MACON — Once Mercer beat Duke, the speculation began throughout the college basketball world, as well as throughout Macon and Middle Georgia, as to how long Bob Hoffman would remain at Mercer.
But the possibility of Hoffman’s departure began even before the Bears became college basketball’s darlings last week.
“A few,” he said of how many schools had contacted him in some form or fashion. “I’ve had contact with some people that are involved in some searches.”
Hoffman admitted Tuesday that the reason he wasn’t with Mercer on the return from Raleigh, N.C., on Monday was because he was, in fact, interviewing for a job. And he confirmed Wednesday the it was with South Florida.
“I did interview with South Florida,” he said. “I did talk to them specifically.”
Manhattan’s Steve Masiello had been the frontrunner, and the school offered him the job Tuesday, and he accepted, reportedly telling his team as much. The Tampa Tribune reported that a contract has been signed but wasn’t official until he passed the background check.
The deal died later on the same day when it was discovered that Masiello had lied on his resume and never graduated from Kentucky. So any offer, which South Florida hadn’t confirmed had been made, was withdrawn, and Masiello’s future at Manhattan became cloudy.
Hoffman, who had what he said was a routine meeting Tuesday afternoon with Mercer’s administration on the program and taking the next step, said around noon on Wednesday that he had not heard from South Florida since Masiello’s deal fell through.
“I haven’t talked to anybody,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anybody about a job (Wednesday).”
How serious South Florida was about Hoffman and vice versa is debatable, although the school is now in a sticky public relations situation.
The Tampa Tribune listed unofficial candidates to include head coaches Derek Kellogg of Massachusetts, Mike White of Louisiana Tech and Donnie Tyndall of Southern Mississippi as well as Florida assistant John Pelphrey.
Masiello became a hot name as well during the tournament. The 36-year-old’s team lost to Louisville and mentor Rick Pitino in the second round of the tournament, played in Orlando, a few hours from the South Florida campus.
Masiello and the school reportedly had agreed on a five-year contract paying about $1 million year, and sources said Masiello had told his Manhattan team on Tuesday that he was leaving for Tampa.
But the search firm of Eastman & Beaudine, based in Texas and hired by South Florida for $60,000, found the discrepancy during a routine background check.
Hoffman said he started getting texts late Tuesday about the developing situation but not from anyone involved in any searches.
One potential suitor is out: Rice hired Virginia Commonwealth assistant Mike Rhoades on Tuesday. Another is probably soon out: Houston is very interested in Kelvin Sampson, Hoffman’s old boss at Oklahoma.
Former Indiana head coach Mike Davis, who led Texas Southern to this year’s NCAA tournament, has also been mentioned for the Houston position.
Other openings that would be considered a move up for Hoffman include Marquette, Washington State, Boston College, Wake Forest. There are also vacancies at Appalachian State, Florida Atlantic and Marshall.
Hoffman said there is a buyout in his contract, which was extended last fall, with different levels of payment involved.
“(President Bill Underwood) wanted to make it a really good working document, which it has been,” Hoffman said. “They’ve been fair and great to us all along.”
Hoffman said many schools are mentioned with differing degrees of compensation involved, including some with none involved. But Hoffman reiterated that he’s not looking.
“We were just meeting about where we were and how we wanted to continue to try to get where we wanted to be,” Hoffman said of Tuesday’s meeting at Mercer. “And it was great.”