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Expose on Bulls Baseball/Cardieri by Brett/TBO

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Career At A Crossroads

By BRETT McMURPHY bmcmurphy@tampatrib.com

Published: May 17, 2006

TAMPA - University of South Florida baseball coach Eddie Cardieri left Red McEwen Field on Tuesday night after the final home game of the season, easily his most frustrating year in coaching.

Cardieri, 51, whose contract expires after this season, has spent nearly half his life at USF, including the past 21 years as head coach. About the only thing that has been around USF longer is the team's decrepit baseball stadium.

"USF baseball is Eddie Cardieri," former USF pitcher John Vigue said.

Picked to finish third in the Big East, the Bulls (21-32) are in danger of not making next week's eight-team conference tournament in Clearwater. And unless USF wins the tournament, this will mark the school's first senior class in 25 years that never made the NCAA Tournament.

As much as youth, injuries and fluctuating lineups have hurt, they are nothing compared with the internal problems that have festered since last season.

"The team is so negative," one USF player said. "It's like a cancer has spread within the team. A lot of people have given up. I've never been on a team when kids give up so easily."

Current players contacted by The Tampa Tribune spoke anonymously so there would be no fear of retribution and they could give an honest assessment of the program. USF assistants Nelson North and Reggie Jefferson refused comment.

The players, who said they like Cardieri personally, were mostly frustrated about a perceived lack of discipline in three specific instances.

•Cardieri's choice of punishment over a crank-call incident in February 2005.

•His berating a team captain for criticizing Cardieri's son during a game a month later.

•Cardieri allowing a pitcher to start two days after arriving late for a scheduled start last season.

"I think the biggest thing is there's no respect for the leadership of the program," said Bob Howell, a USF graduate who has been around the program the past 10 years, the last five watching his son, Kris, the Bulls' leading hitter this season. "I've been in this thing a long time. I still can't put my finger on it. I hear, 'It's Eddie this, Eddie that' - that's easy to say - but you can't please all 30 kids."

Despite his history - Cardieri has been involved in nearly 70 percent of the 2,123 baseball games played at USF, he's USF's winningest coach in any sport and ranks 28th on the NCAA's all-time active wins list with 792 - his future is unclear.

Only Athletic Director Doug Woolard knows whether Tuesday's 9-2 loss to Stetson was Cardieri's final home game, and Woolard won't comment until after the season.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Cardieri said. "Should I resign? Should I retire? Might I get fired? I know coaches in my business that have gotten a vote of confidence [and a contract extension] in the last week [of the season]. I can't tell you I have.

"Since my contract is up, I just have to wait until the year's over and see what happens. How is this year going to end? It may end up terribly, it might end great."

Great described Cardieri's first 12 seasons at USF. The Bulls were 464-277 (.630 winning percentage) with seven NCAA Tournament trips. In the past nine years, however, USF is a not-so-great 265-266 with only two NCAA Tournaments.

"Personally, I don't see how I've gotten worse as a baseball man," Cardieri said. "You would think the more you're in this game you'll grow professionally and personally. I've grown a lot, and I'm still learning."

Captains Aren't Coaches

While current players point to Cardieri's handling of several incidents, at least one former player says the team bears some of the responsibility for what has happened.

"We had leaders on the team that wouldn't allow that to happen," Vigue said of his playing days. "They don't have one that has stepped up and got his back. Maybe he gives them too much flexibility."

The first incident the current players mentioned occurred the day after Valentine's Day last season. On the bus ride back from a 3-1 win at Bethune-Cookman, USF player Joel Cardieri crank-called a USF female student-athlete.

As punishment, the entire team had to participate in the dreaded "Breakfast Club." In past years that involved a variety of strenuous running drills at 5 a.m.

Only this time, Eddie Cardieri said there would be no running. Instead, the team cleaned out the dugouts and helped the grounds crew.

"I don't see running as a form of punishment," Cardieri said. "If a kid ever keeled over because I was running them, I could never live with myself, let alone I would be sued for negligence. There are other means of discipline that are more practical."

Scott Glaser, the winningest pitcher in USF history and a member of the 1996 team that came two wins shy of the College World Series, said Cardieri was a players' coach.

