Analysis: Will He Stay Or Will He Go?

FAYETTEVILLE -- He walked into the Bud Walton Arena interview room cool, calm and confident, sat down before the cameras and talked for three minutes, 58 seconds straight.

Before taking any questions on Tuesday, Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath didn't seem like someone who believed his job status was in question. He looked as if he fully expected to coach the Razorbacks for a sixth season.

He reeled off his team's accomplishments -- the same arguments his supporters will use to argue why Heath should be retained. He compared Arkansas' current situation to that of the Sweet 16-bound Kansas Jayhawks after last season.

He stated the program had "turned the corner."

And, he said he hadn't yet heard from Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles, who returns sometime tonight from a trip to Augusta, Ga.

"It'll be the same as it's always been," Heath said. "He'll call me and say, 'Hey, are you free? Are you going on recruiting? Let's get together.' And most likely, I'm going to change my schedule and get together with him.

"Whether that's a week or a month (from now) or sometime in June, I don't know."

Most expect that meeting to take place later this week, as early as Thursday.

When Arkansas' season was spiraling out of control as the Hogs fell to 16-12 overall and 5-9 in the Southeastern Conference, Heath's fate seemed decided. A source told The Morning News that Heath would be fired if Arkansas didn't make the NCAA Tournament, and at least five straight victories were needed for that.

Well, the Razorbacks got their five, flashing a newfound sense of intensity and urgency. Temporarily, Heath looked safe. But, they again performed poorly in a first-round NCAA Tournament appearance against Southern California.

Heath felt the late-season run revealed promise for future success.

"Unless you read the newspapers, it really is all positive," Heath said. "These guys are going to get better. Our freshmen had a great year for us, so the future looks bright. We're one of four teams in our league that have gone to the (NCAA Tournament) back-to-back. I think that's a statement in itself. So there are a lot of positives to talk about."

There also are negatives to look at if you're Arkansas chancellor John White or Broyles.

Those are the two decision-makers whose amount of power and influence will be tested in future days and weeks.

Heath is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament and 7-33 on the road in the SEC. Season ticket sales are down. Actual attendance is down. Speculation is that donations designated for men's basketball are down through the Razorback Foundation.

The current Basketball Fund Drive for the foundation, one of three yearly fundraising drives, ends this June.

Chuck Dicus, the foundation's president, said he couldn't say whether the amount of donations of this year's basketball drive were down, not without doing far more research.

The prevailing feeling among followers of the program is that interest in Arkansas basketball has dwindled since Heath took over for former coach Nolan Richardson, who led the program to the 1994 national championship. Now, it could be restored quickly. Heath noted that winning could be a quick cure for lagging attendance.

Next season's schedule also helps. Longtime rival Texas and Missouri come to Bud Walton Arena, games that surely should boost nonconference attendance levels and could jump-start SEC success. Also, remember that Arkansas doesn't graduate a single player.

Regardless, with seven scholarships available for the 2008-09 recruiting class, a decision is urgent. Heath already has seen an effect on the recruiting trail, the speculation about his future allowing for other schools to talk negatively about Arkansas.

"Playing defense recruiting-wise is not fun," Heath said.

If the potential Broyles-White power struggle shakes out with Heath being retained, a one-year commitment will not suffice. Not with the scholarships that will remake half of the team's roster after next season.

If Heath remains, expect him to be kept in a long-term way, with a multiyear extension.

If not, if Heath's contract is terminated, one of the more appealing jobs in college basketball opens up.

For now, though, Heath hasn't gone anywhere. And, he doesn't expect to. Heath said he hasn't been contacted for and isn't pursuing any other job opportunities.

"I think there's been a lot of misinformation out there," Heath said. "I think fans have been misled quite a bit about what's really going on. If there was something out there, I think something would've happened."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories