Bruiser deserves vote of confidence
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 2/27/2000

You may disagree, but I've seen enough.

Bring him back, Bob Marcum. End the suspense. Tell your fans that Bruiser Flint will be coaching the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team for at least one more year.

The timing is risky after yesterday's 72-54 loss at Temple. An 18-point late-February loss to anyone is still just that, even against a team that's playing like a national championship contender.

You can wait, Bob. That would be the easy and probably popular thing to do.

You've said all along that you'd evaluate the entire season. UMass probably needs one more win to clinch an NIT berth, which some consider the minimum to keep Flint. And with the upcoming schedule, there's no guarantee that magic victory will come.

Nor was Flint perfect yesterday. He got far too wrapped up in the officiating, poor as it was, and he also bailed out of his zone defense a little quickly, even though Temple was starting to rain jumpers over it.

So you have reasons to hold off. But there are other reasons to do it now.

Do it for the two recruits who have signed, the two who say they'll sign and another, forward Jackie Rogers, who'd like to know what's what. Do it because this team is 9-5 since Jan. 8, and is again one of the better teams in its league.

Don't do it just because UMass doesn't have the money to pay off the last two years of Flint's contract then hire a coach with a big enough name to placate the critics. And don't get rid of him because of the empty seats at the Mullins Center, either.

This is a big decision for the pocketbook of UMass, but also for its soul. If you'd otherwise keep him based on his record, what kind of message is the state university sending to fire him in hope of a quick infusion of alumni and ticket-sale cash, which may not even happen?

Do it now so that all the critics can get the griping out of their systems now, before you embark on an accelerated offseason ticket and marketing plan. And do it because someone who properly represents the school's academic, ethical and yes, competitive values does not deserve a lifetime contract, but does deserve one consideration the benefit of the doubt.

With Flint, there is at least doubt. He deserves not to lose on a borderline call.

If UMass finishes well, you're either going to rehire him anyway, or cave in to the critics who had their minds made up a month ago or a year ago.

There are excuses to wait, and losing to 18 to anyone even Temple is one of them. You don't have to say anything right now.

Say it anyway. Tell the fans of UMass that this team has improved this season and probably only needs a few more good players, who are supposedly on the way.

You can keep everybody hanging until after the final game. Or you can say the two-year extension you gave Flint last year really meant something.

Flint has coached 122 games, including 27 this year, has reached two NCAA tournaments and is on the brink of the NIT, as well as some real recruiting progress. Another few games shouldn't change anyone's opinion that much.

Under pressure, he has represented UMass with character. And just as significantly, not only has his team not crumbled from within, it's still playing its collective heart out.

It's safer to wait, but it's not necessary. It's not too early to tell the fans that a coach whose team has improved, whose recruiting base seems better and whose players and still battling for every basket and every defensive stop deserves at least one more year at the helm.


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