Heath Looks Ahead To Next Season Amid Speculation

Wednesday, March 21st 2007, 9:06 am
By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Stan Heath tried to focus on Arkansas' long-term prospects, amid question after question about his short-term future.

The Razorbacks' basketball coach held his end-of-the-season news conference Tuesday, and he said his team is moving in the right direction after a second straight NCAA tournament appearance. But Heath was asked several times about his job status, the subject of much speculation over the last few weeks.

"I think there has been a lot of misinformation out there," said Heath, who just finished his fifth season as Razorbacks coach. "I think there's a lot of truth to some things that have been said, but it's not the full truth."

Several media outlets in Arkansas reported last month that Heath would likely be fired if the Razorbacks didn't make the NCAA tournament. Arkansas earned a bid with a late-season run, but the questions have continued. The Razorbacks lost in the first round Friday night to Southern California.

The university has said little regarding Heath's status. The athletic department said outgoing athletic director Frank Broyles will conduct a normal end-of-season evaluation of Heath, then forward it to Chancellor John A. White -- but nobody has indicated when that will occur.

"Whether that's a week or a month or sometime in June -- I don't know," Heath said.

Broyles, who is retiring at the end of the year, has been out of town and is expected back Thursday.

Arkansas went 21-14 this season, winning 20 games for the second straight season under Heath but also losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. An end-of-season session with sportswriters and sportscasters isn't uncommon at Arkansas. Heath met with reporters last year at the same time -- just after the Razorbacks were eliminated from the NCAA tournament.

No matter who is coaching next season, there should be plenty of talent on hand. Patrick Beverley was named SEC newcomer of the year -- and fellow freshmen Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington were contributing at the end of the season. Arkansas had no seniors on its roster.

"I don't see any reason why we can't be a team next season that wins multiple games in the NCAA tournament," Heath said. "That will be our goal."

Heath took Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002, his only season as the Golden Flashes' head coach. He then took over at Arkansas after Nolan Richardson was fired, going 9-19 in 2002-03. Arkansas' win total improved in each of the next three seasons, and the Razorbacks finally returned to the NCAA tournament in 2005-06, when they went 22-10.

Arkansas lost its top two scorers from '05-06 and struggled for much of this season before a late five-game winning streak propelled the Razorbacks to a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. Heath said he feels the team has taken an important step forward.

"The program has definitely turned a corner," Heath said. "Unless you read the newspapers, it really is all positive."

Heath acknowledged, however, that the Razorbacks have a lofty tradition which fosters high expectations. Arkansas won a national championship in 1994.

"Obviously, the expectations that were set 10, 15 years ago have created a standard that's really high," Heath said. "And certainly that's one of my goals, one of our team's goals."

Heath cited Kansas, which lost NCAA first-round games in 2005 and 2006 and is now in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed.

"I look at them as kind of some of the things we're going through right now," Heath said.

Heath was asked how he handles a situation like this one – with so much speculation about his status.

"Family, players -- just making sure their focus is where it needs to be," Heath said. "There's things in life you can't control."

Heath said this constant chatter could affect recruiting.

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

Heath was asked how attendance can improve next season. He said winning could help take care of that -- along with a schedule expected to include home games with Texas and Missouri.

Heath was also asked about other job openings.

"I'm not pursuing any jobs at all," he said.

Instead, Heath said he wanted to focus on Arkansas and the team's prospects after this season -- although it was difficult to stay on topic amid all the other lines of questioning.

"I'm excited about this group. I really am," Heath said. "I think the future is bright with this group."