MJ: Whipple. Tampa Aiming (Very) High
"I think we'll be ranked by the end of the year."
The above statement is a reasonable presumption for plenty of coaches, especially those operating in NCAA Division II, which ranks 12 teams in its weekly poll and only has 50 or so total programs.
But when the statement is from a coach of a start-up program that has yet to play a varsity game, one has to decide whether he knows something that we don't, or if he's delusional.
Since it was Rory Whipple, the head man at the University of Tampa, which jumps into the Deep South Conference this spring, who made the claim, one has to assume it's the former. Whipple has created a cottage industry of building D-II programs, with the Spartans being his third project. He started the Bryant (R.I.) program in 2000, guiding the Bulldogs to a 75-39 record over seven seasons. In 2008, Whipple was at the helm of the fledgling Florida Southern team for two seasons, and the Mocs have quickly emerged as a player in the Deep South Conference.
First year expectations aside, Tampa will have a familiar feel for Whipple. Like Bryant, UT has a strong business curriculum, which he was able to parlay into winning records in six of his seven seasons in Smithfield, R.I. And he'll have one additional selling point.
Said Whipple, with a chuckle: "Why would you want to play in the North and freeze?"
He already has plenty of players embracing that recruiting tool. Whipple said he had 82 players come out for the team in its first season, including a cache of junior college players who have been lured out of the fertile JuCo grounds in New York and Maryland. The new coach has even broached the subject of a JV squad with the athletic department, but regardless, the Spartans will not be struggling for numbers in its first season, despite a relatively quick run-up to its first season.
What could be a constraint on Whipple's talk of national rankings is the schedule. While the South region, which has essentially been the unfettered domain of Limestone for the past decade, has improved over the last five seasons and now boasts several contenders, it's still difficult to cull enough votes by playing a strictly regional slate. According to Whipple, that's what the Spartans will stick with in their first season. Tampa will be playing the Saints in 2012, which leaves open the possibility for a monumental first campaign.
Regardless, Tampa has the perfect coach at the helm. Whipple's bona fides, which begin at Cortland and have traversed two NCAA divisions, international competition and the high school level, were custom made for Tampa's needs.
In this era of carefully constructed coach-speak, it's fun having someone who will put their boastful beliefs on the record as opposed to using nauseating banalities like "It is what it is" or "One game at a time," among many others. Alas, Whipple's prediction for this year is inconsequential. Whether the Spartans crack the Top 12 this spring or not does not alter the fact that, if history is any guide, Tampa will be among the division's elite sooner rather than later.