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Breaking: Oregon hires USF coach Willie Taggart

Florida Football Insiders

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Success makes you valuable to your school and attractive to others. Big time success only heightens interest. And overnight Tuesday/Wednesday morning, USF coach Willie Taggart’s success over the last two years landed him the Oregon Ducks job.

As we wrote in October, if Taggart and the Bulls continued to ascend together this season, he would only become more of a “player” in the college coaching carousel. That has been become reality.

According to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, Taggart will be named Mark Helfrich’s replacement with the Ducks at some point today.

USF comes off their most spectacular offensive season ever, where QB Quinton Flowers broke the single season rushing and total yards from scrimmage records. And, Flowers was named American Conference Offensive Player of the Year last week. Also, the Bulls finished 10-2 for their most wins ever in a season and will play South Carolina upcoming this month in the Birmingham Bowl.

Taggart’s recent success combined with his previous successful head coaching stint with Western Kentucky, where he was also a famous player, made him a prime target for a top line “Power Five” conference job.

He also previously was an assistant on Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford staff, where he obviously became familiar with the Pac 12 and recruiting out west.

We at F.F.I. are told that behind the scenes, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, whose son Eric played for Chip Kelly at Oregon, also put in a strong private endorsement for Taggart at Oregon.

No official announcement has come from Oregon on the hire, yet or Taggart himself.

We will continue to update this story.

UPDATE. 8:15 am Eastern:

While no confirmation from either school, yet, there are multiple sources reporting to multiple outlets in Tampa Bay that there is a 1:30 p.m. USF team meeting where Taggart will presumably inform his players in person.

Meanwhile, (and this is the shady side of College coaching/recruiting) Taggart has wasted no time early this morning calling/contacting USF recruits that have not yet signed with the Bulls (can’t until February).

This is Cocoa High School stud QB Bruce Judson earlier this a.m. on Twitter:

Judson tweeted later that he wants Taggart and Oregon to offer him a scholarship out west.

While Taggart has no legal (NCAA) obligation to talk to his own guys first, it’s a real ethical nightmare that he’s contacting recruits (especially this high profile one) to tell them he’s taken the Oregon job before the players he brought to Tampa Bay.

Update 3:30 p.m Eastern:

Taggart held an emotional “goodbye meeting” with his players for over 30 minutes. Reportedly, he spoke first and at length about how much his relationship with them as recruits and his players was special to him and the turnaround for the Bulls the last two seasons. One player in the meeting told media outlets that Taggart said this was the toughest situation he’s been in since the death of his third child. Another player said that Taggart broke down crying on multiple occasions.

According to more media reports and players on twitter, etc., USF Atheletic Director Mark Harlan was in the entire meeting, but waited until after Taggart was finished and had left before he addressed the players. Harlan told them that he was installing offensive coordinator T.J. Weist as interim head coach for the upcoming Birmingham Bowl against South Carolina.

Harlan and USF president Judy Genshaft released this statement this afternoon too:

 

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USF Bulls

USF introduced new AD Michael Kelly Friday

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a return to a previous stop in his distinguished college athletics career, Michael Kelly was formally introduced as USF’s new Vice President of Athletics Friday.

Kelly, who has been the Chief Operating Officer of the College Football Playoff since 2012, was brought in to replace Mark Harlan, who departed on June 1st to be the new athletic director at Utah.

Kelly, who was previously an assistant AD at the school in 2001-02, takes over a program that has some pluses, not the least of which is a strong football program under coach Charlie Strong. It also has a women’s basketball program that is a perennial NCAA tournament team. The same with USF softball, and the last two years, the baseball team has also been in the NCAA postseason.

Men’s Basketball has largely been a mess for the last 20 plus years of play, including the firing of former coach Orlando Antigua during an NCAA investigation two years ago.

The bigger struggle is that USF is not a “Power Five” conference and suffers from the lack of significant revenue, because of it.

Kelly, who will be paid $625,000 annually plus incentives, did not shy away from USF having to battle that hurdle to compete:

“Obviously we’ve always had very aspirational goals at the University of South Florida. We’ve built a huge athletic department…Frankly, right now, we want to focus on being the very best that we can be. We are in a great league right now (the American Conference). How do we dominate that league? …That’s our goal right now. When we build the tradition, one champion at a time…we’ll be the best positioned school in the country if anything else happens (conference expansion).”

As we wrote previously, Kelly has previous experience as assistant commissioner of the ACC, handling football, broadcasting and communications. That means he understands how those leagues operate and succeed, intimately.

One of the first challenges will be to try to keep Strong from bolting, like Harlan did, for one of those bigger jobs in the short term. Strong is due to make over $5 million this season, but most of that money is still being paid by the University of Texas.

This has lead to widespread speculation that Strong might jump, especially, if USF has a successful year, in December to another school.

