UTC coach John Shulman's decision stirs fans

UTC coach John Shulman's decision stirs fans

March 11th, 2012 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

UTC head basketball coach John Shulman paces on the sidelines in McKenzie arena.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Bill Walters waited all week to learn the future of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball.

The news of athletic director Rick Hart choosing to retain coach John Shulman ruined his Friday, he said.

Walters is among the more vocal group of UTC fans who have expressed their displeasure with the decision. Those in favor seem to be in the minority based on comments to the Times Free Press and on the unofficial UTC fan Internet message board: MocFans.com.

"It seems as though Rick Hart does not seem concerned about the quality of our team," said Walters, a North Chattanooga resident who has attended almost every home game for the last 19 years.

Hart knew his decision would not appeal to all the Mocs fans.

"Certainly I'm aware there are individuals out there who aren't satisfied with our win-loss record," Hart said. "John has a lot of support. He's done a lot of things with our program both competitively and off the court.

"When you're in a position like a head coach, you're going to have a group of supporters and a group of detractors."

UTC averaged 2,953 spectators in 17 home games this season. It's the first time UTC has averaged fewer than 3,000 per game this century.

Yet UTC is not the only school to witness a decline in attendance. USA Today calculated that attendance even at the six power conferences is down 6 percent from four years ago.

Pete Ensign, a 44-year-old Mocs fan, said he attended a dozen games last year. He went to one this season. And he's furious with Hart's decision.

"It's an incredible disappointment," Ensign said. "It tells you that they really don't care. We're never going to be very good with [Shulman] as the head coach."

Ensign admitted to having high expectations for his local basketball team and called the 20-year span from 1977 to 1997 as excellent.

"They should expect to be the best in the SoCon, because Chattanooga is the best city in the conference," Ensign said. "They should be winning 20 games every year. They may not win it every year, but they should be the team to beat every year."

Not everybody shares those opinions of Hart's decision or that Shulman should be sent packing after eight years with an 132-127 overall record, two NCAA tournament appearances and a .500 record in the SoCon.

"I think you look at the total body of work and I think [Hart] made the right decision because basketball is different than it was years ago," said Pam Henry, a member of the Mocs Club board. "If things get righted and [Hart] can extend Shulman's contract, then great. If not, I know he'll make a good decision then, too."

Hart retained former football coach Rodney Allison when he had one year left on his contract, leaving Allison a lame-duck coach.

Then Hart hired Russ Huesman, who has improved the profile of UTC football, developed an NFL defensive back and a potential NFL quarterback and owns a 17-16 overall record.

"Rick made the decision in the best interest of the school and the big picture of the school," Henry said. "He thinks things through in a long-term perspective."