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Romano: USF Bulls need to be daring in hiring next football coach

TAMPA — Everybody has their own idea about who should be the new football coach at the University of South Florida. I know this because it seems everybody has already e-mailed their ideas.

I've heard names of former NFL coaches. I've heard names of high school coaches. I've heard the names of disgraced coaches, future Hall of Fame coaches and at least one deceased coach.

I'm not saying this to make fun of any suggestions — after all, I once suggested the Rays did not get enough in the Delmon Young trade — but to point out the uniqueness of the USF situation.

Because this is a job that is, at the same time, highly appealing and hopelessly flawed. And, for that reason, the list of candidates can run to extreme levels in either direction.

For instance, on the appealing side:

It's pretty easy to make a case that USF is more attractive than previous job openings at Kansas or Texas Tech this winter. Playing in the Big East, the Bulls have a better shot at reaching a BCS bowl game than bigger-name programs in tougher conferences. In the past six seasons, six different Big East teams have finished in at least a tie for the conference championship.

On the flawed side:

This program is always going to be behind Florida in terms of prestige in this state and, though it has made up considerable ground on Miami and Florida State, is still trailing them in tradition, resources and name recognition. A stadium full of millionaire boosters does not just materialize after a few appearances in the Top 25 polls.

So what does this mean for USF athletics director Doug Woolard as he begins the hiring process? It means he needs to figure out the motivation of anyone who is applying for this job.

There are going to be candidates who see USF as a stepping-stone to something larger. Spend a few years in Tampa, reach a BCS bowl game and parlay that exposure into a more lucrative job elsewhere.

There are going to be candidates who see USF as a final stop on the way to retirement. A place where expectations are not outlandish but where bowl bids and conference titles are within comfortable reach.

Obviously, neither of those types of candidates are ideal.

That's the greatest regret in Jim Leavitt's dismissal. While the man had faults, he had more loyalty to USF than any coach the school could possibly hire today. Put it this way: This is a coach who once shunned Alabama to stay at USF. That will never happen again.

So what's the bottom line?

My guess is the best candidate is not going to be the most obvious.

It's not going to be the older head coach with a familiar name. It's not going to be the young coach on everyone else's hot list. It's going to be a coach who might not be on Southern California's radar but who is savvy enough to consider USF one of the better jobs in the country.

Leavitt has already done the hard part. During his tenure, the program went from being homeless and faceless to landing in one of college football's finer neighborhoods. Now someone else can come in and dress the place up.

You might have heard Tommy Bowden's name mentioned. And you could certainly do a lot worse.

Bowden has no reason to be embarrassed by his resume. He put in nine full seasons at Clemson and never had a losing record. On the other hand, he put in nine full seasons and never won an ACC title or had a 10-win season.

Bowden would be a safe choice. A comfortable choice. He could probably keep USF in that seven- to nine-win range in perpetuity. He would steer clear of scandal and would be far more popular than Leavitt among the booster club crowd.

But is that what USF wants? After all of these years with the foot on the gas, is South Florida ready for cruise control?

The problem is South Florida is not going to attract the best of the young crowd. Gary Patterson is not going to abandon TCU, and Kevin Sumlin is not going to leave Houston. The next move for those guys is at schools with far more trophies and dollars.

So USF should be looking a step below that level. The Bulls should be considering somebody like Al Golden, who just took Temple to its first bowl game in 30 years. They should look at somebody similar to Dave Clawson, who has had success as a head coach at Fordham, Richmond and now Bowling Green. They should investigate someone along the lines of former FSU quarterback Rick Stockstill, who has turned heads at Middle Tennessee. They might even place a phone call to Annapolis to see if Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo is interested.

Every one of those guys might still look at USF as a possible step on the coaching ladder. And it would be hard to blame them.

Even so, the Bulls have to hope for a coach on the rise who can take the program with him.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Romano: USF Bulls need to be daring in hiring next football coach 01/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 10:31pm]

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