"He let the team run the team," said Glaser, now a USF assistant AD. "He would let you play the game. That's what I respected about him. We didn't need to be motivated by outside sources. You just went out there to win. We didn't have to be thrown up against a wall or run until you were sick."

Countered one current player: "Coach has gotten softer. You just come out and clean up now. He's not as strong. He's trying to be too nice. You have to be a coach, you can't be a friend. I don't think people work as hard as they could because of that."

The second incident was in Honolulu in March 2005. Playing Sacramento State at the Rainbow Tournament, USF second baseman Nick Cardieri swiped at a wide throw to the base, but missed, allowing the runner on third to score.

When the inning ended, former center fielder Jeremy Bellotti, voted one of four captains by his teammates before the season, put his arm around Cardieri as they came off the field.

"Nick, you have to block that ball," Bellotti recalled saying. "Forget the runner at second, you have to keep the runner on third from scoring."

Then, according to Bellotti and several players, Eddie Cardieri ran over from the other side of the dugout "whooping and hollering" about saying that to another player.

Cardieri said his son made the correct play.

"I don't think I reacted like I did because it was my son," Cardieri said. "I reacted like I did in that situation - I didn't want them to confuse being a captain with being a coach. I'm sorry [but] you can't tell somebody else how to play [their] position when you've got all you can do to play yours."

When USF arrived at the hotel after the 7-4 loss, Cardieri mentioned the incident on the team bus.

"He told us," Bellotti said, "if anyone ever makes another negative comment about another player 'I'll jack you up. If it wasn't my son, I would have jacked you up.'"

The Bulls said they lost more than a game that day.

"The whole team agrees Bellotti only said something that anyone else would have said as a captain," one player said. "It lost the respect of some people for Cardieri."

Bellotti, who hit .300 as a sophomore and .193 as a junior, was dismissed from the team last summer by Cardieri. Cardieri wouldn't discuss why, and Bellotti said he wasn't given a reason. However, Bellotti remained on scholarship this year. In fact, his scholarship is worth $5,280, the third-highest amount among USF's scholarship baseball players.

Cardieri and USF senior associate AD Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy, the school's administrator for baseball, said they wouldn't comment on why Bellotti is still on scholarship.

The third incident came before a crucial home game against East Carolina last May. Pitcher Blake Tillett, required to be at the game an hour before the Sunday noon start, overslept and didn't arrive until after 11:30 a.m.

When he got to the ballpark, USF already had another pitcher, Daniel Thomas, getting ready. Tillett, who wouldn't have had enough time to get loose, didn't pitch. Two days later, to the surprise of some teammates, he startsed at Florida.

"He got 'banged' for [sunday], should you have also 'banged' him for Tuesday?" Cardieri said. "It depends how you look at it.

"To discipline one guy is one thing. What about affecting the other 30 guys? If it's going to affect these 30 guys and hurt our chance of winning and getting to the [NCAA] regionals, aren't there other forms of discipline instead of hurting the team? Is that right or wrong? I have no idea."

In the past two weeks, Cardieri suspended top reliever Yuri Higgins three games for leaving the stadium during a game April 25 and benched starting right fielder Joey Angelberger against Georgetown on April 29 after arriving late for the game.

However, Bellotti and fellow team captains Casey Hudspeth and Bryan Hierlmeier, along with Higgins, met at least four times with USF administrators to discuss Cardieri's perceived lack of discipline last season. Sparks-McGlinchy would not comment on the meetings.

As much as the players criticized Cardieri's "soft" discipline, they all agree he is a genuinely nice guy.

"He's a great guy," one player said. "He'd give you the shirt off his back if you asked."

Family Affects Philosophy?

Besides the perceived lack of discipline, another lightning rod for some players has been nepotism.

"I think both Nick and I handle it pretty well as a coach-player relationship," Cardieri said. "I don't feel I'm harder on my son. The only thing I consciously do is make sure I'm not easier on him."

Jeff Pryor has known Cardieri since 1984. Pryor's son, Ty, a sophomore pitcher from Orlando Olympia High, transferred from USF to Tennessee last season.

"We like Eddie, we still do," Pryor said. "He was always fair with Ty. But his philosophy and way of coaching differs with how Ty was raised. I feel Eddie at one time was a very dedicated baseball coach, but with his sons [Nick and Joel] being involved with the program he may have allowed the program to be lax."

