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TDS USF Football Search Committee Roundtable

If Michael Kelly and Associates needs some outside consulting help, we’re here for him.

Georgia Tech v South Florida Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

While we’ve made our USF Coaching Odds Board, we decided to go a bit deeper into some of the reasons why the South Florida Bulls should hire one of the coaches on the board.

As a staff, we’ve each selected one candidate to pitch to the fans, the Board of Trustees, and #OurVPofA Michael Kelly. These are not all the possible candidates, and we may not even believe the coach we’re writing about is actually the right fit. It’s just our job to sell you on why this particular coach should be hired. Think of us as the agents trying to get our guy the job.

Understand? Let’s get started.

Clemson Co-OC Tony Elliott, by Nick

NCAA Football: Clemson Practice Anderson Independent Mail-USA TO

Tony Elliott has been one of primary architects of the Death Star that Clemson has become this decade and is one of the most highly regarded assistant coaches in the country (he has the 2017 Frank Broyles Award to back that up). Serving as running backs coach/Co-OC with Jeff Scott (another strong candidate for this job, btw), Elliott holds play-calling duties for one of the elite offenses in the nation, and can make his own decisions given Dabo Swinney’s hands-off, CEO approach when it comes to his assistant coaches.

On top of his on-field credentials, he’s an elite recruiter who has gotten several top Tampa area stars to like Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech), Ray Ray McCloud (Sickles), William Putnam (Plant) and 2020 five-star running back Demarkcus Bowman (Lakeland) to come spend their collegiate careers in upstate South Carolina. Heck, 813 product K.J. Sails (East Bay) knows this and has been stumping hard for Elliott on Twitter.

An issue is that Elliott (and Jeff Scott) could very well stay put at Clemson because there’s a legitimate element of family with that staff and it’s been difficult for other programs to pry one of them out. Or, he could very well bide his time and jump for a bigger opening like the one in Tallahassee right now. However, it’d be a huge coup for a man with several ACC connections like Michael Kelly to swing for the fences and pull him down to Tampa.

Florida Tight ends coach Larry Scott, by Collin

Florida v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

When you’re a program that’s only existed since 1997, it makes sense that there isn’t a deep coaching tree to be called upon when needed. Of the hundreds of young men to wear the green and gold, there’s basically only one that is qualified to lead their alma mater.

Larry Scott was the interim head coach after Al Golden was fired at Miami. He spent one season at Tennessee as an offensive coordinator, a season that would receive an incomplete from any just jury because he was working for human offense refractory period Butch Jones. He is currently the tight ends coach at Florida, where he’s gotten another year of experience in an elite program. Experience he can share with his alma mater.

Scott is by all accounts a quality recruiter, and well thought of in his industry. But to be honest, there might be candidates that check more technical boxes on this list. Candidates with head coaching and coordinator experience at the highest levels of the sport.

But there are none that might galvanize a fan base that yearns to be loved. To be led by someone that understands this young, burgeoning, and highly unconventional football program. To find someone that would consider Fowler Avenue a destination instead of a stepping stone. Someone that can bleed green and gold as much as those that sit in the stands. USF Football can be a place of sadness and forlorn because it seems no one understands our plight. 23 years of all the promise in the world, flashes of potential in beating some of the elite teams in America, sitting in a hotbed of recruiting talent in a growing city... and zero conference championships.

Imagine if the man in charge could feel every emotion you felt from the stands? Someone that remembers Pitt, Auburn, WVU twice, Notre Dame... and the empty calories they were which just made us hungrier. A man that remembers the infamous coaching trailers, but also knows what makes the best facilities in college football the recruiting gems they are.

Larry Scott is the only one that can sing the last line of the fight song: “alma mater, hail to thee.” And for this program, it might be more important than any other single quality. And no one else can make the university family rally together than being led by one of our own.

Former FSU (and USF) head coach Willie Taggart, by Jamie

NCAA Football: Central Florida at South Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

First things first; everyone needs to get over the fact that he left after the 2016 season. This is a conference where successful coaches leave for bigger jobs. You cannot take these things personally. It wasn’t even that big of a shock that he left, and I thought he handled himself reasonably well on the way out the door.

So now that that’s out of the way, what’s the argument for bringing Willie Taggart back to Tampa? Simple. Every other coach on this board has one question hanging over them: Would they be able to win at USF, with its temporary but serious challenges? We already know Taggart can, because he did. I have never had more fun watching a USF football team than I did in 2016, with that unstoppable offense and the two best skill position players in school history. (And also that horrible defense I swear to God if Raymond Woodie ever becomes a coordinator again I will — oh wait, I’m supposed to be promoting my candidate, sorry.)

You might say that Willie is a salesman and a bit of a self-promoter. Isn’t that what you have to be at USF? Don’t you need to carry some of the marketing and social media weight yourself? Do you really want to leave it all up to the people who kept putting “#BullStrong” on everything for three straight years? Willie may have lost a little bit of his coaching mojo at FSU, but he hasn’t forgot how to connect with his players or with fans. Coming off a coach who struggled to do both, that’s a helpful skill for a USF coach to have.

Finally, after the stunt he pulled at Oregon, bolting for Tallahassee after one 7-5 year, how quickly is the next big job offer going to come his way? If you bring Willie Taggart back to USF and he #DoesSomething again, you might get to keep him a bit longer than you think. And even if he leaves again someday, it means you won a lot more games and had a lot more fun.

