UTC's Hart, Shulman push forward amid growing unrest - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UTC's Hart, Shulman push forward amid growing unrest

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- John Shulman is not naive.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach knows very well the fundamental demand of coaching college basketball, as well as the consequences when it's not met.

But that doesn't make it any more rational in his mind.

"It's called instant gratification. I understand that. You're good if you win and bad if you lose," the Mocs' coach said before practice Wednesday. "We're all about the end result. If Omar (Wattad)'s shot goes in against Georgia Southern and there's doesn't, suddenly I'm a better coach?

"I'm a member of this community, a productive member, and I love the community, and people don't like me when that little round ball doesn't go in that round hoop. I think that's ridiculous."

But right now, bad breaks or not, it's Shulman's reality.

Three years removed from his second NCAA Tournament appearance and a contract extension through 2014, Moc Maniacs are wondering aloud whether it's time for a change.

UTC basketball's seven-game losing streak is its longest losing streak of the Division I era, leaving the Mocs at 9-16 overall and offering plenty of ammunition to his detractors.

"I think it's easy when you go through a losing streak like you're going through and some adversity like we have now, to give up a little bit or want and ask for change. That's perfectly natural and I understand that."" Hart said.

But Hart also understands the win-loss column isn't the only way to judge a coach's worth.

"We ask them to do 11 or 12 things, and do those things very well," he said. "Winning is one of those things and it is an important component to our program, but there are several other equally important elements regarding the management of the program that we spend time discussing."

To Hart, those areas where Shulman has continued to thrive make a decision on his future far more difficult.

Shulman is a difference-maker in the community through his work with the Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga. He volunteers for various causes throughout the Scenic City each year, and makes sure his team does, too. His players go to class and they graduate. If they don't, they're no longer a part of the team.

To most fans, however, these qualities are not enough to outweigh a career record of just 130-122 (.516) at UTC, and just 110-122 (.474) against Division I teams. His two NCAA tournament appearances and four North Division Southern Conference titles are overshadowed by five straight seasons with fewer 18 or fewer wins.

One would think the steadily declining attendance numbers would be a direct representation of the fan base's growing apathy, but Hart argues shrinking crowds have become a trend nationwide. He said he's heard from enough people during this rough recent stretch to convince him that passion for Chattanooga basketball is alive and well.

"I don't sense (apathy) at all. People are very passionate, which is a good thing," Hart said. "This isn't anything like what we experienced in football several years ago when there was somewhat of an uncaring nature about where the program was heading.

"This is actually quite the opposite."

The recent football season followed a very similar storyline to the current basketball season, but with far less criticism.

Despite dropping four games by a total of five points and finishing under .500 for the first time in Russ Huesman's tenure, many fans believe the football program is on the right track.

Shulman's team stands last in the SoCon North at 3-9 in league play. However, seven of their 16 losses this season have come by six points or less, including three straight SoCon games lost on the final possession.

"It's still a competitive product they're putting on the floor," Hart said. "I do think there's a difference in terms of faith and belief when you see a team that is fighting and giving great effort, but is just coming up a little bit short."

Both Hart and Shulman continue working ward to make sure "coming up a little bit short" doesn't last much longer.

But as this season has shown, that's one of the many things that isn't easy to control.

"It's sports. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce in your direction. So what do you? You don't cry and whine and complain. You get back to work," Shulman said. "Rick has a job to do, and I've got a job to do. He'll evaluate and make his decisions when it's time.

"I can't worry about that. I have to worry about the 14 kids who are looking at me for leadership and whose parents trusted me to take care of them. I can't worry about outside influences. I'm worried about inside influences."

Hart has not yet been inclined to ponder a decision just yet. He continues to pledge his full support to Shulman and the team, and is urging UTC fans to do the same.

With six regular-season games and a conference tournament still preceding the final two years on Shulman's deal, Hart said there's still a lot of basketball left to be played.

"I've been really proud of John this year in particular for stepping forward and addressing and improving some competitive off-the-court issues we needed to improve, but at the end of the day we know that will be disproportionately valued publicly compared to wins and losses," Hart said.

"It's not an either-or thing. You have to do it all. But I also think you have to be realistic about your ability to do that consistently over time, and how that might affect or influence if you're quick to make change, or maybe a little more patient to make change, given how some of the other areas of importance are evaluated and how they're going."

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