Former USF player Vigue vehemently disagrees.

"Coach Cardieri tried to teach the pro way," said Vigue, now the pitching coach at St. Petersburg College. "He treated us like men, like adults. He puts down things you're supposed to do and expects you to do them.

"He would say, 'It's not what you do when people are watching, it's what you do when no one is watching is what wins championships.' Coach would show us the path. It was up to us to do what was right."

So what will Woolard do? Every time he gazes out the southside window from his plush corner office in USF's sparkling 2-year-old, $15 million athletic facility, he's staring at the shoddy 39-year-old baseball stadium. A new or upgraded stadium has been promised in the near future. Is Cardieri part of that future?

"Eddie has had successful programs," Sparks-McGlinchy said. "He's made a lot of good impressions on a lot of young men that have come through our program. He's a hard worker. He knows the game of baseball."

Not many know it better than Cardieri.

"Eddie is one of the most knowledgeable 'X and O's' guys I've ever met," said USF softball coach Ken Eriksen, who played baseball at USF in 1983-84. "He knows how to play the game the right way and a lot of what [uSF's softball team does] stems from things I got from him when he was an assistant coach."

Andy McHargue, whose son Matt has been on the team the past five years, said it would be a disservice if this is Cardieri's final USF season.

"For my son, he's been super loyal and for a parent that's what you look for," McHargue said. "This is his first losing season [since 1998]. His team plays in a dump so the playing field isn't level recruiting-wise. He graduates his guys [all four seniors graduated this year]. It would be an injustice if he's not back."

The Bulls probably need a win or two in West Virginia this weekend to make the Big East Tournament. After that, who knows?

"What if we win the Big East Tournament and win the regional and go to the super regionals?" Cardieri said. "I can tell you right now, honestly, I'm probably at the lowest point professionally and personally, just because how this year has gone. All that negativity that's out there.

"I've been very loyal to this university. I've been loyal and I've been good. I just would like some dignity. If they don't want me to be coach anymore, fine and dandy, they just have to tell me that. That's where I'm at with it right now."


A comparison of the state's 11 Division I baseball programs by win-loss records, winning percentage and NCAA Tournament berths since 2000. Win-loss records through Monday. Teams ranked by winning percentage.

School  W-L  Pct. NCAAs  

Florida State 349-123 73.94 Six

Miami 296-126 70.14 Six

FAU 282-147 65.73 Five

UCF 278-146 65.57 Four

Stetson 276-147 65.25 Five

Florida 279-162 63.27 Six

Florida Intl. 261-159 62.14 Three

Jacksonville 218-175 55.47 Two

B-CC 204-192 51.52 Five

South Florida 213-202 51.33 Two  

Florida A&M 150-202 42.61 None


USF's Eddie Cardieri is completing his 21st season as the Bulls' head coach, which ranks as the nation's 13th-longest active tenure at the same school in Division I.

Coach, School  Years  

Bob Warn, Indiana State 31

Mark Marquess, Stanford 30

Gene Stephenson, Wichita St. 29

x-Chuck Hartman, Va. Tech 28

Mike Martin, Florida St. 27

Danny Price, Florida Intl. 27

Pete Dunn, Stetson 27

Dewey Kalmer, Bradley 27

John Anderson, Minnesota 25

Jay Bergman, UCF 24

Fred Hill, Rutgers 23

Steve Kittrell, S. Alabama 23

Eddie Cardieri, USF  21  

Larry Hays, Texas Tech 20

x-is retiring after season


Cardieri has more NCAA Tournament appearances than any coach in USF history. A look at USF's all-time NCAA team tournament berths for each coach with at least two.