But, that’s in the future, in the present, Kelly’s task is to stabilize the entire department in Tampa, and through fundraising, specifically, do the best job he can in increasing revenue outside of what the American has in television, etc.

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USF scores big AD hire with Michael Kelly of College Football Playoff

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The USF Bulls and their search firm vowed that they would not take long to replace departed athletic director Mark Harlan.

And on Tuesday, less than a month after Harlan left for the University of Utah, USF announced that they hired College Football playoff senior executive Michael Kelly, to return to Tampa to run the athletic department that he used to be part of.

The school announced the move here:

Kelly who’s been the COO of the College Football Playoff since it’s inception in 2012, was previously in Tampa as USF’s, associate athletic director for external affairs for two years (2001-02).

Previously to working for the CFP, Kelly had spent six years with the Atlantic Coast Conference, as a senior associate commissioner overseeing football, broadcasting and communications.

USF included these comments from him in the release:

“I am truly honored to return to the University of South Florida and Tampa Bay. This is a dream opportunity for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful to President Genshaft and the USF Board of Trustees,” Kelly said. “It’s a very exciting time with the university and the entire region on such strong upward trajectories. I can’t wait to get started with our student-athletes, coaches, staff, Bulls fans, donors and alumni everywhere.”

Kelly also, has an extensive background and history with Tampa Bay and big events, as he was the executive director of the 1999 Men’s Final Four organizing committee for the event that was held at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg.

His excellent work with that led him to be the president of the Super Bowl host Committee in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl 35 (2001) and later have that same role in Jacksonville for Super Bowl 39 and in Miami for Super Bowl 41.

The Bulls currently reside in the American Athletic Conference, which is a compilation of leftover teams from the old Big East and some added teams from Conference USA. However, that League has nowhere near the revenue as the “Power 5” conferences, and it will be a challenge for Kelly, just like it is for the other schools, to raise money and try to level the playing field.

USF has to consider this a “home run hire” to replace Harlan, as Kelly brings tremendous credibility from college football’s most important post-season brand. And, because of Kelly’s relationship at the network TV level from his days with the CFP and also with the ACC, it will benefit the American Athletic Conference to have him now in the fold as well.

The Bulls will introduce Kelly at a news conference later this week.

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Former Bucs Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks won’t be new USF AD

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

USF search for a new athletic director continues, another prominent name that had been speculating about has decided that he won’t be in it. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks released a statement on Friday to officially rule himself out for replacing former AD Mark Harlan. Harlan left three weeks ago Friday to take the same position with the University of Utah.

Brook’s statement came Friday through the high school that he co-founded in Tampa with former 49ers owner Eddie Debartolo.

“As flattered as I am to be publicly mentioned for the Director of Athletics position at the
University of South Florida, I do not believe the timing is right for me to pursue any new
opportunities. Commitments with Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School, Derrick
Brooks Charities and, most importantly, my family, would not enable me to fully devote
the time that would be required to successfully engage in this role at USF.

Brooks continued,

“I see nothing but a great future for USF Athletics and I know that the advisory
committee and President Genshaft will have excellent candidates to choose from in
selecting the new leader.

Because of Brooks’s previous experience on the Florida State University board of directors and having been the president and general manager of the now-defunct Tampa Bay Storm Arena Football team, many think Brooks would have been an ideal choice for the Bulls.

However, his work not only with his charitable foundation and the Brooks-Debartolo Collegiate High School has been very successful for over a decade in the Tampa area.

We wrote previously that Brooks should be one of the names that USF president Dr. Judy Genshaft, Dr. Bob Sutton from the University, who is heading up to search, and the search firm, Eastman & Beaudine should take a strong look at.

One source told F.F.I. that it was a very tough obstacle for a lot of USF alumni and donors that Brooks was so heavily associated with Florida State. However, he is a tremendous figure over the last 23 years in the Tampa Bay area.

Brooks, who’s now 45, was a former All-American linebacker national champion with the Seminoles from the early 1990s. He later became a first-round pick with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995 and helped lead them to a Super Bowl championship in 2002

Earlier, Tampa Sports executive Rob Higgins, who heads up the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, had also announced that he was going to assist the search but was not a candidate for the job. His organization has been responsible for Super Bowls, the College Football Playoff Championship Game, the recent NHL All-Star Game and other prominent sports events coming to the Tampa Bay Area.

USF is in need of an impressive hire to help not only with fundraising but another last-ditch opportunity to get them into a bigger conference than the current American Athletic Conference, where they currently reside.

The Bulls make a fraction of what the other “Power Five” conferences make in terms of revenue, including from television rights. It’s one of the big reasons Harlan took the Utah job in the pac-12 where their revenue is more than five times that of the Bulls.

USF will likely interview at least two-three out of market candidates during the search.

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