The Tom Penders radio show has the potential to be rather interesting tonight. Interesting not so much because of the basketball team, but because of the rumors and turmoil currently swirling around the team, primarily those rumors surrounding the coaching staff.
The known facts are this. The Houston Cougars got a dramatic 74-72 win against Western Kentucky on Tuesday night when guard Kelvin Lewis made two free throws with 0.2 left in the game after a technical foul was called on the Western Kentucky coach. What's also known is that associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Melvin Haralson was not with the team; he did not even travel with the team. It's also a fact that the University of Houston athletic department will not comment on Haralson's whereabouts.
Now come the rumors. The primary rumor, coming from a now deleted tweet from 790's Matt Jackson (preserved by coogfans.com), being that Haralson was fired on Monday and that Penders will not return next season and will possibly be announcing his retirement this week. Jackson's tweet page no longer has the statement about Haralson being fired, but he does state that numerous sources tell him that the university is looking at making a regime change.
As of this writing on Wednesday night, the only comment I was able to get from the UH is that they have "no comment on staff changes in men's basketball."
This turmoil comes at a rather unfortunate time for the team.
With only seven games remaining in the season, the 12-11 Cougars (4-5 in C-USA) are struggling to gain some kind of momentum before the conference tournament starts. The team has pretty much given up on winning the conference -- they are 4.5 games back of conference leader UTEP -- and after last Saturday's last-second defeat to Southern Mississippi, the players and Penders were beginning to take their focus away from winning the conference and putting it on to winning the conference tournament.
"This is a one-bid league," Penders said. "I have to be honest. We're a one-bid league. There's going to be one team coming out of this league. Right now, there's nothing happening that makes me believe differently, and that's how it's been the last three or four years. The most important thing is to keep pointing toward March, and keep your focus. We know we're good enough to beat anybody in this league. We either have, or have come damn close, in each case. That's the thing that keeps your spirits up."
The Cougars have been close enough to beat most of the team's in C-USA -- and they have defeated UTEP once. But that says more about the general suckitude of C-USA than it does anything about the Cougars. And with the conference tournament being played in Tulsa, the odds are with Tulsa getting that one bid.
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It's possible the team will rally around Penders and that they will go on a magical run and sweep the rest of the C-USA regular season as well as sweep through the conference tournament to win that one C-USA bid to the NCAA tournament. But anybody who has seen the Cougars play this season knows that this isn't a probable scenario.
It's not that the players won't rally around Penders -- they seem to say the right things when they talk about him. But saying the right things doesn't always translate into doing the right things. After all, the team always says the right things about how they're going to play, yet game after game they fail in some aspect of their play -- they can't make free throws, or they don't run the offense properly, or they have trouble with the defense. These are all things that they say they work on, and that they're concentrating on doing properly, yet it these things which seem to doom them time after time.
The Cougars host SMU at Hofheinz Pavilion on Saturday evening at 4 p.m. It's entirely possible that by that time, Penders will have announced a resignation, as rumored. Or that the circumstances behind Haralson's absence will have been announced. But the odds are that the game will not be anywhere near as entertaining as Penders' radio show has the potential of being tonight.
Updated: The University has placed Haralson on an indefinite leave, but it has failed to disclose the reasoning leading to this action.