TAMPA — Welcome to the struggle, sir.
May you fare better than your predecessors.
This is what Michael Kelly signed up for at USF. This is what every athletic director at USF must eventually face.
It is that moment when a treasure must be discovered. When a miracle must be performed. It is that moment when an athletic director must come up with a football coach who can recruit (against the odds), fundraise (with little historical precedent) and win 10 games (preferably with flair).
So can we expect your decision by Friday, sir?
I’m being facetious, of course. About the timetable, not the task.
This is one of the main reasons Kelly is at USF. This is why it made sense to hire an athletic director with such close ties to the sport’s aristocracy, with Kelly having put in a long stretch as the chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff.
Anybody can hire a football coach.
Kelly needs a visionary.
This is a program that is rife with both potential and pitfall. The university is respected, the student body is large and the city is inviting. But USF has little of the history or built-in donor base of larger state universities. And that means having to operate a little differently.
Which is why USF should look for a coach with a smaller bio and a grander ambition.
To put it another way, a coach on the rise instead of on the rebound.
That’s where things went wrong with Charlie Strong. And that’s not a knock on Strong, who is beloved by many who know him. But USF cannot expect a conventional hire to compete for recruits in a state where Florida, Florida State, Miami — and now even UCF — have built-in advantages.
USF doesn’t need a familiar name. It needs a dynamic presence.
It needs a coach who will shake trees and rattle doors. It needs a coach who will convince people that he is going places, and entice them to come along.
“We, as a fan base, as a donor base, as a university, and as an athletic department, need to understand and realize that we have a lot of things. And we need to be proud of those things and work those to their maximum capability,’’ Kelly said. “But we need to realize the American (Athletics Conference) plays big-boy football.’’
With all of that in mind, Willie Taggart should be considered but he should not be at the top of USF’s list. At 43, he is still young. And he has clearly proven he can win at USF. But there would be a consolation feel to a Taggart hiring. A sense that USF is settling for someone safe.
This is a watershed moment for the Bulls. The program is too young and too fragile to afford another slip. We’ve already seen how quick, and devasting, that can be for a fledgling team.
UCF made back-to-back hires of vibrant, up-and-coming coaches and instantly became a part of the national scene, while USF tumbled from the conversation. Another few years like that, and USF could forever be sitting at the kiddie table with Florida Atlantic and Florida International and their once-famous coaches.
“It is a critical juncture,’’ Kelly said. “That’s a fair assessment.’’
Yes, there are drawbacks to hiring an ambitious, young coach.
If you misjudge his potential, you’ll have a disaster on your hands. And if you do find a rising star, he’ll likely be heading somewhere else before too long.
But that’s the price of aiming high.
If, as Kelly suggests, USF wants to run with the big boys, then it must take a chance. It doesn’t need an old school retread. It doesn’t need a familiar face. It doesn’t need someone who will win the initial news cycle and then settle into a familiar routine.
USF needs a coach with audacious goals.
Someone whose ambition matches an aspiring program.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.