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Who replaces Charlie Strong at USF? Here’s our list of possible (and impossible) candidates

Could Willie Taggart do an encore performance in Tampa
It's believed former USF coach Willie Taggart would be very interested in a second act with the Bulls. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
It's believed former USF coach Willie Taggart would be very interested in a second act with the Bulls. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Dec. 1, 2019
Updated Dec. 1, 2019

TAMPA ― Chances are, USF athletic director Michael Kelly arrived on campus two summers ago with a briefcase in hand and list of prospective football coaches in his back pocket.

Considering the volatility of the coaching profession, especially at the Division I-A level, any AD worth his vehicle stipend has such a list ready when needed. Problem is, we don’t know which names Kelly has jotted down.

Now that Charlie Strong has been dismissed, in which direction does Kelly gravitate? Is he partial to more grizzled guys seeking a second act in their respective careers (much like Strong did at USF), or does he favor the 30-something wunderkinds who have shown promise and precociousness as coordinators?

No one can say; Kelly never has hired a football coach before. All we can do is make an educated guess at the names potentially under consideration. We’ve divided our guess-list between the oldies and the newbies.

The retreads

Jim Leavitt, FSU assistant

Let’s address this right up front: The guy who built the Bulls program from scratch got a $2.75 million settlement from USF a year after his 2010 firing. When it was announced, the Tampa Bay Times reported the settlement stipulates that Leavitt cannot apply for any job at USF “in any capacity,” and that if he does, USF “is free to reject and disregard it.”

Willie Taggart, former USF coach

Willie Taggart was dismissed last month by FSU following a 27-10 home loss to Miami. [PHIL SEARS | AP]

We’re told Taggart, who loved Tampa (and was raised in Palmetto) would seriously entertain an offer to return. If he comes, he almost certainly will bring his son Will, a three-star quarterback prospect at Tallahassee’s Florida High. Would an encore performance succeed? Probably, given time. Taggart would be inheriting a bleak situation not unlike the one that greeted him in late 2012. Only this go-round, he wouldn’t have Quinton Flowers to help orchestrate the transformation.

Bret Bielema, Patriots defensive line coach

A lack of in-state recruiting connections might hurt this former Wisconsin/Arkansas coach, but who better than a former Badger to instill the proper toughness and technique to USF’s foundering offensive and defensive lines?

Lane Kiffin, FAU coach

Yes, USF (American Athletic Conference) would be a step up from FAU (Conference USA). The Owls have fallen off sharply since winning 11 games (and the C-USA title) two seasons ago in Kiffin’s first season in Boca Raton, but this 44-year-old coaching journeyman remains an astute offensive mind. Say this: Things would never be boring with him in charge.

Kerwin Bell, USF offensive coordinator

USF Bulls offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell during the second half at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Nov. 23. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Lots of pros and cons to sort through here. Bell’s sophisticated, pro-style offense never clicked in his lone season in Tampa, though the loss of only experienced quarterback early in the season didn’t help. On the other hand, he has won a national title as a head coach (albeit at the Division II level), is a folk hero of sorts to many in the bay area (as a successful former Gators QB), and likely would be a very inexpensive option for Kelly. The Bulls offensive players seem fond of him, too.

The rising stars

Larry Scott, Florida tight ends coach

Former USF standout Larry Scott went 4-2 as Miami's interim head coach in 2015.

Michael Kelly could hire no one more familiar with USF and the challenges indigenous to the program. An offensive tackle on the inaugural Bulls team, Scott, 42, has built a solid resume as a collegiate assistant. In 2015, he led Miami to a 4-2 record and Sun Bowl berth as the Hurricanes interim coach following Al Golden’s dismissal.

Kendal Briles, FSU offensive coordinator

Honestly, we see the school hiring Leavitt before Briles. For all his play-calling chops, Briles’ well-chronicled baggage that accompanied him from Baylor to FSU can’t be ignored. For a USF program that has aligned itself closely with sexual-assault survivor Brenda Tracy, it would be an awful look.

Joe Brady, LSU passing game coordinator

A 30-year-old Florida native (who attended high school in Miramar), Brady has emerged as one of the profession’s hottest young names since helping transform Tigers QB Joe Burrow into a Heisman front-runner. Though USF would seem a more practical place to cut one’s head coaching teeth, we wouldn’t be shocked if a Power Five opportunity arose for Brady.

Marcus Freeman, Cincinnati defensive coordinator

If you want a guy who knows how to beat UCF, this 33-year-old former Ohio State linebacker is your man. Did you see how Freeman’s unit completely flustered the Knights in October?

Shaun King, USF running backs coach

USF running backs coach Shaun King, who starred at Gibbs High, is widely considered the Bulls' ace bay area recruiter.

This beloved former Bucs QB, Strong’s ace recruiter in the bay area, wants to be a head coach. A pupil of Taggart’s Gulf Coast offense, King was USF’s quarterbacks coach of record in Flowers’ best season (2016). Promoting him to the top job likely would prevent a significant player exodus to the transfer portal.

Jeff Scott, Clemson co-offensive coordinator

Scott, 38, was born in Arcadia and practically raised in Tallahassee, where his father, Brad, spent more than a decade on Bobby Bowden’s staff. In his second year as a head coach, he led Blythewood (S.C.) High to a state title in its inaugural varsity season at age 25. At Clemson, he has coached no fewer than 10 receivers who have reached the NFL.

Jimmy Lake, Washington defensive coordinator

Even with the Huskies’ 2019 struggles, Lake is regarded as a great assistant with head-coach potential. He also has Tampa ties after a pair of two-year stints with the Bucs


  1. USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (84) and the Bulls have only one open date in the 2020 season. USF's complete 2020 schedule was finalized Tuesday.
  2. Former USF coach Charlie Strong (left), greeting Alabama coach Nick Saban at a 2017 summer football camp on the Bulls campus, reportedly has joined Saban's staff in an analyst role.
  3. Connecticut's Megan Walker, left, drives past USF's Shae Leverett during the second half of the Huskies' 67-47 triumph Sunday at the Yuengling Center. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
  4. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma brings his team to the Yuengling Center for the final time as an American Athletic Conference member today.
  5. USF coach Brian Gregory, pacing the sideline during a January game at the Yuengling Center, watched his team score only 11 first-half points in Saturday's 56-48 loss to Tulsa. [OCTAVIO JONES | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
  6. USF interim coach Jess Moore watches her team from the dugout on the opening day of the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational at Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater.
  7. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second half of the Orange Bowl against Virginia on Dec. 30 in Miami Gardens.
  8. Bishop McLaughlin alumnus Carson Ragsdale, a clutch reliever for USF two seasons ago, returns after missing a season due to Tommy John surgery.
  9. Former USF quarterbacks B.J. Daniels, left, and Quinton Flowers, right, could square off when Seattle plays host to Tampa Bay in an XFL game Saturday.
  10. USF's Michael Durr blocks a shot attempt from Houston's Justin Gorham during the first half Wednesday in Tampa.
  11. ESPN films game action  on the final day of the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational at Eddie C. Moore. Fields in Clearwater last year.
  12. In USF's four conference victories this season, junior Justin Brown (13) has averaged 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.