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USF football coaching search: Our bracket is complete

At last, we reveal the final four, and winner, of our 16-man Bulls coaching-search bracket.

TAMPA ― We’re standing by our projection that within days, USF athletic director Michael Kelly will have a letter of agreement and ballpoint in hand for the Bulls’ next football coach.

Call it one signing moment. But first, our shining one.

Today, we reveal the winner of our 16-man Bulls coaching bracket. Round by round, we’ve vetted and deliberated, working our phones and hunches, in an effort to project Kelly’s pick.

We hope you’ve found the exercise fun and engaging, but also informative. This really is our best hypothesis of how the search will unfold.

So let’s tip it off one more time.

Retread Regional vs. Wild Card Regional

Willie Taggart (former FSU, USF coach) vs. Surprise Hire

USF coach Willie Taggart is congratulated by fans after the Bulls' transformational win against Syracuse in 2015. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

First, don’t read anything into Quinton Flowers’ no-comment Thursday when asked if he’d want to see his old coach return to USF. As we reported, Taggart and Flowers remain very close; the former Bulls quarterback simply doesn’t want to thrust himself in the middle of a candidate debate.

MORE BULLS: No comment? No biggie. Quinton Flowers still loves Willie Taggart

Still, the longer this search lingers, the less likely it appears Taggart returns for a Tampa encore. Considering he is unemployed and accessible to Kelly at any time, one would presume a deal would be reached by now if he were USF’s top target.

Meantime, more names are surfacing in connection with Kelly’s search.

Steve Spurrier Jr., whose coaching resume is far more extensive than you think, has been mentioned. So has UAB coach Bill Clark, who has gained nationwide acclaim for his sparkling work with the Blazers, both before the program was shut down and after it was resuscitated earlier this decade. Clark’s 9-3 club is playing in Saturday’s Conference USA title game.

Winner: Surprise hire. Willie gets a serious look, but Kelly opts not to venture back to the future.

Coordinator Regional vs. Fowler/Fletcher Regional

Jeff Scott (Clemson co-OC) vs. Larry Scott (Gators tight ends coach)

Former USF lineman Larry Scott led Miami to a 4-2 record as Hurricanes interim coach in 2015.

Great Scott, look at how this unfolded! (Sorry, we couldn’t resist). Both of these guys will be head coaches sooner rather than later. Question is, will one of them cut their teeth in Tampa?

Larry Scott, an offensive tackle on the original USF team, understandably is generating a groundswell of support among his old teammates and many Bulls fans. Jeff Scott, an Arcadia native named the 2018 cycle’s ACC Recruiter of the Year by 247Sports, has two national titles on his resume as Tigers co-offensive coordinator.

If the search is narrowed to these two, Kelly probably can’t go wrong either way. But a factor of some sort must break the tie.

If it’s previous head coaching experience, the nod goes to Larry Scott. Named interim Miami coach following Al Golden’s dismissal in late October 2015, the Sebring native took over a 4-3 team that easily could’ve folded. Instead, it flourished, to a degree.

UM won four of its last five on Scott’s watch, earning a Sun Bowl trip.

“You’re sitting back and you’re watching and you’re having to manage all those pieces, from every trainer to every manager to where are we going to eat, what time are we leaving, what’s the treatment schedule, what’s everything,” Scott said in early 2018 upon being hired at Florida.

“And you gain a really profound respect for what the head coach actually (does) from the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he lays his head down.”

Winner: Larry Scott. If old-school Bulls can’t have Jim Leavitt back, a Leavitt protege is the next-best thing.


Surprise Hire vs. Larry Scott

Before arriving at USF in the summer of 2018, athletic director Michael Kelly served as an executive with the College Football Playoff and ACC. [ BRONTE WITTPENN | TIMES ]

To many Bulls fans 40 and over, Scott would be a home-run hire. Even those pining for a Taggart encore or a Clemson coordinator likely would deem this 42-year-old original Bull a solid double to the left-center gap. Which is to say, Kelly couldn’t go wrong by choosing him as the program’s fifth coach.

But we have a strong hunch Kelly’s pulling some serious misdirection here, and ultimately, it will result in a big gain for the program.

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

He didn’t become an ACC and College Football Playoff executive (at a young age) without being engaging and shrewd. Additionally, his contacts are boundless, and it’s unlikely anyone fails to return his call.

In much the same way he made a national splash by continuing to fortify the Bulls’ non-conference schedule, Kelly will do the same with his next ― and most critical ― coaching hire.

We just don’t know who it is yet.

Winner: Surprise Hire. And we’re betting it will be a pleasant one for Bulls fans.