Amid rumblings that USF has narrowed its search for an athletic director to a handful of finalists, the Bulls alumnus favored by a large segment of the fan base reiterated Thursday he's not a candidate.
In fact, Rob Higgins says, he never was one.
"Humbled by all the support of fans and the community," Higgins told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday afternoon, "but I'm not and have never been a candidate in this process."
The highly successful executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, Higgins said his contact with USF's search advisory committee began and ended with a phone conversation with Dr. Bill Sutton -- the committee chairman -- about a month ago.
He said he's delighted with his current job, where he has elicited widespread local acclaim for helping Tampa land the 2015 Women's Final Four, '16 Frozen Four and '17 college football national championship game.
"All I have ever wanted to do my entire life is help our hometown as much as I can and I am living a dream in my current role trying to do just that," said Higgins, a former manager for the Bulls men's basketball team.
"We're excited and confident that USF will get someone really good, and when they do, we'll be eager to work with them to bring even more great events to our community."...
American Athletic Conference women's tournament
When/where: Today-Monday; Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.
Tonight: UCF vs. Cincinnati, 6; Houston vs. Memphis, 8
Saturday: Rutgers vs. SMU, noon; UCF-Cincinnati winner vs. UConn, 2; Memphis-Houston winner vs. Louisville, 6; Temple vs. USF, 8
Remaining schedule: Sunday — semifinals, 1 and 3 (ESPNU); Monday — final, 7 (ESPN)...
Three days after recording a double-double in the USF women's most critical victory of the season, sophomore G Courtney Williams was named a first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick.
The all-conference teams and individual awards, all of which can be found here, were selected by the league coaches. Five of the 10 first-teamers -- three from top-ranked Connecticut -- were unanimous choices.
The Bulls' sixth man last season, Williams needs only 25 points to become the sixth player in program history to score 500 points in a season. The Bulls' top scorer (16.4 ppg) and No. 2 rebounder (7.2 rpg), she has eight double-doubles and 10 games of at least 20 points.
In Monday's 60-51 win at No. 24 Rutgers, she had 26 points and 13 boards, hitting a 3-pointer with slightly less than a minute to play to push USF's lead to six.
"It's very deserving," Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said. "With the numbers and types of games she has had, I was surprised she wasn't a unanimous pick."
Senior G Inga Orekhova (10.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and sophomore F Alisia Jenkins (9.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg) were second-team picks. Orekhova underwent surgery for a torn meniscus Dec. 2, and returned to action less than two weeks later.
Spaniard Ari Pujol (5.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg), a 6-foot-1 guard, made the all-freshman team....
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of football operations Kevin MacConnell is among the initial four applicants for the athletic director job at USF.
The school released the names of the four applicants Wednesday afternoon upon a public-records request from the Tampa Bay Times. USF is seeking a replacement for Doug Woolard, who announced his retirement in January after nearly 10 years.
The four are not necessarily finalists. Whether they were vetted by the Texas-based search firm hired by USF is unknown. The firm, Eastman & Beaudine, conceivably could have had conversations with other prospects who have not formally applied.
Additionally, no new meeting of USF's search advisory committee has been scheduled, school spokesman Adam Freeman said Wednesday evening. The six-member committee met with Beaudine on campus last month, but no candidates were mentioned by name.
The other names released: Brad Edwards, Robert Clifford and John Ballein.
No resumes were attached with the names provided, but Brad Edwards is the name of the current Jacksonville University AD. USF could not confirm whether it's the same Brad Edwards.
A former NFL free safety who won a Super Bowl ring with the 1991 Washington Redskins, Edwards previously worked in the athletic department at South Carolina -- his alma mater -- and served as AD at Division II Newberry College.
Clifford has worked more than a decade at Oregon State, serving on the committee that hired football coach Mike Riley. Ballein has worked at Virginia Tech more than 26 years, serving as a graduate assistant on Frank Beamer's first Hokies team in 1987.
A Rutgers alumnus and former longtime official within the Scarlet Knights athletic department, MacConnell joined Greg Schiano's Buccaneers staff in February 2012, shortly after Schiano was hired from Rutgers.
In more than a quarter-century, he served in a variety of administrative roles within the Scarlet Knights program....
