aaron Lynch becoming a fifth-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers. That commentary was removed from Twitter, but Straub was forced to resign his position.
“A few days will pass and nobody will even remember — or care — that we were on the bubble and probably should’ve gotten a bid. I told our players, ‘These are the things that are going to happen to you in life. You’re going to be confronted with some things that are difficult. It’s all in how you handle them.’ ”
— Women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez, whose team (19-12, 13-5 AAC) overcame a slow start but did not receive an NCAA at-large bid.
“It can turn that quickly.’’
— USF men’s basketball coach Stan Heath, who was fired after a 12-20 season that came just two years after he was named Big East Conference coach of the year and guided the Bulls to the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years.
“Through the verification process, it was determined the candidate’s credentials could not be substantiated and therefore he did not meet the requirements for the position.’’
— Official USF statement on why Manhattan College’s Steve Masiello was rejected as men’s basketball coach after he accepted the job and signed a contract. A background check determined Masiello never received his college degree.
“I’m OK with that. I think I was my wife’s second choice, too, and we’ve been together 20 years.”
— USF men’s basketball coach Orlando Antigua on the day he was introduced after being asked if he was miffed at technically being the school’s second choice for the job.
♦ Jose Fernandez’s women’s basketball team won a 60-58 heart-stopper at Mississippi State in the WNIT quarterfinals. Sophomore guard Courtney Williams got an inbounds pass with 4.2 seconds remaining, raced down the court and buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
♦ Stan Heath’s men’s basketball team was magnificent in a 78-71 home victory against SMU, which eventually reached the NIT championship game. The Bulls shot 53.1 percent against the Mustangs, then the nation’s No. 2-ranked defensive team, while converting 23 of 29 free-throw attempts (including 15 straight to ice the game). “Their energy was amazing,’’ said SMU’s 73-year-old Hall of Fame coach, Larry Brown.
♦ Willie Taggart’s initial football season was forgettable (2-10), but for a short time, the Bulls actually sat atop the AAC in mid-October with a 2-0 league record after wins against Cincinnati and Connecticut. Both victories had a smoke-and-mirrors quality when the Bulls became the first team since 2002 Notre Dame to win consecutive games without scoring an offensive touchdown.
♦ George Kiefer’s men’s soccer team captured the initial AAC Tournament, outlasting Connecticut in a scoreless game that went to penalty kicks (6-5 USF). Goalkeeper Brentton Muhammad stopped three straight UConn penalty-kick attempts — goals on any of those shots would have eliminated the Bulls — and USF freshman Duane Muckette provided the winning margin.
♦ Baseball right-handed pitcher Jimmy Herget had an excellent season (8-6, 1.24 ERA) while suffering from a lack of run support, but punctuated things with a 2-1 victory against No. 5-ranked Louisville in the AAC Tournament. Herget allowed just six hits in the 106-pitch, complete-game masterpiece.
♦ Football place-kicker Marvin Kloss was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. Kloss led the nation with 11 field goals from 40 yards and beyond (including four from 50 and beyond), while converting 13 straight field-goal attempts to set a school record. Overall, he was 18 of 23.
♦ Women’s basketball sophomore Alisia Jenkins nearly averaged a double-double (9.6 points, 10.3 rebounds per game). She became only the third USF player with a 300-rebound season and finished eight away from tying the school record for single-season rebounds. Overall, she was 34th nationally in rebounds and had individual games of 18, 17, 16 and 15 boards.
♦ Men’s tennis sophomore Roberto Cid reached the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals — the longest journey ever for a USF tennis player. Cid, the AAC player of the year, opened the event with a stunning upset of UCLA’s Clay Thompson, the nation’s No. 1-ranked collegiate player.
♦ Track and field sophomore Matthew O’Neal, again bidding for All-American status in the triple jump, heads to the preliminary rounds today while trying to reach the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. O’Neal held the nation’s top triple-jump distance (53 feet) for five weeks this season.
♦ Softball senior left-handed pitcher Sara Nevins had four of her eight career no-hitters this season. In those combined games against UMass, Connecticut, UCF and Temple, Nevins had 38 strikeouts and just four walks in 24 innings pitched.
