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Connection for Taggart-Leavitt partnership at Oregon? Jim Harbaugh

Florida Football Insiders



Photo by Khris Hale/Icon Sportswire

With the “Coaching Carousel” still spinning this week, the intriguing unification of former USF Head Coaches Willie Taggart and Jim Leavitt at Oregon has a lot of Bulls and college football fans wondering how both ended up in the Pac 12, with the Ducks, and most curiously, together.

The answer is: this partnership has been in the making, since the late 1990’s and in large part a single name brought them together: Jim Harbaugh.

You see the current Michigan coach was the former 49ers coach in the NFL, and before that, the former Stanford coach and before that, actually volunteered as his playing career was ending with his father Jack’s staff at Western Kentucky.

And going back almost 20 years is where you find the connections/bonding that led to what has happened the last couple of weeks in Eugene, Oregon. Here goes:

Willie Taggart was a fantastic option style running QB out of Bradenton, FL, who was recruited by….Jim Leavitt as the first ever head coach of the brand new USF football program when it debuted in 1997. Taggart wound up going to WKU to play and star for the elder Harbaugh.

The Hilltoppers actually (very famously for them and locally in Tampa Bay) came into Raymond James Stadium and defeated the Leavitt Bulls in 1998 with Taggart having a tremendous game.

See the connections coming together?

Eventually after his playing career, Willie Taggart wanted to get into coaching and did so with the elder Harbaugh at WKU, then he found his way onto Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford staff as running backs coach from 2007-09. Coaching and recruiting in the Pac-12 for those three years would become vital years later.

Taggart went back to his alma matter WKU as head coach in 2010, and Jim Harbaugh would eventually leave Stanford after the 2010 season to become head coach of the 49ers starting in 2011.

Leavitt meanwhile was fired controversially from USF after the 2009 season, sat out of coaching in 2010, but eventually was hired by……Jim Harbaugh, as linebackers coach in San Francisco.

Leavitt excelled with Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, as the Niners went to three consecutive NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. As you likely know, Harbaugh moved on the last two years to coach Michigan while Leavitt became the defensive coordinator in Colorado, again a Pac 12 school.

Picture almost in total focus?

So, with Willie Taggart having come to USF in 2013 and leading the Bulls to their most successful season ever this past year with a 10-2 record and QB Quinton Flowers being named the American Conference Offensive Player of the Year, he was in prime position to jump to a “Power Five” conference job. Like the opening they had at Oregon, for example.

We now know that one of the people calling the Ducks brass on Taggart’s behalf having seen what he did for him at Stanford and for his dad before that at WKU, was….Jim Harbaugh.

And now, with the latest revelation/hire that Leavitt will be leaving Colorado to join Taggart at Oregon, all of the intertwining connections are once again visible.

There may have been some other factors and influences that helped Oregon find their new head coach and now, his new defensive coordinator, but none were more prominent on this edition “College Coaching Match Game” than, Jim Harbaugh.

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USF Bulls

USF introduced new AD Michael Kelly Friday

Florida Football Insiders



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 Bulls

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

Florida Football Insiders



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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USF Bulls

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

Florida Football Insiders



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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