Mocs, Shulman at crossroads entering final contract year - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Mocs, Shulman at crossroads entering final contract year

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- John Shulman didn't have to wait long to learn his fate after last year's early exit in the Southern Conference Tournament.

It may be a bit longer this time.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has been without an athletic director for nine months, and newly-hired chancellor Steve Angle won't begin his tenure officially until July 1. The transition clouds the future for Shulman, who has just one year left on his $138,000-per-year deal.

In 2012, former athletic director Rick Hart met with Shulman a week after the season and decided to retain the veteran coach.

Shulman doesn't know when he'll get the chance to defend his case this time around, but he's confident he deserves to return.

"You ever feel a little handcuffed?" he said after Friday night's season-ending loss to UNC Greensboro in the opening round of the SoCon Tournament. "We feel a little handcuffed. There's a reason this has never been done here before.

"I just happen to be the guy steering the ship when it happened."

For the first time in more than three decades, the Mocs played the season without a junior college transfer on the roster, a strategic decision made with off-the-court academic success in mind at the encouragement of Hart, who left for Southern Methodist last July.

"John changed his recruiting philosophy in response to our APR (Academic Progress Report) improvement plan," said interim athletic director Laura Herron. "We don't have any junior college kids because he hasn't been recruiting them the last two years.

"We do have a very young team, but I think we have some very talented student-athletes."

The Mocs wrapped up a 13-19 season Friday with their third-straight one-and-done showing in the postseason, at times using a lineup that features three freshman and two sophomores.

"When we did this, I told Rick it was going to be a two-year dip," Shulman said. "You look at what we've done, it's been a two-year dip."

With UTC's recent swoon, Shulman's career record has dipped below the .500 mark at 145-146 overall in nine seasons.

Those numbers make it hard to justify an extension to his current contract, putting him position to be a lame duck head coach should he return next season.

"It would not be a lot of fun," Shulman said. "If you really want my honest answer, no. Why would anyone feel comfortable doing that."

Of course, failing to post a winning record in each of the last four seasons has also proven uncomfortable for the proud fan base of a program with rich basketball tradition.

Attendance has been on a steady decline for years, though Herron ties it in with a common trend across the country.

She praised Shulman for his success off-the-court with a young roster, adding the program is on pace for its first perfect showing ever in the APR.

"John is a great person and he is very responsive. He wants to win the right way," Herron said. "He's completely changed his philosophy in response to what we needed to do for the APR, and we are improving.

"We have really enjoyed working with him, and we hope it will continue."

Herron will have a discussion with Angle and interim chancellor Dr. Grady Bogue this week to determine how and when the university will assess the situation. She said the search for an athletic director has been fast-tracked with a hire hopefully coming by the end of April, but that doesn't mean the school will wait until then to determine if Shulman has coached his last game for the Blue and Gold.

Until he's told otherwise, though, he plans to continue trying to improve his program.

"I know we're judged on wins and losses, but sometimes you coach and you win a Southern Conference championship, and sometimes you can coach a team to 13 wins and it's a good job coaching, too," Shulman said. "I am so proud to coach these kids, and they're all coming back. My job isn't to worry about me. My job is to worry about those kids."

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