The apprehension over long-term health, or whether there even would be a long-term, is gone. The hiatus that took him out of the lineup, out of pads, out of his entire element, is over.
Thor Jozwiak's heart -- and hair, for that matter -- are ready for full contact again.
"I'm happy to be back and I'm back 100 percent now, said the 322-pound junior offensive guard, brandishing a dark mohawk in his first encounter with the media in more than 16 months. "I'm ready."
Sidelined all of 2013 with what he called "a couple of little problems with my heart" that required "a little procedure," Jozwiak didn't specify his condition beyond that Wednesday.
But in terms of how his absence refined and rejuvenated him, the Polk County product who started the last five games of 2012 bared his soul as profoundly as his radical hairstyle.
"My mental toughness now is through the roof," said Jozwiak, whose dad, Brian, was the Kansas
City Chiefs' first-round pick in 1986.
"I was telling the guys, in fall I wished I could just go practice, let alone play in a game. So me, every single day I come out here, I am thankful that I'm in pads, I'm thankful to be
out here playing with my brothers.
It's a great feeling, but it built a lot of mental toughness, and a lot of stuff that I had to go through made me who I am today. It took me from a boy to a man, pretty much."
Jozwiak, who earned his first start at Syracuse in 2012 and was projected as a first-teamer
entering preseason camp last summer, said he began experiencing "a little light-headedness" last spring.
On Wednesday, he was profuse in his praise of his doctors, including USF director of sports medicine Steve Walz, for pinpointing the problem and treating it effectively. Coach Willie Taggart said Jozwiak has helped provide offensive line depth that USF didn't possess last year.
"Before, we only saw about two plays of him, so we never really got a chance to evaluate him," Taggart said. "But now he's out, doing well, very strong and athletic. He brings a different mentality to our offensive line."
That mentality is manifested atop his 6-foot-4 frame. His dad also played with a mohawk.
"When I was going through my struggles I started doing a lot of research on ancient times and
(one of) the things they'd do before battle is, they'd shave their heads into mohawks to
intimidate their opponent," Jozwiak said.
"So I shaved my head into a mohawk because every time I wake up in the morning I look myself
in the mirror and I just realize what I've got to do every single day. It's gonna be a
battle, it's gonna be a grind, but Coach T's my leader and I'm gonna go to battle for him."...
Bulls redshirt freshman LB Mitchell Wright, whose five-sack performance for Plant in the 2011 state final remains among the best defensive performances in Panthers lore, has been medically disqualified from competition.
USF confirmed persistent neck and shoulder injuries have forced Wright to give up football. It is believed he'll remain on scholarship.
Wright (6-foot-3, 203 pounds) couldn't immediately be reached Wednesday afternoon.
A Panthers team captain, he posted nearly 200 tackles, 20 sacks and 54 total tackles for loss in his Plant career. In Plant's victory against Miramar in the Class 8A state final in '11, Wright collected 14 tackles, five sacks, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
MAYES SIDELINED: Coach Willie Taggart announced DE Eric Mayes, who had enrolled early from Milford (N.Y.) Academy to help shore up the Bulls' most depleted defensive spot, has been ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA and won't be eligible this fall.
Taggart said Mayes, a former Sarasota Booker standout, can remain in school but won't be eligible until the 2015 season. He'll have four years of eligibility at that point.
Mayes and junior college standout Demetrius "Shawn" Hill were brought in at the start of the semester to help the Bulls replenish a position that lost its top four players from last season. Hill 6-3, 255) has sparkled at times through five spring practices.
"He has made some plays out here, but he also has made some mistakes," defensive line coach Eric Mathies said....
TAMPA — A record crowd at USF Baseball Stadium, including hundreds perched on the berms and along the baseline fences, saw a Jameis Winston cameo and a Peter Miller clinic Tuesday night.
A former Cambridge Christian standout and Lutz resident, Miller struck out 11 in his five-inning homecoming stint, leading FSU (9-1) to a 5-1 victory against the Bulls (9-3).
The audience of 3,615, roughly half bedecked in garnet and gold, broke the school mark by 404. Miller (five innings, four hits, one run) estimated he had a few dozen friends and family members looking on....
Barring an upset of third-ranked Louisville in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, USF's women's basketball team can count on a tense Selection Monday.
