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USF football coaching search: Our list narrows to (elite) eight

As athletic director Michael Kelly’s search continues, so does our Bulls bracketology.
USF defensive back Bentlee Sanders (20) and the rest of the returning Bulls are waiting to find out who their new coach will be. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
USF defensive back Bentlee Sanders (20) and the rest of the returning Bulls are waiting to find out who their new coach will be. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 5, 2019
Updated Dec. 5, 2019

TAMPA ― C’mon, Michael Kelly. Show us your bracket. At least give us a peek at your final four.

No dice? No biggie. Actually, you’re smart to keep your Bulls coaching candidate pool shrouded. Some suggest we would have been smart to keep our list concealed also. Jim McElwain?! Jim Leavitt?!

Yep, they’re on our bracket. At least they were.

We’re down to our elite eight, the dudes we project to have the most plausible shot at becoming the next Bulls coach. As you read this, some may have been vetted. Some may have been crossed off. One or two may be figments of our coaching conjecture (though we honestly don’t think so).

At any rate, time to do some vetting of our own right here. We’re cutting our list in half today, and will reveal our final four ― and projected top candidate ― on Friday.

Retread Regional

(Guys with head coaching experience)

FAU coach Lane Kiffin spent three seasons as Alabama offensive coordinator.

No. 1 Willie Taggart (former FSU, USF coach) vs. No. 2 Lane Kiffin (FAU coach)

We still believe some serious mutual interest exists between Taggart and his old employer, though the longer this search drags out, the less likely it seems Taggart will return for a second act.

Kiffin’s name has been linked to the Arkansas vacancy, and truth be told, we see his next coaching gig at the Power Five level. Meantime, FAU reportedly is preparing an offer in an attempt to keep Kiffin in Boca Raton.

Winner: Taggart. But the clock is ticking.

MORE BULLS: Why a Willie Taggart-USF reunion might (and might not) make sense

Fowler/Fletcher Regional

(Former USF players or assistants)

Former USF offensive lineman Larry Scott guided Miami to a 4-2 record, including a bowl appearance, as 'Canes interim coach in 2015. [KEITH SRAKOCIC | AP]

No. 1 Larry Scott (Florida tight ends coach) vs. No. 3 Kerwin Bell (USF offensive coordinator)

Scott, a Sebring native and original Bull, is ready to be a head coach. While his old teammates stump for him on social media, his six-game stint as Miami’s interim coach in 2015 still rings as a pretty solid endorsement.

To refresh: Scott took over when UM fired Al Golden following a 59-0 home embarrassment against Clemson. The ‘Canes, 4-3 when Scott was promoted, won four of their last five regular season games, their only defeat a 59-21 loss at No. 17 North Carolina.

“If you are stuck in a situation where they’re stuck, and here’s a guy that’s going to bring great stability with everybody and a great personality who can relate to everybody on the team,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said in August. “To finish out the season, I thought he did a great job with that.”

Gauging Bell’s merits for the job solely off his 2019 offense is wholly unfair, considering he was saddled with a rookie quarterback most of the season and didn’t recruit any of the guys he coached.

A fairer assessment would be to examine his college head coaching record (93-42, one Division II national title in stints at Jacksonville and Valdosta State). Nonetheless, USF’s season-ticket sales likely would take a hit if Kelly hired the overseer of the fourth-worst scoring offense (20.8 ppg) in program history.

Winner: Scott. If the Bulls don’t hire him, we’re guessing someone else will soon.

Coordinator Regional

(Play callers on the rise)

Clemson co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott (foreground) speak to the media in Fort Lauderdale prior to the 2015 Orange Bowl. [GASTON DE CARDENAS | AP]

No. 1 Jeff Scott (Clemson co-OC) vs. No. 2 Tony Elliott (Clemson co-OC)

The tightest elite eight battle on our bracket. Candidly, we don’t believe the Bulls could go wrong with either of these guys, whose current unit ranks third nationally with 541.8 yards per game.

