published Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Wiedmer: UTC bosses not inclined to end John Shulman's run

John Shulman watches the UTC Mocs during a game at McKenzie Arena in this file photo.
John Shulman watches the UTC Mocs during a game at McKenzie Arena in this file photo.
Coach John Shulman's contract
Coach John Shulman's contract

Ten years ago next month, former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga chancellor Dr. Bill Stacy made perhaps the most difficult personnel decision of his professional career.

Staring into the eyes of then Mocs basketball coach Henry Dickerson, Stacy told the coach of five years that his overall record of 72-73 would not warrant a sixth season.

"It had absolutely nothing to do with his character or the way he ran his program," Stacy said Tuesday. "Henry's just the finest gentleman around. I wouldn't hesitate to have a son of mine play for him."

But most coaches aren't terminated for what goes on outside the field or court. Most are let go for the cold, harsh numbers on a scoreboard.

"The productivity in terms of wins and losses just wasn't where we felt it needed to be," Stacy continued, "wasn't where the people who followed the program expected it to be. So we talked that day about giving somebody else a chance."

Few would disagree that current UTC basketball coach John Shulman is Dickerson's equal as a gentleman, husband, father and community volunteer. His work with the Boys' and Girls' Club is well-documented. His annual spot on the King of the Mountain Road Race "cone crew" is inspiring, especially since his children no longer attend the Good Shepherd School that the race benefits.

Or as UTC athletic director Rick Hart noted, "John has a knack for bringing people together, making a difference in the community."

Yet as the Mocs have lost a program-worst (in the Division I era) seven straight games and slipped to 9-16 overall, Hart also admits that his eighth-year coach is tearing the UTC fan base apart.

"It's been a little unique," he said. "There is a group of fans that is passionate that John is not the right person to lead our program. But there seem to be almost as many people who are just as passionate in their belief in John. Where John's concerned, there's not a lot of gray area."

Unfortunately, there is increasingly little gray area between Dickerson's five seasons and Shulman's last five seasons, including this one.

One game under .500 overall, Dickerson's teams were 40-38 in the SoCon with two division crowns won or shared and no NCAA bids. Shulman's last five years (including this season) have produced a 76-80 overall record, a 45-43 league mark, three division titles won or shared and one NCAA tournament berth.

Yet chancellor Dr. Roger Brown doesn't sound as if he's ready to give somebody else a chance.

"It's been a terribly disappointing season," Brown said Tuesday afternoon. "However, I feel that John has contributed an awful lot more than wins and losses. His overall body of work is very impressive."

It certainly began impressively. The Mocs won 20 games, shocked Tennessee inside the Vols' Thompson-Boling Arena and won the Southern Conference tournament to reach the Mocs' first NCAA tournament in eight years during Shulman's first season, 2004-05.

The next season produced a highly respectable 19-13 mark and a return trip to the SoCon tourney final. But despite another NCAA bid in 2009, no season since has produced more than 18 wins, two have ended at 15-18 and home attendance has fallen below 3,000 most of this season.

The frustration over that slide has not been lost on Brown.

"One of my biggest surprises as a chancellor has been the absolute passion of our fans and donors," he said. "They live and die with the Mocs. So, yes, there's been a steady drumbeat about the program in terms of letters, phone calls and emails to my office.

"Our answer has been: 'Please understand we know your frustration. We're just as frustrated, and Coach Shulman is just as frustrated and he's working every day to fix it.'

"But I believe this, too: I wouldn't be surprised if this thing gets turned around and the Mocs have a deep [SoCon] tourney run."

And given that hope and belief, UTC fans shouldn’t expect Shulman to follow Dickerson into the list of former Mocs coaches any time soon.

Beyond that _ though both Brown and Hart deny it _ Shulman’s contract surely helps his job security. Were UTC to fire him this spring, the school would have to buy out the remaining two years of his $138,000-a-year pact, which means paying off Shulman, then hiring a new coach and staff could easily produce a one-time hit of $600,000.

"It's not a bad product," Hart said. "We're just not winning. But I feel better about the management of our basketball program than any other year I've been here. Recruiting, academics and compliance are the best I've seen since I've been here. Unfortunately, we've taken a step back on the court. But this is the direction we want to go."

Amazing how much difference 10 years can make in expectations for a once-proud program.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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ChattanoogaVol said...

Not a bad product? Are you kidding me? How Shulman continues his employment to "coach" the Mocs is puzzling to say the least.

February 8, 2012 at 8:17 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

When the butts in the seat average 500 will that be time?

February 8, 2012 at 12:18 p.m.
Stewwie said...

