he coach who lifted the University of Massachusetts men's basketball program to unprecedented heights said the inability to sustain such prominence is not Bruiser Flint's fault.
Instead, John Calipari said flagging support by the administration and state legislature has left Flint and athletic director Bob Marcum with the task of trying to retain a level of national success, without the resources to do so.
"My question is whether they're still committed to the level they were when I was there," said Calipari, who took UMass to the 1996 Final Four. "What has been done since I left?"
Yesterday, Calipari, an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, stoutly defended not only Flint but UMass athletic director Bob Marcum.
"If they listen to Bob, they'll get out of this," Calipari said. "Bob Marcum is fine. Since he's been there, UMass athletics have reached a different level.
"And Bruiser is taking undue heat," Calipari said. "He can do the job — no question."
Sluggish attendance and erratic play have put a microscope on Flint, Calipari's former assistant and successor in 1996. Calipari says any school that thinks it can compete at a national level, without a continued commitment — including significant financial investment — is deluding itself.
He thinks that's happened at UMass, and is upset that Flint is being cast as the fall guy.
"Our success was not just about me," said Calipari, who is exploring a return to college coaching elsewhere. "Administrations win championships. People at UMass have to recommit to the excellence of the program.
"You see an erosion of morale there," he said. "And when people say it's because of one guy (Flint), that's wrong."
Calipari said he enjoyed a special relationship with former UMass president Michael Hooker, who he credited for making sure the team enjoyed first-class treatment in everything from recruiting budgets to travel costs. Calipari insisted that anything less would have caused UMass to lag behind more well-endowed programs.
"Look at UConn," he said. "Jim Calhoun is a great coach, but whether he stays or goes, everyone from their state legislature to the board of trustees is absolutely committed to that program. Why can't they commit like that for UMass?
"When I was there, William Bulger (Hooker's successor) and David Scott (the UMass-Amherst chancellor) were committed to the program," Calipari said. "And Michael Hooker — you knew where he was."
But while Calipari clearly considered Hooker the driving force within the administration, Scott said last night that it was his office, not Hooker's, that supervised the athletic budget.
"He certainly supported the teams in a sense of cheering for them, but I'm not aware of any programs that went through his office, at least since I came in 1993," Scott said. "The responsibilities were through my office, and I'm not aware of any significant reductions in athletic programs.
"We've invested very significantly in all our athletic programs, including men's basketball," Scott said. "I'm proud of what we've done — then and now."
Bulger could not be reached for comment.
Though Calipari didn't mention it, one example of the limitations at UMass is a weight room which appears cramped and inadequate, at least in comparison to some schools UMass recruits against.
Calipari said what saddens him goes beyond his feeling that Flint is being blamed for conditions beyond his control. He says UMass has frittered away its national basketball reputation because once it reached the top, it disregarded what was required to stay there.
"I love the place, but no university can do it with mirrors," he said. "UMass has to decide what it wants, because you can't spend half as much as UConn does, and then think you'll be able to compete with them."