TAMPA — Call him Coach Van Winkle.
The last time Kevin Patrick worked in football, USF finished its season with a hard-fought 38-22 win against Morehead State, bouncing back from a loss at Georgia Southern. It was 1998, or in terms of Bulls football history, the late Jurassic Period.
As spring practice begins today, Patrick, 36, is USF's defensive ends coach, the same job he held for the Bulls' first two seasons. After nine years in private business, he is excited to be back on the sidelines.
"It's a dream come true for me to be able to come back to South Florida," Patrick said. "It's in my blood. I'm already more than knee-deep in coaching again, and it's coming back to me. There's nothing better. Working 12- to 15-hour days, I love it."
Coach Jim Leavitt said he understood why Patrick left his staff in 1999: All he was paying him was "a dorm room and meals." Leavitt was allotted $90,000 for all of his assistants back then. The pool for his staff is now 10 times as much.
Except for perhaps Leavitt, everything about Bulls football has changed while Patrick was gone: moving to Division I-A, to Conference USA, to the Big East and at one point to No. 2 in the national rankings last season.
"It makes me appreciate this nice building," Patrick said from his office in USF's 4-year-old athletic facility. "But I enjoyed the grand old days without the bells and whistles, too."
A picture in the football office shows Patrick leading the Bulls out onto the field before USF's first game in 1997. Patrick calls it "a great memory, a proud moment." In 11 years, what hasn't changed is Patrick's excitement.
"He has a tremendous passion for the game and relates extremely well with players," Leavitt said. "He knows the position as well as anybody, and he understands the University of South Florida. He also understands what it takes to build a championship team."
Patrick was an All-American defensive end at Miami, part of two national championship teams. That might hold weight with recruits in South Florida and should give him some authority with his players at USF.
"It's like Warren Sapp used to say: I want to hear from someone who can tell me what the fire feels like, not someone who can tell me what it looks like or smells like," Patrick said.
And when Patrick talks to his players about the importance of earning a degree, it might mean a little more. His only year in the NFL was spent on injured reserve because of shoulder injuries that never went away. After coaching, he used his business administration degree and created a medical billing company, earning a six-figure salary.
"I'm a living example," said Patrick, who has had two surgeries on each shoulder.
Defensive line was a strength of the Bulls last season, with sophomore end George Selvie leading the nation in tackles for loss and becoming a consensus first-team All-American. Defensive line coach Dan McCarney left to take the same job at Florida, but Patrick won't have to replace his experience by himself. Leavitt is splitting the line into two jobs, with John Hendrick, a 25-year coaching veteran, hired this week to coach the tackles.
"He'll bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the staff," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. "I remember him as a player, from when I was at Florida State, and I remember how hard he played."
Leavitt said he isn't concerned about Patrick's time away and is confident he'll get back into the groove as if he'd never left.
"I'm not worried about that one bit," he said. "If I were away from coaching like that and could come back, I could do it in a heartbeat."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com or (813)
226-3346. View his blog at blogs.