The Bulls (18-11, 13-5) clinched the AAC tournament's No. 3 seed and made their biggest statement of the year in Monday's 60-51 win at No. 24 Rutgers, but a 5-7 start won't enhance their NCAA resume.
Ideally for USF, the favorites prevail in other conference tournaments; the more unexpected champions in other tourneys, the fewer bracket spots remaining for bubble teams. A diligent selection committee also would help....
Securing the No. 3 seed in its conference tournament may have been the least of USF's achievements Monday. The women's team also might have improved its March vantage point from a bubble to a bracket.
Its resume bereft of a signature win entering March, USF (18-11, 13-5 American Athletic Conference) led No. 24 Rutgers (21-7, 12-6) wire to wire on the Scarlet Knights' home floor in a 60-51 triumph....
Securing the No. 3 seed in its conference tournament may have been the least of USF's achievements Monday. The Bulls also might have improved their March vantage point from a bubble to a bracket.
Its resume bereft of a signature win entering March, USF (18-11, 13-5 American Athletic Conference) led No. 24 Rutgers wire to wire on the Scarlet Knights' home floor in a 60-51 triumph.
The win was the Bulls' first in nine tries against teams currently among the top 50 in the RealTimeRPI.com standings. Four of those defeats came in November and December, when the Bulls, besieged by injuries, won only five of their first 12.
Since then, their only losses have been to No. 1 Connecticut and No. 3 Louisville. As the No. 3 seed in the American tournament, they wouldn't have to face the undefeated Huskies until the final.
"I believe we're an NCAA Tournament team the way that we've done in our conference," said Coach Jose Fernandez, whose team enters the league tourney on a five-game win streak.
"But we've been on that wrong side of the bubble too many times. We need to make a statement in (the conference tourney) and continue to play the way we're playing."
Nursing a three-point lead with a little less than a minute to play, sophomore Courtney Williams (26 points, 13 rebounds) hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to thwart Rutgers' late surge.
Classmate Alisia Jenkins added 10 points and 13 boards, including a traditional three-point play when the Bulls opened the game on a 9-0 run. Shalethia Stringfield added eight points off the bench.
But the night belonged to Williams, who seemed to deliver at the most critical junctures.
After back-to-back traditional three-point plays by the Knights, she drove the lane for a basket to give USF a 52-43 lead with 5:52 to play. Rutgers scored the next four, but Williams' running bank shot put the Bulls back up by seven with 2:54 to go.
"(Fernandez) told us we've just got to stay aggressive because, oh, they're so aggressive," Williams told Tara Petrolino of the American Digital Network. "Man, they beat us up out there, so we just had to keep on pushing back and staying aggressive."
Fernandez will reiterate that message when conference tourney play commences this weekend in Uncasville, Conn. No sense leaving postseason fate in someone else's hands.
"I told our kids in the locker room this win doesn't mean anything unless you now go to the conference tournament and win that (first) game and get an opportunity to play (in the semifinals)," Fernandez said. "That's where we're at."
USF at Houston
When/where: 8:30; Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston
TV/radio: ESPNews, 98.7-FM
Records: USF 12-17, 3-13 American Athletic; Houston 15-14, 6-9
Notable: The Bulls have lost six in a row. … With 26 points Saturday, senior Victor Rudd tied Willie Redden for 13th on USF's career list (1,156). … Houston has won its past three....
Willie Taggart's going home again, with his entire team in tow.
USF announced Monday afternoon the Bulls will hold a public spring workout at Bradenton's Manatee High -- where Taggart starred as an all-state quarterback -- Saturday at 2:30.
"Manatee is the most successful high school program in Florida, and I'm really looking forward to being back on that field and our team practicing in that winning environment,' said Taggart, who guided the Hurricanes to the Class 5A state title in 1992 and 5A final in '93..
"I think it is a great opportunity for us to go out and connect with fans from the greater Tampa Bay area. We need everyone to help us rebuild this, and I hope they will come out and see their team."
Admission into Hawkins Stadium is free. No concessions stands will be open, but fans will be permitted to bring in their own water.
RB DERBY: In what position coach Telly Lockette calls a "moving depth chart," veteran running backs Willie Davis, Darius Tice and Michael Pierre are getting a similar allotment of
handoffs in a competition that will get more congested in August.