Regardless of how the season has gone to this point, there is still plenty of time to right the ship and finish well. The Mocs could still hit a stride heading into the SoCon tourney and compete well there. This may depend more on if/when Mason and Burroughs recover from their injuries, but we'll see.

What would definitely doom the Mocs, however, is if Rick Hart or anyone else close to the program publicly displays a lack of confidence in the coach like Mike Hamilton did with Pearl last season. That was horribly unprofessional and it was no surprise to see TN get beat bad in the opening round of the tourney. That said, kudos to Hart and Roger Brown for publicly supporting Shulman and the team during this stretch.

February 8, 2012 at 1:54 p.m.
hometownhero said...

Bruce Pearl!...oh, wishful thinking.

February 8, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.
ChattanoogaVol said...

Here's another reason to give Shulman his pink slip: Kennesaw State (yes Kennesaw State) is 3 and 22 this year. Guess who one of their three victories was against in Chattanooga back on 11/18? You guessed it. http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2012/02/08/kennesaw-3-22-is-losing-but-the-coach-isnt-conceding/?cxntfid=blogs_mark_bradley_blog

February 8, 2012 at 5:38 p.m.
biff_loman said...

agreed with Stewwie that it is the correct protocol for the AD at this point to stand behind Shulman at least until after the season ends

and after reading about what it would take to buyout Shulman and staff's contracts and hire a new one, it may be at least another year of mediocrity and dwindling attendance

February 8, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.
rbrmoc said...

As a long time supporter and fan of Chattanooga basketball, back to the D-II days, it is jaw dropping what the administration is willing back on the court. John has done and is doing wonderful things in our community with his players and staff. BUT, most college programs over the last 10-15 year have increased their visibility in their communities, to justify the salaries coaches are paid. John was hired to move us forward after the Lebo whirlwind, and other than the talent that was left behind has not produced a consistent winner since that period.

At this point of the season, normally many fans are excited about our chances in the Soucon tourney, and possible NCAA seeding, but sausage making, and the pros and cons of a colonoscopy, would draw more interest.

There may be another year, or two, in John's contract, and he may be content with backing up to get his check, but a negotiated resignation at season's end would not only bring many fans back to the arena, but would show the current roster of players that Rick Hart is serious about the success of the basketball program.

I have felt, going on 5 years now, that the John Shulman experiment should be cancelled due to the obvious lack of talent John had as a coach then, and I, and many others, who are silent, but increasingly disheartened with the program believe it now.

John is very fortunate to be in a city where the media, does not ride him as media in Philly, Atlanta, or Birmingham ie. Finebaum, would. Lucky. His goofy answers at press conferences, after games, and interviews, along with the volatile attitude would sink him fast. His coaching ability has taken him to the pinnacle of his talent, and we are left to suffer that.

The Chattanooga basketball program has reached rock bottom, and I am interested if he is still holding on to the keys a year from now, how much further he can drive it into the crust of the earth.

Over the last several years this program has lost almost all of the respect nationally we had during the Arnold/McCarthy days, and the last time we were in the NCAA Big Dance we were embarrassed by a good, not great UConn squad, by 61 points, 61 POINTS, and some believe that was a good year hmmm....

As I've heard, many will not be back to the arena until a change is made, count me in as one of those. So as you see 20-30 seats open up at the games, the remainder of the year, you are welcome to "come on down", and take them.

February 9, 2012 at 7:44 a.m.
Stewwie said...

[The Chattanooga basketball program has reached rock bottom...]

You've gotta be kidding. If you've watched the team this year, you can see that they are competing well, just not winning. That is completely different from "rock bottom" status where guys get to where they are unmotivated and stop trying...and thus lose by about 20 or 30 each game.

Shulman has taken some heat the last few days as the TFP has blown up the seven game losing streak to rile up the fan base. However, as coach, he can only do so much. If we're going to assess blame, let's be fair about it. This senior-laden team wants to win, but ends up costing themselves with ill-timed bad decisions on the court...silly turnovers, poor shot selection, etc. Not the freshmen...but the seniors...Bell, Wattad, and Taylor are all guilty of it.

The Socon is about as balanced as it could be so there is very little room for error when trying to get to the top. That said, a few simple fixes here and there can help get the Mocs at or near the top of the conference with a strong finish at the end. How many teams in the conference have been able to compete with Davidson like we did at home? If not for injuries to Mason and Burroughs, the re-match on the road would have been better.

Here's hoping that the Mocs have a strong finish to this season, and that the TFP (and rbrmoc) will jump back on the bandwagon along the way.

