FUS fired Jeff Scott on Sundaya day after a 54-28 loss against Temple dropped the bulls‘ save to 1-8. Scott went 4-26 in three seasons, including 1-19 in conference play with just one win over an FBS opponent.
Scott took over from Charlie Strong in 2020 and went 1-8 in a season shortened by COVID-19. The Bulls then struggled to build momentum over the past two seasons.
USF started playing football in 1997 and Scott is the first coach to not win eight games in a season. He didn’t even come close. USF once seemed to have all the potential in the world, reaching second place in the polls in 2007, and it has had more winning seasons than losing seasons. Times are tough now, but this work should attract a fair amount of interest. He was able to hire an offensive coordinator from Clemson the last time he was open, after all.
So how good is USF’s work, and what names might come into the mix? Here are the factors to keep in mind.
This program is at its lowest on the ground
Fifteen years ago, USF reached second place in the BCS rankings after beating UCF 64-12. Now the Knights are off to the Big 12 and the Bulls are left behind, looking for another coach after back-to-back three-year terms. So, what happened ?
Even after that No. 2 ranking, the Bulls reached the Top 25 in each of the next two years, before Jim Leavitt was fired after hit a player. The program failed to capitalize on the peak of its success and failed to build the infrastructure necessary to take the team to the next level.
Skip Holtz took over and the schedule began to slip. Then the Big East became the American Athletic Conference and was no longer a power conference. While this was happening, UCF built an indoor training facility and stadium on campus. They’re not the best facilities, but they’re facilities that USF didn’t build.
The Bulls eventually bounced back with ranked finishes under Willie Taggart (11-2 in 2016) and Charlie Strong (10-2 in 2017), but that didn’t last. Strong was fired two years later after a 4-8 season. When the Big 12 came calling for new members, UCF received an invite, while USF found themselves bottom of the AAC.
New facilities are finally on the way
After years and years of discussion, USF has finally built an indoor training facility, which will open this year. It was announced in 2017 and it took longer than expected to raise the funds, but it is finally in place. It looks great and it was needed for a long time.
As for the idea of an on-campus stadium, the school announced last September its intend to build one. This, coincidence or not, happened just as UCF agreed to join the Big 12. Perhaps the UCF news woke up the people needed to make these things happen. A stage is still a long way off, but USF might finally have some administrative momentum to push these things forward.
Rrecruitment needs to improve. Will Florida links be necessary?
USF is located in a talent-rich state, and the Tampa area has more than its share of talented high school players. Scott was hired in part because of his insight as Clemson’s recruiting coordinator and his Sunshine State recruiting history as a Florida native and son of a longtime Florida State aide. .
It didn’t happen. USF is fifth to AAC in 247Sports Team Talent Ranking. The 2021 recruiting class placed fifth in the league and the 2022 class placed sixth. The 2023 class currently ranks ninth, ahead only Tulsa and Marine. Scott and USF jumped into the transfer portal, adding 15 players in 2022, but it was too little, too late.
It should be a place that can recruit rookies and be a transfer destination. The most successful Power 5 programs on the Portal are those that can bring local players home after leaving the Power 5 programs. Will the next head coach have the connections to do it?
Where does this rank among open jobs?
The future AAC will have several new head coaches. Charlotte has already fired his coach, UAB is in the market to replace his interim head coach and that may not be all. Rice’s Mike Bloomgren is in the hot seat and Florida AtlanticWillie Taggart could be too. Is USF a better job than UAB?
We know USF can spend money. Scott had a salary of around $2.4 million, very much in the top of the group of 5 and fourth in the AAC this year. It’s the kind of money that can attract a Power 5 coordinator, as it did with Scott.
It may not be a great carousel of coaches, even at the group-5 level, but it’s possible that much of the change will come from the revamped AAC.
So what names could get into the mix?
Florida A&M Head Coach Willie Simmons is 31-12 in four seasons at the Tallahassee school after returning to a program after six straight losing seasons. Last year’s 9-3 team became the first HBCUs to make the FCS playoffs since 2016. That success came despite a lack of support from the school administration, as the Rattlers opened the season against North Carolina without more than a dozen players due to certification issues. Simmons also went 21-11 in three seasons as head coach of Prairie View A&M. Simmons had great success in schools without many resources. A job like USF could finally give him resources to work with. Coincidentally, Simmons and Scott were college teammates at Clemson in the early 2000s.
Penn State running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider is a Florida native and former Florida high school coach with experience recruiting Florida players from schools like Penn State, West Virginia and marshal. It is ranked #3 in 247Sports’ ranking of the best recruiters for the Class of 2023. Running backs he has developed include Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles and former third-round pick Charles Sims.
Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee is a former Georgia high school coach who spent two years at Georgia Southern and has been at UGA since 2016. Running backs like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift are among his students. McGee is highly respected throughout the state of Georgia and was instrumental in Kirby Smart turning the Dawgs into a machine. He is destined to find a head coaching job at some point.
Former UAB Head Coach Bill Clark retired in the summer due to back problems, but is believed to want to return to coaching if he is healthy. Clark, 54, spent more than a decade as a high school coach in Alabama, then moved to southern Alabama and Jacksonville State before becoming the head coach of the ‘UAB. He went 49-26 at UAB with two conference championships, most after the program was rebuilt from scratch following a hiatus. He knows how to build a program from the bottom and how to build a new stadium.
state of florida offensive coordinator Alex Atkins doesn’t call plays at FSU but has improved the Seminoles offense since joining in 2020. He was promoted to offensive coordinator this year and engineered a massive turnover on the offensive line, which ranks 33rd in sacks allowed by game after not finishing better than 95th in that stat since 2015. The 38-year-old is considered a rising star in the industry.
Florida State Co-Defensive Coordinator Randy Shannon has coached in four of the state’s seven FBS programs, but not at USF. The former Miami player went 28-22 as head coach of the Hurricanes from 2007-2010 and had assistant stops at Florida, UCF and now FSU. The 56-year-old would bring extensive knowledge and state ties, as well as head coaching experience.
Howard head coach Larry Scott was a finalist the last time this position opened. He spent seven years as a USF assistant from 2006 to 2012 and went 4-2 as a Miamiinterim head coach in 2015. But Scott is 6-16 at Howard and lost to USF in September — the Bulls’ only win this season.
Former Florida head coach Dan Mullen knows the state and was a successful head coach. He went 69-46 at Mississippi State, the biggest success the school has had in a long time, and he finished 34-15 at Florida with three New Year’s Six appearances in four years. His recruitment was his downfall with the alligators, but that wouldn’t be a big deal at USF. The bigger question is whether ESPN’s current analyst would prefer to wait for a bigger job.
Could USF turn to Scott Frost, the former UCF and Nebraska head coach? He took UCF from winless to 13-0 in two seasons before a disastrous run at Nebraska.
Carolina Coast Head Coach Jamey Chadwell would seem destined for a Power 5 job with his 30-4 record over the past three seasons, but the stings haven’t come. Why would he leave Coastal in the midst of so much success? USF could more than double his current salary and provide more resources, and the quarterback Grayson McCall can leave Coastal after this season. If Chadwell thinks his window might be closing soon, maybe he’s taking a look at USF.
Toledo Head Coach Jason Candle and Kent State the head coach Sean Lewis are also potential names to watch. Both are Midwesterners with little to no Florida experience, but Candle was in the mix for Miami, Florida’s offensive coordinator last year and could win the MAC this year, while Lewis has brought Kent State its biggest win in decades but is 3-6 this season. They are sharp offensive minds who were able to win with fewer resources.
(Top photo: Jamie Rhodes/USA Today)