Coach, Sport  NCAAs  

x-Eddie Cardieri, baseball  9  

x-Don Barr, men's tennis 7

x-Ken Eriksen, softball 7

x-Susan Holt, women's golf 7

Dan Holcomb, men's soccer 6

Sherry Bedingfield, women's tennis 5

Dan Gierlach, women's golf 5

Perri Hankins, volleyball 5

Bob Shiver, men's golf 4

Bob Braman, men's cross country 3

Bob Braman, women's cross country 3

Nancy Mueller, volleyball 2

John Hackworth, men's soccer 2

Bobby Paschal, men's basketball 2

x-still at USF


Cardieri, 51, has guided USF to nine of its 10 NCAA Tournaments, but has not been since 2002. ... Is 729-543 in 21 seasons at USF, ranking 28th on the NCAA's all-time victories list among active coaches. ... USF has won five regular-season league titles under Cardieri - the last in 1996 - but has not finished higher than sixth place the past five seasons. ... Named conference coach of the year five times: (Conference USA, 1996), Metro (1993, '95) and Sun Belt (1986, '90). ... USF is in danger of missing the conference tournament for the second time in three years. ... This would be only the fourth losing season for Cardieri at USF ... Received the prestigious C-USA SAAC Coaches Choice Award in 2003, which is given to one coach in C-USA who best exemplifies a commitment to create a positive academic and athletic atmosphere. Before this season, Cardieri was selected by his peers as vice president of Big East baseball coaches. Also selected by peers as C-USA's chairman of coaches seven consecutive seasons.

Brett McMurphy

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Great story!! Its clear that Brett gave EC every chance to come off well in the story and its just as clear that EC has lost the team and should lose his job.

When USF moved in C-USA, EC moved out of his competency level (Metro/Sun Belt) and has had almost no success taking the next step. I would like to say he would be a great coach at that level again. How about coaching the Ospreys? Im all for it.

I am also sick of hearing about that "decrepit baseball stadium" and it being used as an excuse. I think its clear that CJL all but BUILT his practice facuility and that "sparkling 2-year-old, $15 million athletic facility" that Brett has Wollard gazing out. EC has had 21 years, what has he built besides quickly fading program and an established culture of complacancy?

If his contract is extended I will consider it an indictment of the whole athletic administration.

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Definitely looks like its time for ec to resign.  Too many internal conflicts and resentment to be able to continue.  

Hopefully the decision to let him go isnt based on the internal conflicts but rather because of poor performance over the past 5 years.

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ummm...i'm not here to defend EC but let's just remember a few things

it's easy to produce a sensationalized story...the opinion of 5 kids on a team of 30 may not be the status quo. I'm not saying it is or isnt, i'm just saying give it some consideration.

also, leavitt plays in a professional park...so comparing that to the red isnt exactly fair.

a final point of clearification: the athletic facitily was built by the donors...perhaps most of them donate because of the football program, but this should hardly be blamed on the baseball coach.

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^^^^^^^^^Exactly. Your not going to make everyone happy. People are going to ***** and moan on every team just about. Sometimes you have to get rid of the cancers on the team.

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Kyle, maybe I can correct something for you: I spoke to nearly half the team and about three dozen people in all for this story: former players, current players, former coaches, high school coaches, pro scouts, USF administrators and others. I just didn't have room to quote everyone I talked to. So it was more than five players. Thanks

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Great article BM!  Hopefully, USF can bring in somebody from a succesful program with energy as UK did this past year. UK hired an assisstant coach from Florida, John Cohen, who is a prime contender for the national coach of the year trophy. Coach Cohen has taken UK to the top of the SEC.   The same could be and should be done at USF, the potential is there regardless of the "decrepit baseball stadium".

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Here is a quote. " I have seen you guys play. You have no heart, guts, balls, or enthusiasm. I would rather watch paint dry." The players are not taking the responsibilty they should. EC does not hit, pitch, or field. The players do. If EC is gone most these players will be gone to. You better watch out what you wish for.

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This article makes me sick...Why does someone feel the need to go to every player and ask them about their coach behind his back and see how they feel while still in season...So you talked to more than 5 players, big deal, REAL athletes would know better than to speak to you or any other member of the press, and then to get comments whether they are good or bad from former players, parents, or whatever...Its funny, that not a single person has covered a USF baseball game in the past 2 months but all of a sudden we have an article like this...I am very disappointed just like everyone else about this years baseball team, but man I dont know if you could kick a guy any harder when hes down...

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But the fact that they did talk underscores NO RESPECT for the guy running the program.  I can see (and I have commented in the past) where the nepotism alone hurts EC's ability to be objective and put a good team on the field.  He undermines himself and I think that is reflected in the players' actions.  Face it, he's been left for more than a decade to try it his way.  It's not working.  The timing of the article, well you may have a point there.  

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