Both are bright, engaging and universally respected. Both also recruit Florida extremely well. Fact is, Elliott was the lead recruiter for Sickles High star Ray-Ray McCloud and also was huge in helping the Tigers land East Lake’s Artavis Scott.

But we’re giving the nod to Scott because his Florida roots run deeper. Dude was born in Arcadia and spent a chunk of his youth in Tallahassee (where father Brad was Bobby Bowden’s offensive coordinator). The fact his dad got a degree from USF also would play well in the presser.

Winner: Scott. But only by a Tiger’s whisker.

MORE BULLS: Big name? Nah. USF needs a coach with big ambitions

Wild Card Regional

(Names that might surprise you)

Chances are, USF athletic director Michael Kelly has some under-the-radar candidates in mind for his football vacancy. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

No. 1 Surprise Hire vs. No. 2 James Coley (Georgia offensive coordinator)

Coley’s name has generated some buzz since the USF vacancy arose, with good reason. As Jimbo Fisher’s offensive coordinator at FSU, this Miami native helped the ‘Noles land consecutive top-four classes in 2011 and 2012 (per 247Sports).

His current unit at Georgia ranks only 55th nationally in total offense (420.6 ypg), but runs for 200 yards a contest and is efficient on third down (43.7-percent conversion rate).

Still, ol’ Surprise Hire might be coordinating an even more productive unit at this moment. He might possess some head coaching experience, which Coley doesn’t. And he might be sipping coffee with Kelly as you read this.

Winner: Surprise Hire. Every bracket needs a sleeper, right?

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Jeff Scott takes over at USF in his first head coaching stint and if he instills a bit of Clemson swagger and culture, who's to argue with what works. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TImes]
    The Bulls’ new football coach is installing the cornerstones of the ultra-successful national championship program in Tampa.
  2. New USF football coach Jeff Scott, right, talks to members of the football team during a meeting at USF last week. Since then, Scott and his staff  have remained on the recruiting trail, landing six new non-binding commitments. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    New coach Jeff Scott has received six new commitments since Sunday.
  3. USF Bulls guard Laquincy Rideau (3) shoots a 3-pointer over Wichita State Shockers guard Dexter Dennis (0) during the first half at the Yuengling Center. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The Bulls shoot 30 percent from the floor in a 56-43 defeat at the Yuengling Center.
  4. Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall's club was ranked as high as 16th in the Associated Press poll earlier this month before losing two in a row last week. [MICHAEL PEREZ  |  AP]
    Both teams will try to break out of skids in tonight’s ‘Coaches vs. Cancer’ game at the Yuengling Center.
  5. Chamberlain offensive tackle Cesar Reyes said via Twitter on Sunday he plans to sign with USF. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The Bulls fortify depth at quarterback and on the offensive line.
  6. USF sophomore Elisa Pinzan had seven 3-pointers Sunday in the Bulls' 64-57 loss to UCF at the Yuengling Center. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times] [Joey Knight]
    The Knights sweep a weekend of basketball against the Bulls.
  7. USF senior point guard Laquincy Rideau (3) drives in the first half of his team's 55-54 loss Saturday at UCF. [Photo provided by UCF Athletics] [UCF Athletics]
    The Bulls coach doesn’t hold back following his team’s controversial 55-54 loss in Orlando
  8. USF sophomore center Michael Durr faces a daunting challenge on Saturday night in Orlando against UCF 6-foot-11 veteran Collin Smith. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    The Bulls, who appear on the cusp of a breakthrough win, haven’t defeated the Knights since 2015.
  9. New USF football coach Jeff Scott, left, meets with members of his coaching staff and support staff at USF on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The new coach also has a date set for the Bulls’ spring intrasquad game
  10. New USF football coach Jeff Scott, right, talks to members of the football team during a team meeting at USF on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    Clemson’s former co-offensive coordinator holds his first full team meeting as USF coach.
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