USF football: Your move, Michael Kelly

Fan unrest is at a fever pitch following the Bulls’ latest embarrassing defeat.
USF coach Charlie Strong has overseen a sharp program regression in the last calendar year.
USF coach Charlie Strong has overseen a sharp program regression in the last calendar year. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 8, 2019

TAMPA ― Say this for USF’s players: Their sound bites remain on point even with their season on fumes.

In the wake of the team’s latest clunker, Thursday night’s 17-7 loss to Temple before an ESPN audience, one Bull after another insisted the offense ― and season ― still can be salvaged.

“For sure, we’re gonna get it together,” redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud said. “I know we keep saying that, but the plays are there, we’ve just got to make ‘em.”

MORE BULLS: Defense keeps USF afloat as offense fades

Linebacker Patrick Macon conveyed similar optimism, even after watching the offense (286 yards) fail to capitalize on one of the most inspired defensive efforts of the season.

“Eventually it’ll open up,” Macon said. “It’s like when a bird hatches. It cracks its shell, it just takes time to open up. When it opens up it’ll be explosive, and we’ll be rolling.”

Such is the state of USF football on Nov. 8, 2019. Even as the players nobly ooze resilience, an outraged fan base begs Michael Kelly to address reality.

USF second-year athletic director Michael Kelly has watched the football program lose 11 of its last 15 games.
USF second-year athletic director Michael Kelly has watched the football program lose 11 of its last 15 games. [ Times ]

That reality: The program has sharply regressed in the last calendar year, losing 11 of its last 15 games. Ten of the 11 defeats have been by double digits.

An allegedly refurbished offense, led by a new coordinator, has sputtered at best and foundered at worst. In three home games this year, USF has been shut out in the first half. The same offensive line that started last season’s Gasparilla Bowl has allowed an astounding 38 sacks, most in the American Athletic Conference.

Adding to the offensive burden is a complete lack of trust in the kicking game; USF hasn’t even tried a field goal of longer than 43 yards. While the defense ranks among the nation’s leaders in takeaways (21), it has remained maddeningly inconsistent, surrendering more than 200 rushing yards four times.

The result is a mounting frustration that boiled over in Thursday’s final two minutes, when USF ― down by 10 against the Owls and with possession ― didn’t use either of its final two time-outs.

“You just wonder what the coaches were thinking on that particular drive,” ESPN play-by-play man Adam Amin said.

Question now becomes, what is Kelly thinking?

Because this is his first athletic-director gig, there’s not much history to reference regarding his personnel moves.

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Does the widely respected former College Football Playoff administrator insist on letting the season play out before making a decision on Charlie Strong’s future? Does he subscribe to former Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley’s philosophy that what must be done eventually should be done immediately?

Clearly, many disheartened fans would prefer he take a cue from Florida State, which dismissed Willie Taggart last weekend to get a jump on its coaching search with more than a month remaining before the NCAA’s early signing period.

But in this case, purse strings may override principles. USF owes Strong $5 million this season. His buyout, details of which are exempt from public disclosure, is believed to be north of that.

Can USF afford to make a change? Can it afford not to? Will it?

Until answers arrive, speculation will only increase, and attendance almost certainly will decrease.

Because even as the players remain publicly unwavering, the USF football situation has become untenable.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.