TAMPA — University of South Florida athletic director Mark Harlan said there already has been “considerable'' interest shown in the school's men's basketball opening, and he anticipates finding a quality replacement for Stan Heath, who was fired on Friday after seven seasons with the Bulls.
Harlan said Sunday that USF will utilize a search firm to help identify candidates for the position, but he wasn't ready to announce which firm.
Harlan, formerly the associate athletic director at UCLA, was recommended for the AD position by Eastman & Beaudine, a Texas-based search firm retained by USF for a $100,000 fee. Eastman & Beaudine also was the search firm that placed men's basketball coach Steve Alford at UCLA.
USF remains in the “discovery phase,'' according to Harlan, who is taking recommendations from around the country and assembling a preliminary list of coaching candidates.
Former UCLA coach Ben Howland, who was 230-105 with three Final Four trips in 10 seasons with the Bruins, is expected to be on USF's list, partially because of his ties to Harlan.
Harlan wouldn't comment on Howland or the reported interest of Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy and Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
Kennedy is 170-100 in eight seasons at Ole Miss, where his Rebels won the SEC tournament last season and have five appearances in the National Invitation Tournament, including two trips to the NIT Final Four. Kennedy also served one season as interim head coach at Cincinnati (21-13 in 2005-06), replacing the departed Bob Huggins.
Williams is 139-65 in six seasons at Marquette, where he has coached five NCAA tournament teams, including two in the Sweet 16 and last season's Elite Eight squad.
“It doesn't do the search any good to speak about specific candidates,'' said Harlan, who added he conducted a conference call with USF players who were understandably shaken by the coaching change and are eager to learn the identity of their new leader. “I'm going to try and be as stealth as possible. It's very important to get the right person and conduct our business in the right way.
“It could be a sitting head coach. It could be an assistant. We're not going to limit ourselves. If someone has the goods we're looking for — strong leader, great communicator, proven record of being able to recruit and develop players — then it doesn't matter where they are at this point.''
Harlan said the USF men's basketball job has reached highly desirable status, mostly due to a renovated Sun Dome, a still-new practice facility and a chance to make rapid gains in the American Athletic Conference.
The Bulls had a pair of freshman big men, center John Egbunu and forward Chris Perry, who made the AAC All-Rookie Team.
The Bulls finished 12-20, closing with a nine-game losing streak. Heath, who was Big East Conference Coach of the Year in 2012, when the Bulls earned their first NCAA tournament bid in 20 years, had four years remaining on his contract and is due a $1.5 million buyout payment from the school.