Greetings from Arizona
I'm off in Arizona for five days, helping with our coverage of Monday's national championship game, but that hasn't stopped news from happening back on the USF beat back home.
First, I can report that senior linebacker Stephen Nicholas is now committed to playing in the inaugural Inta Juice North South All-Star Classic, to be played in Houston on Jan. 13. Best I can tell, it's the only invite for any USF players so far, but those offers are still going out in many cases. Nicholas is close to signing with the Sports Capital Group's Jonathan Kline, who already represents former Bulls stars Andre Hall and J.R. Reed. You can check out a cool site for Nicholas at stephen-nicholas.com -- good start for him anyhow.
Speaking of Andre Hall, he's already latched on with a team for next season after finishing this year on the practice squad of the Denver Broncos. Hall had an offer from the Chicago Bears, and was able to use that interest to leverage the Broncos into a two-year futures contract that includes a $35,000 signing bonus, rare for a street free agent. Hall now has a full off-season to work out with the Broncos, learn the offense and improve his chances on making the team next summer. Hall underwent minor wrist surgery this week, but nothing that will keep him from off-season conditioning.
We'd told you on the blog earlier this week that Iowa State linebacker Tyrone McKenzie had registered for spring classes at USF, a strong indication he was transferring as had initially been expected. He's also registered for spring classes at Iowa State, allowing for a last-minute change, but I'm told he's a done deal for USF. His experience -- a ridiculous 129 tackles as a sophomore with the Cyclones -- gives him the inside track to start this fall at outside linebacker, providing he's able to get a hardship waiver from the NCAA. He'll be a walk-on this spring, but is expected to be on scholarship this fall. Don't forget former Gibbs cornerback Kevin Williams, who will also enroll this spring, as well as three members from last year's recruiting class who are newly qualified: defensive end David Fonua and offensive linemen Kevin McCaskill and Jeremiah Warren.
The newest addition to the decor in the USF football office, by the way, is the slick trophy the Bulls picked up at the Papajohns.com Bowl. When I say picked up, I don't mean that trivially. The thing is heavy. Looking at pics of Jim Leavitt raising it in celebration after the game, you could tell the thing isn't exactly hollow; he told me I'd have to go to the weight room first if I wanted to pick it up. That said, Pat Julmiste and S.J. Green made it into this week's Sports Illustrated holding the hardware high with pride. Needless to say, they're stronger than I am.
A little follow-up on assistant coaches Bernard Clark and Lawrence Dawsey, who have left the Bulls for similar jobs at Florida International and FSU, respectively. Clark is very tight with new FIU coach Mario Cristobal -- he played with Mario and his brother at Miami in the '80s. Cristobal called him while he was in Birmingham preparing for the bowl, and Clark told him he wasn't interested. He called again a week later and asked Clark just to come down and listen to him, and that conversation convinced Clark to return to FIU, to have a chance to build something like he'd witnessed at USF. My initial thought is that former Jefferson coach Mike Simmonds, overqualified as a graduate assistant this season, could easily be elevated to defensive line coach. Leavitt isn't in a hurry, however, so he may listen this coming week at the national coaches convention in San Antonio, just to see the level of interest in a BCS job in Florida.
As for Dawsey, he'd said publicly last month that he was happy at USF, that there was "nothing" to speculation about him and Florida State. It never went away, however, and I kept hearing the same thing: Bobby Bowden had been like a father figure to him, so when the guy calls and asks you to replace his actual son, it's hard to say no. That, and Dawsey's annual salary goes from $79,000 at USF to a reported $125,000 in Tallahassee. It's especially impressive when you consider that he made only $42,000 his first year with the Bulls. Even when you've made much more money as he did in the NFL, it has to be gratifying to essentially triple your salary in your first three years in a new job. Dawsey's a good guy and immensely popular with his players, but it's weak professionally not to at least return calls to the media from the job you're leaving. If you're willing to be quoted saying you're staying, it only seems fair to address why you're not, right? As Nick Saban has shown this week, what a coach is saying and what he's doing can often be too very different things.
Questions? Comments? Prospective coaching guesses? Send me an e-mail at [email protected], and remember it's two hours earlier over here.