The story of South Florida and Charlie Strong getting Kerwin Bell as offensive coordinator begins with this simple point: Sterlin Gilbert did have to go.
Few USF fans would argue with the claim that Gilbert, who helped Strong at Texas and did a good job with Quinton Flowers, lost his fastball and needed to find a new place of employment. His timid and unimaginative approach to the biggest game of the year, the Nov. 23 game against UCF in which the Knights were highly vulnerable due to the McKenzie Milton injury, sealed his fate.
USF did not perform well in its bowl game against Marshall, but games against Marshall don’t define seasons at USF. Games against UCF do. Gilbert flunked that rivalry game, and Charlie Strong needed to change his play-caller.
We can all (or almost all) agree with that.
That meant the Bulls needed find someone to lead an offense that sputtered it’s way to six straight losses.
Here is the problem: Charlie Strong has a history of not choosing elite offensive coordinators. More precisely, he has a history of having to make second hires of OCs, as a head coach.
Strong hired Mike Sanford, Sr. (not Jr.) at Louisville. That didn’t work out. Strong pivoted to Shawn Watson, who benefited from nothing more — or less — than the simple fact that Teddy Bridgewater was the quarterback during his tenure as Strong’s second offensive coordinator at Louisville. When Strong moved to Texas, he took Watson with him.
Spoiler alert: Bridgewater did not play at Texas. Texas did not perform well on offense with Watson as the play-caller.
Strong went to Jay Norvell (now the head coach at Nevada) to replace Watson as the offensive play-caller at Texas before he then endured the public humiliation of begging Gilbert to leave Tulsa and join him at Texas. The protracted drama underscored how much Strong had struggled at UT, and how far the Longhorns had fallen.
When Gilbert did improve the Texas offense (but not enough to help Strong stay at Texas, due to many defensive lapses), Strong felt a sense of loyalty to his assistant, enough to take him to USF. The Quinton Flowers offense largely did what it was supposed to do, including the game at UCF which turned into one of the classic games of the entire 2017 college football season. This year, though, the house fell down.
“Charles in Charge” means that Charlie Strong had to replace yet another offensive coordinator, and to be more specific, for bad reasons, not good ones.
Nick Saban constantly has to replace offensive coordinators at Alabama because they get NFL OC jobs or college head coaching jobs. Safe to say, Strong replaces his offensive coordinators for different reasons.
What to make of Kerwin Bell? He is a name older football fans in the state of Florida remember well — and fondly — due to his years as the Florida Gators’ star quarterback. Had Florida not been hit with NCAA and SEC penalties due to various violations under Charley Pell (whose tenure preceded Bell’s playing career) and then Galen Hall, Bell might have led Florida onto the field in one or more Sugar Bowls He was robbed of that opportunity, but the quality of his performances spoke for itself.
Bell, as head coach, led Valdosta State to an unbeaten season this past year and the Division II national championship. He has been around the block, coaching at various levels of college ball plus the CFL and high school. He is 53 years old and a true survivor in the football industry. In addition to his many stops along the way as a coach, he also carved out a professional playing career which lasted over a decade — not bad for a seventh-round pick at No. 180 in 1988.
Bell could be really, really good, and personally, I am cautiously optimistic about the move.
Yet, Kerwin Bell isn’t really the main story here. The main story is that Charlie Strong had to replace another offensive coordinator for the wrong reasons.
Strong can only hope that this offensive coordinator will stick. He needs it to happen.
Otherwise, his head coaching career will end before too long.
New Bulls coach Scott eagerly embracing new challenge
Fresh off a runner-up finish in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game loss to LSU, former Clemson co-offensive coordinator, and new USF head coach, Jeff Scott is now going full throttle in his first few days back in Tampa with his new program.
— Coach Jeff Scott (@coach_jeffscott) January 17, 2020
This is not unfamiliar for the first-time head coach, as this was part of his role was procuring players for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers out of West Central Florida.
Scott also gave access to the Tampa Bay Times and beat writer Joey Knight on his inaugural meeting with his new team Thursday at the USF facility.
And, Scott began by prioritizing his team in the meeting room having the seniors sit in the front with the juniors behind and then, the underclassmen behind them.
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) January 16, 2020
It will be a challenge over the next season or two for Scott to revitalize a program that essentially went “off the cliff in the middle of the 2018 season.” That’s when the Bulls under Charlie Strong lost their remaining six games, including their bowl game and then, were blown out twice early in the 2019 season to drop to 1-3.
USF regained their footing in the middle of the year wining against lesser American Athletic Conference competition in a couple of games, but promptly lost out, including their final 4 games to finish 4-8. That resulted in Strong’s firing.