BY THE NUMBERS
3 – Number of conference titles won by USF during the AAC’s first season (men’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis). USF captured six conference titles during eight seasons in the Big East.
11 – Number of offensive touchdowns scored all season by the football team. That figure was the worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision, where Florida State was the leader with 94 total TDs (USF had 16 total TDs, including defense and special teams).
12 – Number of consecutive seasons without an NCAA Regional appearance for USF baseball. Lelo Prado has shifted to administration, leaving the new coach responsible for breaking a postseason drought that dates to 2002.
21 – Final national ranking for USF’s football defense, which steadily improved all season.
$7.31 million – Approximate amount of money USF will pay for former coaches to NOT coach ($2.75 million to Jim Leavitt, $2.5 million to Skip Holtz, $1.5 million to Stan Heath), along with the $560,000 annual salary to former athletic director Doug Woolard, who will be paid until his contract expires in July 2015.
PREDICTIONS: LOOKING AHEAD
♦ Courtney Draper’s volleyball program, led by Erin Fairs, the AAC player of the year as a sophomore, will make its breakthrough and return to the NCAA Tournament.
♦ Chris Malloy’s men’s golf team, knocking on the door for two seasons, will ride the hot play of Chase Koepka and Trey Valentine to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Good timing. USF is hosting the 2015 event at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton.
♦ Jose Fernandez’s women’s basketball team will be the AAC’s second-best program (behind defending national champion UConn) and Courtney Williams will contend for All-American status while leading the Bulls back into the NCAA Tournament.
♦ Willie Taggart’s Bulls will become the nation’s most improved football team and earn the program’s first bowl game appearance since 2010. Mike White to Andre Davis will become the AAC’s most formidable pass-and-catch combination.
♦ Orlando Antigua’s men’s basketball team will grab a couple of eye-catching upsets, but it will mostly be a year of growth and rebuilding. (Watch out in 2015-16).
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Here is the 2014-15 lineup for the American Athletic Conference:
Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa, UCF, USF
Note: Next season, Louisville jumps to the ACC and Rutgers goes to the Big Ten. In 2015, Navy joins the AAC as a football-only member.
First Team – RHP Jimmy Herget, So.
Second Team – C Levi Borders, So.; SS Kyle Teaf, Jr.
Third Team – DH Luke Borders, Fr.
All-Rookie Team – C John Egbunu, Fr.; F Chris Perry, Fr.
First Team – G Courtney Williams, So.
Second Team – F Alisia Jenkins, So.; G Inga Orekhova, Sr.
All-Freshman Team – G Ariadna Pujol
First Team – DE Aaron Lynch, So.
Second Team – LB DeDe Lattimore, Sr.; TE Mike McFarland, Jr.; DT Luke Sager, Sr.; RB Marcus Shaw, Sr.
All-AAC – Chase Koepka, So.
All-AAC – Ashley Burke, Fr.
First Team – B Ben Sweat, Sr.
Second Team – M Samuel Hosseini, Sr.; F Lindo Mfeka, Fr.
All-Rookie Team – F Lindo Mfeka, Fr.
Second Team – GK Christiane Endler, So.; M Cristin Granados, Jr.; D Demi Stokes, Jr.
All-Rookie Team – D Leticia Skeete, Fr.
Pitcher of the Year – LHP Sara Nevins, Sr.
Rookie of the Year – OF Juli Weber, Fr.
First Team – OF Ashli Goff, Sr.; 1B Stephanie Medina, Sr.; LHP Sara Nevins, Sr.; SS Kourtney Salvarola, Sr.; OF Juli Weber, Fr.
Second Team – C Lee Ann Spivey, So.
Player of the Year – Roberto Cid, So.
Coach of the Year – Matt Hill
All-AAC Singles – Roberto Cid, So.; Oliver Pramming, Jr.
All-AAC Doubles – Roberto Cid, So.; Sasha Gozun, Fr.
Player of the Year – Loreto Alonso-Martinez, Sr.
All-AAC – Loreto Alonso-Martinez, Sr.; Olaya Garrido-Rivas, Fr.; Kayla Rizzolo, Sr.
Player of the Year – OH Erin Fairs, So.
First Team – OH Erin Fairs, So.; MB Andrea Rodriguez Gomez, Sr.