TAMPA, Fla. — Bobby Paschal folds his arms across his chest and watches.
The University of South Florida is being beaten soundly by Southern Methodist. But Paschal, the Bulls' second-year coach, wraps his emotions inside his sports jacket. Public stoicism masks private seething.
Paschal had spent eight seasons at Southwestern Louisiana, where he enjoyed a .643 winning percentage and five postseason appearances. He moved on to the Sun Belt Conference and proceeded to lose 26 of his first 35 games. He may have conquered the bayou but now appears headed toward a Florida sinkhole.
"The reason we can deal with the adversity we're going through right now is that our staff and players are working very hard in moving toward a positive direction," says Paschal, who went 8-20 last season and won just one of his first seven games this season. "If you knew where our program is today compared to where it was 12 months ago, you'd see the progress."
Paschal's success with the Ragin' Cajuns has helped him remain patient. And while the losses mount, the 46-year-old coach takes the long-range view. Another coach could easily be tempted to apply a quick fix.
In July, Paschal kicked two starters, Arthur Caldwell and Keith Jordan, off the team for disciplinary reasons. He is now starting two freshmen in the backcourt and coping with the growing pains.
"If I had no reference point, there could be some self-doubt right now," Paschal admits. "It's always easier to believe in your program when you've had past success. Me and my staff have the confidence that what has worked in the past will be successful.
"I remember that in the first high school game I ever coached (Ashford, Ala.), I came in with all these great ideas I'd developed over the years. We got out the first night and we're behind like 23-2 in the first quarter and I was just shaking my head. When you've got no frame of reference, that's when the doubts creep in."
The Bulls have already lost to Syracuse and Florida and have attracted Clemson and Michigan to the Holiday Classic Dec. 28-29. And the quality of play in the Sun Belt improves each year.
"I think we definitely need to have a belnd of national type teams on our schedule," says Paschal, who never experienced a losing season at Southwestern Louisiana. "We can't allow our problems to make us think we can't play the game. For this year, if we had a few tough games and a few more where we were favorites, maybe we'd have been better off. But down the road, a strong schedule will help this program."
Paschal stresses an up-tempo offense coupled with pressure defense. That strategy, with its implicit reliance on quickness, worked splendidly at Southwestern Louisiana for athletes like Andrew Toney.
At South Florida, Bull run has been a questionable tactic. South Florida averaged 25 turnovers in the first four games, but the team's poise improved markedly against Florida in an 83-69 loss Dec. 21.
"I'm happy with the job Bobby is doing right now," South Florida Athletic Director Paul Griffin says. "He's bringing in young players and it's a building process. We've got patience that we're on the right track."
Paschal sees steady improvement from freshman guards Maurice Webster and Tony Armstrong and sophomore Hakim Shahid.