The 39 year old Scott had Clemson through and through, as he played for the Tigers in the early 2000s for three years and returned to become an assistant coach for the Tigers in 2008. Since then, he has been a receiver’s coach, recruiting coordinator, and then, co-offensive coordinator for the last three years.
The Tigers, behind All-American QB Trevor Lawrence, rolled through a second straight unbeaten season and then, a 62-17 blowout win over Virginia in the ACC Title Game. In a bid to repeat as National Champs, the Tigers defeated Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on December 28th in one of the College Football playoff semi-finals.
Alas, the “fairy tale” did end well, as LSU behind Heisman winning QB Joe Burrow, defeated them 42-25 Monday night in New Orleans.
There’s some more that USF fans can be excited about and Scott’s successes with wide receivers. He has helped develop some great NFL prospects like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams. His current Clemson group likely has at least two more NFL wideouts, too.
After years of the inconsistent offense, it appears that the Bulls leaders felt a change in philosphy was needed.
And Scott, the son of former FSU and Clemson offensive coordinator Brad Scott, appears to be the guy to change it all.
Coordinator musical chairs all related to Willie Taggart
Now that head coaching hires have been made at the prominent jobs in the state and around college football, the musical chairs of assistants and specifically coordinators is also fascinating. And in the case of FSU, USF and FAU they are all interrelated to former USF and FSU-now FAU, boss, Willie Taggart.
In Boca Raton, the new FAU coach has announced his first coordinator hire and it’s none other than his former defensive consultant at Florida State, his former defensive coordinator at Oregon and the former USF head coach, Jim Leavitt:
WELCOME to the newest resident of "Paradise." https://t.co/sQDMrJ6gld
— FAU Football (@FAU_Football) December 22, 2019
Taggart had brought Leavitt on board, as the season began to unfold in Tallahassee, initially, to consult, but eventually as a defensive coach on the field.
The tandem came together in Eugene, Oregon three years ago, when Taggart left USF and was hired by the Ducks. He then brought Leavitt with him from being the defensive coordinator at Colorado.
However, Leavitt did not follow Taggart to Florida State in 2018, as had been reported that he would. He stayed behind for one more season, in Eugene.
Meanwhile, Taggart had a disastrous 5-7 first season with FSU after having hired former Michigan State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett to run his defense. Meanwhile, Leavitt was fired after the 2018 season by Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and then, was available to come join Taggart this year.
However it was to no avail , as Taggart was fired himself, on November 3rd after just nine games into his second season.
Continuing, Taggart had hired Kendal Briles to run his offense in 2019 from Houston, but Briles had previously been at, wait for it… Florida Atlantic as the OC. And now, there’s word of where Briles is headed, and, that’s to the University of Arkansas, as their new offensive coordinator.
The Hogs made a surprising coaching hire of former Georgia offensive line coach, Stan Pittman, who has never been a head coach at the college level before. Desperate to improve in the SEC West, Briles up tempo offense did help the Florida State in terms of increases of yardage per game and points per game output this past season.
Meanwhile, back at USF, new coach Jeff Scott had already announced on Sunday that former FAU defensive coordinator and head coach for their bowl game, Glenn Spencer, is his new defensive coordinator in Tampa.
Spencer has extensive experience, especially as a defensive assistant and coordinator for over a decade at Oklahoma State.
Staying with the “musical chairs” connected to his current and former jobs:
On Monday evening Scott also announced that Charlie Weis Jr., the son of the former Notre Dame coach and Patriots offensive coordinator, would be joining his staff with the Bulls.
Welcome to the Bay, Charlie Weis Jr. ! 🌴
Named Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach.
✅Led FAU offense that ranked 14th in FBS in scoring (36.4 ppg) and posted 6,280 yards & 65 TD.
➡️https://t.co/cqjC1ROYcW#United #Bullieve #HornsUp 🤘 pic.twitter.com/9dbeXxTnav
— USF Football (@USFFootball) December 23, 2019
Weis had most recently been the offensive coordinator for…..you guessed it again, the last two years at Florida Atlantic taking over for Briles with Lane Kiffin. But, Kiffin did not take Weis with him, when he left FAU for Ole Miss two weeks ago. And, Taggart did not retain Weis.
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So, to recap: Taggart and Leavitt are back together for the third time in four seasons in the third different location.
Spencer and Weis, who were the coordinators at Florida Atlantic for Kiffin, weren’t kept by Taggart, but are now are now both at USF, where Taggart and Leavitt used to be head coaches.
And Briles, who coached for Taggart and for part of the year with Leavitt in Tallahassee is now on his way to the SEC with the Hogs.
It’s never dull with a coaching carousel.
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