Bruiser should keep job
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News Staff Writer, 2/28/1999

Maybe it's a moot point, a non-story. University of Massachusetts athletic director Bob Marcum thinks so, anyway.

"I think it's a ridiculous question," Marcum said this week to a point-blank, give-it-to-me-straight query about whether Bruiser Flint would be back as UMass men's basketball coach next year. "What would make would you (the dopey reporter asking the question, in this case, me) think otherwise?"

Oh, just the drumbeat I get from friends, associates, Web-chatters and total strangers about this. Some even think John Calipari would return. Wake up and smell the Maxwell House, folks: Coach Cal makes $3 million a year.

UMass should not fire Bruiser Flint. No coach should be fired out of impatience, frustration or panic after one losing year. Plenty of issues surround this program, but changing coaches at this point should not be one of them.

I wasn't even going to address this because for most of the season, it didn't occur to me that Flint would be in danger after one losing season. This conviction was strengthened by my belief (shared by a university that gave him a two-year contract extension in December) that Flint's first two seasons weren't all that bad.

But the local debate is so powerful and persistent that it's silly to pretend it isn't there. It is, although Marcum said Thursday he's received all of two letters expressing such negative sentiments.

The wolves are out there, and as Pete Carroll knows, they don't wait long to call for the noose. A bad year or a bad week is enough, and what's scary is that more than a few people share these impulses, Marcum's supposedly empty mailbag notwithstanding.

Not that Flint's work has been flawless. It hasn't been. He began the season without a defined playing rotation, preferring to mix and match lineups, and it didn't work.

A game plan reliant on time-honored UMass principles (man-to-man defense, an offense that funnels everything into the low post) was not adjusted quickly enough to changing circumstances. And the prediction that "We will play up-tempo" now ranks with "I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," in terms of how true it turned out.

He's also too often suggested that players must prepare and motivate themselves, rather than accepting his role in it. It's created an image of players and coaches working opposite sides of the road, whether that's true or not.

But to say he's made mistakes is not to say he can't learn from them. And recent signs suggest he is, maybe too late for this season, but not for next year.

The zone defense and guard-oriented offense he dislikes are quietly being incorporated. The players are still playing hard, and he's blaming them less and searching for answers more.

And if he is learning, there's no question he should be back. Removing Flint after one losing year would say more about the fragility of the program than about the fragility of the coach.

It's a move that would smack of panic, but even so, there is an undeniable high-stakes gamble attached to retaining him. If Flint is not the man to turn it around, another year of him will make a turnaround far more difficult.

Revenue is one issue - without I-A football, UMass relies on basketball to make money. Recruiting is another, now that UMass risks being thrown back into the pot with 100 programs just like it.

UMass cannot afford for Flint to lose year after year. But firing someone after one losing year is not only heartless, but too reckless to be smart. Certainly if it's a highly ethical someone who won 40 games in his first two years.

Marcum says it's a ridiculous question, anyway. If cooler heads are prevailing at the end of this most disappointing season, he's absolutely right.

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