Now that the Big XII has decided apparently for the short term future that they will not expand, a legitimate question has to be posed in Tampa, how long does USF in its current conference and conditions hang on to coach Willie Taggart?
First, if you understand the Taggart/Mark Harlan/USF football soap opera of the last two plus seasons, that is a mind blowing question above.
If you had told anyone, anyone, with knowledge of the situation after Taggart’s second season (2014) at the helm that finished 4-8, that we would be debating whether the Bulls could keep their coach from being poached for a huge raise by a Power Five (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, etc.) program, they would have laughed.
Out loud. Like, audibly.
Or, they would have asked, who’s the new head coach that we hired after 2014 that everyone now wants?
But, this is why sports is great- Taggart was backed into a corner by the new AD, Harlan, who forced out his offensive and defensive coordinators prior to 2015, and basically put an ultimatum on the season of, win or else.
And that’s exactly what his Bulls did. The young nucleus of talent came together and the Bulls rolled off seven wins out of the final eight games in the regular season and made a bowl game for the first time in five years.
In the process, Taggart naturally became a sudden hot name when jobs, particularly in the South where he’s most known and succeeded as a player and previous head coach at Western Kentucky before USF, came open.
As proof of who was taking notice, he interviewed for the vacancy at South Carolina last December, before they eventually hired Will Muschamp. Something that seemed laughable and far fetched after Taggart’s 6 combined wins in ’13-14, was now reality. You win, and they love you.
And your current school better love you, too, if they want to keep you.
That’s another part of this crazy soap opera. Shortly, after the flirtations came, Taggart amazingly got an extension and raise from Harlan and USF to remain in Tampa. Well played by him and a peek into this upcoming coaching vacancy mayhem cycle that’s already unfolding.
Now, to USF and their present success of 2016. The Bulls are off to their best start in program history at 6-1. Their prolific offense has exciting players right now, and is as fun to watch, as anyone in the Southeast. And the name Willie Taggart is going to keep coming up.
Now, we at F.F.I. aren’t suggesting that a program like LSU, which has already fired Les Miles, is going to zero in on the head Bull. That’s silly.
But consider this scenario, What if Houston’s Tom Herman, who is the leading ideal candidate to jump into that kind of job, or maybe the Texas job just down the road if they delete Charlie Strong, takes off from H-town? You don’t think that Houston would look at, interview and probably strongly consider Willie Taggart? Wake up.
What happens if Vanderbilt, an hour South from Bowling Green and Western Kentucky where Taggart is a well known legend, were to get rid of coach Derek Mason? It’s an SEC job that pays tremendously well, has built in advantages financially for your staff and facilities and would be a significant step up for a coach like Taggart, if he were to seek it.
Conversely, there is a strong argument that with what he and his staff have built at USF these last four seasons and how likely it is that they will be one of the top teams in the American Conference for the near future, that Taggart should sit tight for now. That he should continue his impressive recruiting of Florida’s fertile ground, win some more and thereby, only improve his resume’/brand name and eventual price tag.
USF and their fans obviously rejoice at that argument.
But, the double edged sword is: Winning only gets him more and more better opportunities and interviews, as he does.
In conclusion, all we’re saying is, as the openings continue this year and potentially next, get used to hearing the name “Willie Taggart” more and more.
USF introduced new AD Michael Kelly Friday
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.
"Our youth is a strength. We are not restricted by tradition, but we have a way to build it. We're going to build tradition one championship at a time. We're going to win more championships and we're going to do it the right way!" pic.twitter.com/Cqi1le2vYt
— USF Athletics (@USFAthletics) June 29, 2018
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.
USF scores big AD hire with Michael Kelly of College Football Playoff
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:
Welcome back to the Bay! ? ☀️
— USF Athletics (@USFAthletics) June 26, 2018
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.
Former Bucs Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks won’t be new USF AD
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.
“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.
“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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