Georgia OC James Coley, by Nathan

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Arkansas State at Georgia

James Coley knows Florida. He’s been a high school coach in Miami (305 stand up), called the shots at FIU, and the University of Miami. He was instrumental in recruiting Jameis Winston to FSU (or maybe not, but I’m trying to sell you on him). To get the No. 1 QB to spurn both Alabama and Auburn is a huge effort. While not as prolific this year on offense, they were very effective at scoring in the red zone (47-of-49). His knowledge of recruiting in Florida, and now Georgia make him an excellent fit at USF.

But there is a reason this meme exists.

USF OC Kerwin Bell, by Seth


Kerwin Bell is a proven head coach at multiple levels of football. He won state championships at the high school level, conference championships at the FCS level, and a national championship in Division II.

Bell is also a program builder. He understands how to set a culture, and, maybe even more importantly, engage and grow a donor base. He helped to start the program at Ocala Trinity Catholic and resuscitated a near-dead Jacksonville University program. The Dolphins were 35-54 in the nine seasons before his arrival. Bell’s first JU team went 3-8, but the Dolphins went 62-27 in the ensuing eight seasons, finishing first in the conference three times. Four years to the date after Bell left the program, JU has decided to end football after going 17-26 in the seasons since his departure. At Valdosta State, Bell took an elite program back to the mountaintop, holding a 27-7 record over 3 seasons. In his final season, he helped win the program’s fourth national championship led by one of the highest scoring offenses in Division II history.

Bell was brought in to inject some life into the USF offense and the Bulls struggled in 2019. The top two quarterbacks and running backs dealt with injuries for much of the year and the offensive line was unable to find consistency throughout the season. Bell’s teams typically make a jump from year one to year two. It would be interesting to see that happen, especially after being able to find some talent more suited for his system.

To that note, Bell has proven himself to be an effective recruiter and talent evaluator. He currently is the primary recruiter for two of USF’s top three recruits, both at positions of need (OL and QB). He also has familiarity with the current roster and understands what steps need to be taken to reshape the roster. Given the opportunity to take over the program and shape it in his image, he would be successful.

LSU Passing Game Coordinator/WR Coach Joe Brady, by Andrew

LSU v Mississippi Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

HIGH RISK/HIGH REWARD: How old is Joe Brady? 30!? Is he even a coordinator? NOPE. How many years has he been at LSU? One!? But oh how that one year has gone. This year, Brady took over a passing game at LSU, which featured excellent athletes that ran a moribund system last season, and let them loose. (This should sound familiar to fans of the 2015 USF Bulls.) Brady, a native of Pembroke Pines, FL, led LSU to 584 yards per game and 48.7 points per game.He’s getting looks for P5 offensive coordinator jobs, and LSU “has a plan” to try to keep him, but P5 teams seam wary of hiring a 30-year-old for the top gig, so USF can sweep in with a HC offer. He even has two years of NFL experience with the Saints, and coached linebackers at William & Mary. Can he recruit? This speaks for itself...

FAU Head Coach Lane Kiffin, by Ryan

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Southern Miss at FAU Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Two caveats are in order here: (1) for a number of reasons, it’s very much up in the air whether USF would want to hire Lane Kiffin, and (2) I’m not quite sure that USF is the proper career move for someone who’s already getting serious P5 interest, especially given that Kiffin seems to already be in serious talks with Arkansas. All of that said… multiple reports have indicated now that Lane Kiffin is interested in coming to USF. And if Lane Kiffin is interested in coming to USF, he is automatically one of your top candidates.

I think a lot of USF fans, even if they’re not explicitly campaigning to hire Jim Leavitt, are still a little fixated by the idea of hiring Jim Leavitt—hiring a “USF Guy” who is going to stay here long-term and turn down interest from Alabama and the like. First off, this idea is probably unrealistic in this day and age with USF in the AAC, but that’s a conversation for another day. Secondly, this has led to things like the following:

(1) A lot of people pumping up coaches like Larry Scott—who has held a coordinator position for all of one (1) unremarkable season and was an interim coach for a half a season—because he Knows the Program.

(2) People’s main concern with Willie Taggart being “will he leave again?” and not “hm, it’s kind of troubling that he dawdled around with an ill-fitting power offense for two seasons before getting things figured out at USF, and that issue does not appear to have been wholly solved at FSU,” and

(3) People campaigning for Kerwin Bell despite [gestures at USF’s 2019 offense].

USF should be focused on getting the coach with the best credentials for the job, full stop. I don’t know if that’s Lane Kiffin, but he’s a strong contender. Even with his tremendous work as an offensive coordinator at Alabama,

I was nervous when Kiffin’s name surfaced for the job in 2016 because his head coaching record was such a train wreck. I am no longer nervous.

Kiffin has a sterling offensive record and has had unprecedented success coaching one of the programs most similar to USF in location and stature. He runs a scheme that fits the talent USF is able to attract, he’s recruited like a madman at FAU, and would be a beautiful shot in the arm for a program lacking in energy and brand recognition.

If Lane Kiffin is indeed interested in being USF’s head coach, USF should be very, very interested in Lane Kiffin.