Flint deserves to stay
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/10/2000

PHILADELPHIA - University of Massachusetts Athletic Director Bob Marcum didn't have anything definitive to say after Thursday's win over George Washington, but he should have.

The Minutemen are 17-14 and more than likely bound for the National Invitation Tournament. It's time for Marcum to step forward, end discussion and announce that coach Bruiser Flint will be back for another year.

Marcum was noncommittal after the win.

"I wouldn't say anything to spoil the feeling of this victory," Marcum said. "But I will say this: We won the ballgame, we're playing Temple and we're winning, and I'm feeling good."

Marcum added that he had to "talk to some people" before making a decision. May I suggest a few?

Talk to Xavier coach Skip Prosser. "That kind of heat comes from the tragically misinformed," Prosser said. "You can't talk to one coach in this league that doesn't have a tremendous amount of respect for what Bruiser's done. His team always competes. They play hard and they listen."

How bout a chat with ESPN.com's Andy Katz, or Basketball Times editor Dan Wetzel, a UMass alum? Both are respected basketball writers and both have devoted significant column space since January to defending Flint.

Flint's ability to coach gets far more respect from outsiders than from those in his own back yard. UMass fans spend far too much time comparing what Flint does to what his predecessor John Calipari did than comparing him to his peers.

One good reason to fire a coach is if his players stop believing in him. That clearly hasn't happened in Amherst.

"I came here to play under Bru," sophomore point guard Shannon Crooks said. "I'm behind him 100 percent. Everybody is behind him. All the guys want to play hard for him. He deserves it."

Crooks' backcourt mate, Monty Mack, agreed.

"Bru has done his job and gotten a lot of people on this team better individually," Mack said. "What people don't see is, he makes us mature as men and that's one of the best things he does."

On the court, UMass, a team with less talent than a year ago, has delivered a better record and should return to the postseason, probably the NIT. It's a big step in the right direction. The Minutemen lack offensive talent, but they've been good enough defensively to win 17 games. Few things are more reflective of coaching than defense and a team's willingness to concentrate on it.

The fairest criticism of Flint would be focused around his recruiting. Shadows cast by the Marcus Camby scandal hurt Flint's ability to attract players to UMass early in his stint as the boss, but even Flint will admit that he and his staff needed to bring in better players than they did.

But the tide has seemed to turn. Flint and his staff have an incoming recruiting class that stands to be the best in his tenure and the best since Camby, Carmelo Travieso, Edgar Padilla, and Tyrone Weeks arrived together in 1993.

Jarrett Kearse, a former starting point guard at West Virginia, could immediately improve the Minutemen offensively. He once had 31 points against Providence. Other than Mack, UMass has nobody capable of putting up 31 points against a Division 1 opponent.

Getting much sought-after Sacramento shooting guard Jameel Pugh is another sign that UMass has broadened its base.

Add to that small forward Raheim Lamb, point guard Anthony Anderson, and Eric Williams, a power forward from Syracuse who is sitting out this season, and the Minutemen will be deeper and more talented. All these players have at one time or another listed Flint as the reason they'll be wearing maroon and white.

That recruiting class could get even better as Jackie Rogers, a highly-touted junior college forward, reportedly wants to be a Minuteman and, specifically, play for Flint. But he's waiting to make sure the coach keeps his job.

The longer Flint's status is uncertain, the higher the likelihood that Rogers will get tired of waiting. Marcum should keep Bruiser, and by doing it quickly, it would help recruiting.

Conversely, firing him would eliminate most of the work Flint and his staff have done. Pugh and Lamb are the only players bound to UMass by letters of intent. The others, who verbally committed, can't sign until next month. A change at the helm likely would cause the verbal recruits to look elsewhere.

If Lamb didn't qualify academically, he too wouldn't be bound by his letter of intent because non-qualifiers don't receive scholarships. A new coach would start recruiting far too late to get any real impact player, nearly ensuring UMass of a tough season next year.

Flint's job security was only a fringe issue early in the season, until Marcum made it a public one by volunteering figures about sagging attendance and donations and wrongly implying Flint was to blame.

If Marcum weren't trying to set the stage to fire Flint, he should have kept the athletic department's dirty laundry in the hamper. But the question has been floating out there all season. To Flint's credit, he's stay focused.

With the postseason set to begin, Marcum needs to end any suspense and announce that Flint will, in fact, be the coach next year and let everybody focus on the task at hand.

He deserves another year to prove whether he should get his contract lengthened. Marcum should give him that chance.

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