Situation brings sparks from Flint
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 2/19/2001

Frustrated after Saturday's 84-52 loss to Temple and irritated by the constant swirl of speculation about his job security, University of Massachusetts basketball coach Bruiser Flint said yesterday he might become proactive about his future.

''I've got to look after my family, too,'' Flint said. ''For the last three years, all I've heard is questions about my future. I love it here. I've been here 12 years. My family loves it here. But I've got to look out for them and my career. I'm getting tired of dealing with [the uncertainty] every year.''

Flint said he would like the administration to offer him support, but he believes that may not come, which is why he said he will study the jobs that will open in the next few weeks and decide if he wants to pursue any.

Flint knows the consensus is the Minutemen must earn an NCAA Tournament berth to save his job, and even that may not be enough. He says he doesn't want to endure the uncertainty of whether he will be retained the way he did last season, one in which the Minutemen did not reach the NCAA tourney but made the National Invitation Tournament, losing in the first round.

''I don't want to go through that again,'' he said. ''That wears on you and wears on my team. It's been the same this year. It's taken away from what we've done. We didn't start out well, but we've been playing much better. There's a lot of talk out there about what's going to happen with my job. But the one thing I haven't heard from anyone [in the administration] is someone stepping up for me.''

In one sense, this season has been worse than last, because the turmoil started earlier when the Minutemen staggered to a 2-9 start. They since have recovered, Saturday's loss notwithstanding.

''We're still 9-3 in the Atlantic 10,'' said Flint. ''And if we had a different schedule, we'd be talking about what seed we were getting rather than if we were going to make it in the NCAA Tournament.''

Flint said he is not in favor of a cupcake schedule, but he at least wants more nonconference home games. Saturday's was only the eighth home game of the UMass season. Conversely, when Boston College played Providence Saturday night it was the Eagles' 15th home game of the year, all of which they won.

''I wouldn't play BC's schedule,'' said Flint. ''But since I've been here [five years as head coach], we have had only something like 16 nonconference home games, and a third of those were against top 25 teams like UConn, Texas, and Kansas. I understand this is all about revenue. We have [Division] 1-AA football, and that costs a lot of money. They expect the basketball program to generate the revenue.''

Flint says if the issue were strictly basketball, his status wouldn't even be in question. ''Other than Cal [former UMass coach John Calipari], I've won more games here faster than anybody. And not even Cal played the type of teams we have played. You look at the teams [Marquette, Providence, BC, Ohio State, North Carolina, Richmond, Iona], all of them are in first or second place in their leagues or doing very well.''

The administration's response was that Flint ''signed off'' on every game, to which Flint wondered how he could argue against them since they are designed to produce much-needed revenue.

Even home games can pose problems because the athletic department must pay rent on the Mullins Center every time it's used.

The day before Saturday's game, the Minutemen had to practice in their old arena, The Cage, because an event was scheduled for the Mullins Center. Normally, that wouldn't have been a problem, but on Friday The Cage was being used as a ticket distribution center for Saturday's game. ''There were a couple of hundred people just walking around while we were trying to have a practice,'' said Flint.

''I talked to Bruiser and told him to hang in there,'' said Calipari, now at Memphis. ''We're all in the same boat; he's just got to go out and win games. He can win that tournament and he's back right where he should be.''

Flint knows his future will be decided in the next few weeks, if it hasn't been already. Recently there was speculation about UMass contacting former Indiana coach Bob Knight - which UMass athletic director Bob Marcum emphatically denied - but it was out there long enough to be a distraction.

''My players hear all that stuff,'' Flint said. ''It's just one more thing you have to deal with.''

Flint's resume at UMass includes two NCAA Tournament and one NIT appearances. He is the fastest among UMass coaches to reach 30 wins (49 games) and 40 wins (63 games), and the second-fastest to reach 50 wins (97 games). His record over almost five full seasons is 83-69. He has a better-than-average recruiting class coming in next season.

But success in the basketball program is judged as much by how many people come to the games as by how many games are won. The Temple game was the first and likely the only sellout of the season.

Marcum, who was at a meeting in Austin, Texas, yesterday, said an evaluation will be done at the end of the season, as always. Perhaps. But there also seems to be a perception that anything could happen.

The Minutemen have a home game tomorrow night against Rhode Island, then hit the road again for games against George Washington and A-10 leader St. Joseph's. They conclude the regular season with a home game against St. Bonaventure.

With an 11-12 record, the Minutemen need to win at least three of those games to ensure themselves an NIT berth. For an NCAA berth, they would have to sweep their remaining regular-season games and win at least two games in the league tournament, which would give them 17 victories.

But Mike Tranghese, chairman of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, said that merely would get the Minutemen considered. Their most realistic hope would be to win the league tournament and secure the automatic berth.

''We can do that,'' said Flint. ''We can beat anybody in this league. Anything is possible.''

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