University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart is convinced the men's basketball program is on an "uptick."
"From where I sit, it is absolutely," Hart said. "I don't see where, how, you can't not think that."
The Mocs' season ended Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament with a 61-52 loss to Furman in McKenzie Arena. They finished 16-16 overall, but their 12-6 regular-season mark in SoCon games earned them a share of the North Division championship.
"It depends on how you want to look at it," coach John Shulman said. "You can see 16 and 16, or 12 and 6. You can see it however you want to look at it."
Having concluded his seventh season, Shulman is under contract for three more years with an annual salary of $138,000. Hart has the option of extending Shulman's contract or leaving it intact.
Shulman's overall record is 121-106 - 105-106 against Division I teams. His SoCon regular-season record is 66-58. He is 10-5 in SoCon tournaments with three title-game appearances and two championships, both in McKenzie Arena.
Hart and Shulman will have conversations in the next few months to discuss the overall health and future of the program.
"You look at more than on the court, managing all elements of the program: compliance, budget, academics and leadership," Hart said. "There are about 11 elements we look at. We don't assign a letter grade because that's not how we evaluate."
Many of the Mocs attended the SoCon championship game Monday night. Shulman did not.
"I have mixed emotions on how I feel," Shulman said. "It's a bad feeling that other people are playing in our arena, and I think that's not going away soon. Then five minutes later I think about getting to add our third championship in four years."
During Shulman's tenure, the Mocs have lost one scholarship due to poor Academic Progress Report findings. The penalty was applied during the 2009-10 season.
Also, he was cited by the NCAA because he "did not promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program." The NCAA found he and the staff sent 23 impermissible text messages (19 by Shulman) and made 61 impermissible phone calls (one by Shulman).
"He's been able to improve academically. We're doing a lot better there this year," Hart said. "Compliance-wise, obviously from a year ago where we were, they have a model program now in the way they operate the checks and balances - a lot of improvement."
Part of Hart's job that he said he enjoys is being a fan of UTC's teams. He said the feedback he's received from other fans is along the lines of, "Great tournament, but I wish our teams could still be playing."
"You don't want to look ahead, but you always look for the silver lining," Hart said. "We get to be the team with some seniors [four], and we get to return a bunch of those guys and we get to add some new pieces. We're building and that's pretty exciting."
The 2010-11 Mocs went through two significant roster changes, one coming before the season started.
Six-foot-11 center Philip Jurick, originally at Tennessee, was supposed to transfer from Chattanooga State to UTC, but he was just short of qualifying to play first semester. So he returned to Chattanooga State and is being recruited by the likes of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Cincinnati, among others.
"We were supposed to have an impact 5-man that people forgot about," Shulman said. "We were supposed to have a high-major player. Our team changed on Aug. 25 and we went, 'Uh-oh.'"
Sophomore shooting guard Josh Odem was ruled academically ineligible after the fall semester. He averaged 6.9 points in 10 games as the first wing off the bench.
"We figured it out and got through it," Shulman said. "Then losing J.O., we had to figure things out again."
The season featured 12 wins and two losses when the margin was five points or less in the final five minutes of the game. It also included three of Shulman's biggest losses in the SoCon.
"I don't think any time you win a regular-season championship you get a 'C,'" Shulman said. "I definitely give us a 'B.' I wouldn't give us a 'B' in the tournament, but for the whole picture I don't see how you can't."
Instead of attending the championship game, he prepared to hit the road on a recruiting trip. UTC has three scholarships to offer and three already assigned.
"It was a senior-dominated league and we started four juniors," Shulman said. "I like where we're headed, but it's hard to be happy."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.