February 9, 2012 at 11:42 a.m.
biff_loman said...

Coach Shulman has not had a good season since the year after Lebo left, using his players.

He has made the NCAAs thanks in large part to hosting the SOCON tourney on our home floor.

Attendance is dropping fast and the style of play that Coach Shulman implements is not exciting.

Should this year's players get blamed for the issues this year? Certainly, but Coach Shulman is the one that brought these players in, and this isn't just a THIS YEAR problem. His 8 year record against D-1 competition is over 10 games under .500.

I'll say it again, Coach Shulman is a good man that does good things in the community, but if Coach Dickerson was let go after 5 years of mediocrity, surely Coach Shulman should be let go for the same.

February 9, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.
rbrmoc said...

Stewwie, you may not follow basketball very much or you would not have used the Davidson game or close moral victories approach. Every night in all sports, there are upsets, to say that we are competitive since we lost the close ones is missing the point. I've seen years that, an Ole Miss beats Kentucky, or a mediocre Wake Forest team beats the Tar Heels, and countless others, but the only real way of analyzing a coaches worth is by W' and L's, also rising attendance, which I haven't seen in years. You people, and John need to realize he is paid to produce, and the main ingredient is wins. All these players on the Mocs were recruited by John and his staff. So if they are not, including the seniors that you are throwing under the bus, good enough to win in the Soucon, who and with what information made that error?

Get back on your meds and open your eyes, this team and its coaching suck. We have good potential talent here, but not a coach who can take the kids to the next level in their development.

February 9, 2012 at 12:29 p.m.
Stewwie said...

How about this, rbrmoc...the bookies have the Mocs as 6.5-point favorites in tonight's game against division-leading Elon. Given this information, we can conclude one of two possible things. Either:

1) The bookies are morons for thinking a team that "sucks" (also with a starter and 6th man out) is going to handily beat a division leader.

OR

2) Despite the Mocs' losing streak and injury bug, they still have competed well enough to maintain respect among the people who know sports pretty well.

I'll admit that the line on this game looks a little funny. However, rbrmoc, since you feel so strongly about the state of this Mocs team, I challenge you to bet the house on the Phoenix to beat the spread in tonight's game. Should be an easy pick, right?

February 9, 2012 at 2:47 p.m.
biff_loman said...

Stewwie, I'll ask this...what has coach shulman done in nearly eight years that makes you think he will be any better next year or the year after? This isn't simply about this season and the betting lines on one game, that's a narrow minded view of the situation.

February 9, 2012 at 10:31 p.m.
Stewwie said...

Biff,

I only put up my last comment to show rbrmoc some evidence that this year's team doesn't "suck" nor has the program hit "rock bottom" as he said in regard to competitiveness. There's something to be said for the bookies to put that big of a line on the Mocs last night (which they covered).

In regard to Shulman, I think he has done fine for this program. Our school will never have the best coach in college basketball, we all know that. And even if we did, he would be gone after one year to get the higher $$$ from a bigger school. I think consistency (low turnover) in the coaches leading our program work out better than lots of changes.

Shulman's teams have been competitive each year he's been here. Nevermind who recruited what players, his '05 and '09 Socon championships speak for themselves. It's not an easy task to accomplish. There's always room for improvement though, but you can't have it all go your way every year.

There's more to Shulman's job than Ws and Ls, even though the general public doesn't know about all the other stuff. According to Hart, Shulman has done well with those other aspects of the job, and that's good to see.

I think this year's team can still finish strong. The seniors have to step up...they played well last night...they just have to keep it going. If everybody does their part, we'll be fine. Then everyone will jump back on the bandwagon, including the TFP.

February 10, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.
biff_loman said...

Your response didn't really address my question, other than mentioning the two SoCon tourney titles. If we aren't hosting the '09 tourney I'd say we don't win that one, and if we aren't hosting the '05 tourney I think it's a toss up. I don't think the value of playing in front of a partisan crowd can be overstated.

The facts of dwindling attendance(over 4k before he started to under 3k now), at least 13 losses and no 20 win seasons each year after his first, and the yearly excuse of "only the 3 games in March matter", cannot be disputed.

Coach Dickerson got 5 years and Coach Shulman will have had 8 with basically the same results. Both men were great in aspects outside wins and losses and the product on the court, but they are not unique in that respect. You don't have to sacrifice results for a good ambassador off the court, there are coaches out there that can do both.

February 10, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.
rbrmoc said...

No matter what the bookies believe or say, Shulman continues to take this program down.

February 12, 2012 at 8:57 a.m.
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