Four-star freshmen Marlon Mack and D'Ernest Johnson are expected to contend immediately with
the veterans, none of whom ran for more than 141 yards last season.
"They should take it as a challenge because we're looking for the best available guy to run this offense and be back there to run it," Lockette said. "We're just trying to stay consistent in what we can do on offense."
Tice has been slowed lately by some knee stiffness, but Lockette said it's nothing serious.
ODDS AND ENDS: Early enrollee Eric Mayes, expected to immediately shore up USF's depth issue at defensive end, remains a bystander at practice. Mayes' status hasn't been specified but he's listed on the spring roster. ... Two locals -- junior LT Mak Djulbegovic (Carrollwood Day) and redshirt freshman C Cameron Ruff (Jesuit) -- lined up Monday with the second-team offense Monday. Among those returning punts were WR Andre Davis, DB Hassan Childs, DB Jalen Spencer, WR Rodney Adams and DB Lamar Robbins....
The college football rules proposal raging through the Twitter-verse, one far more dissed than deliberated, begs a rhetorical question:
Just when did Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema determine high-octane offenses needed to ease up on the throttle for the sake of defensive player safety?
Could Saban's epiphany have occurred while Auburn's no-huddle, no-blink attack amassed 296 rushing yards on the Crimson Tide in November? Could the bulb suddenly have illuminated for Bielema as Texas A&M collected 523 yards on 74 plays against the Razorbacks in September?...
USF women vs. Rutgers
When/where: 7:30; Louis Brown Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
Records: USF 17-11 (12-5 American Athletic), Rutgers 21-7 (12-5)
Notable: The final regular-season game is a de facto tournament game for the Bulls, who clinch third in the conference and assume a more secure spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble with a victory. The winner also avoids top-ranked Connecticut until the conference tournament final. Rutgers won the first meeting, 66-53 on Dec. 28, but the Bulls have won 12 of 16 since....
Some resume building remains. For their spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble to evolve from slippery to secure, USF's women need a quality win Monday in New Jersey, and perhaps a tournament victory or two next week in Connecticut.
Otherwise, the Women's NIT beckons. Injuries and youth have conspired to place them in this tenuous spot. Then again, the Bulls would've gladly taken tenuous a couple of months ago.
Reflect on where this club was at the dawn of January, and it's fairly astounding USF (17-11, 12-5 American Athletic Conference) is even in the NCAA discussion at the dawn of March.
"We went through a lot," Coach Jose Fernandez said.
The Bulls enter Monday night's game at 21-7 Rutgers -- for third place in the conference standings -- having won 12 of their last 16. Their only losses during that span have been two defeats each to top-ranked Connecticut and No. 3 Louisville.
Prior to that surge, they were 5-7. A 2-5 December included losses to College of Charleston and Florida Gulf Coast. On Dec. 2, guard Inga Orekhova -- one of only two seniors -- underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her left knee.
No fewer than three other players were limited by one ailment or another during that span. The point guard spot was a revolving door.
"If we were totally healthy, we wouldn't be 17-11 right now," Fernandez said. "I don't think you lose some of those games we lost in December, but we couldn't control that."
What they could calibrate was their own level of fortitude. For two well-documented holiday stretches when they had no games -- 13 days after Thanksgiving, six more around Christmas -- the Bulls essentially sequestered themselves in the Muma Center to right their wrongs.
Since then, Orekhova (10.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg) has returned (in less than two weeks), sophomore Courtney Williams (16.0 ppg, seven double-doubles) has blossomed and the defense has solidified. No one -- not even UConn -- has scored 70 on the Bulls in the last month.
"(Fernandez) just preached to us how (critical) it is to play defense the whole 40 minutes, how (critical) it is to make sure we're shooting a good number, make sure if we can't do anything on the offensive end we can always do something on the defensive end," senior center Akila McDonald said.
"I think every practice since then we've drilled it and drilled it, and I think that's why it's working on the court now."
It has provided this team with a resume for a tournament, which beats a rap sheet for under-achieving. A Rutgers win might -- just might -- be the final reference USF needs.
"I think whoever wins (Monday's) game goes to the NCAA Tournament, to be honest with you," Fernandez said. "You don't get three (teams) from this league, it's a problem. I think it's going to be a very, very good basketball game."...