TAMPA ― As a 20-year-old Clemson walk-on kick holder, Jeff Scott helped take down UCF ― of all teams ― with a 22-yard scoring run on a fake field goal in the 2001 opener.
That factual nugget alone would’ve been plenty to stoke the standing-room-only throng of UCF haters shoehorned into the Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center on USF’s campus Wednesday. But Scott, introduced to this lively audience as the Bulls’ fifth football coach, had more to give them. A lot more.
And no misdirection was needed. Instead, this 38-year-old came straight up the gut.
And right to his listeners’ hearts.
“Here in about 20 days, we’re getting ready to start a new decade,” the Arcadia native with the mild baritone drawl told the crowd. “And I firmly believe that if we come together, we unite, that this will be the start of the best decade in the University of South Florida’s football history.”
Not a sliver of evidence suggests a triumphant press conference parlays into a prosperous coaching tenure. Only two Decembers ago, Willie Taggart had them cheering and chanting inside a Doak Campbell Stadium club area.
But first impressions do matter. And if Scott, Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator the past five seasons, has the Bulls prepared on Saturdays as thoroughly as he seemed to be on Wednesday, a riveting decade could be forthcoming.
From summoning some of USF’s prominent names of the past (i.e. Lee Roy Selmon, Jim Leavitt) to engaging donors to stressing he’ll recruit the bay area first and foremost, Scott hit all the proper notes.
“This is not a broken program. There is a very solid foundation here,” said Scott, actually eliciting some “amens” from the crowd.
“I think kind of my evaluation and looking at everything, we just need to bring all of our energies and efforts together. It reminds me so much of where we were at Clemson in 2008. And Coach (Dabo) Swinney bringing that vision, getting everybody on the same page, getting everybody with the mindset that the best is yet to come.
“And that’s what I’m asking from all of you. Whatever your ability to support, please step up. This is the time to do it.”
Dressed in a Navy-blue pinstriped suit with a green striped tie, Scott was joined Wednesday by his wife Sara (whom he met when both were Clemson freshmen), 4-year-old daughter Savannah, and his parents Daryle and Brad (former FSU offensive coordinator and South Carolina coach).
Clemson coaching peers Tony Elliott and Tyler Grisham attended, as did former Tigers receiver (and East Lake High alumnus) Artavis Scott. Roughly a dozen current Bulls players (most departed campus after completing final exams this week) sat in the front two rows.
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They heard new USF president Steven Currall insist Scott was “unequivocally our first and only choice” to replace Charlie Strong, who lost 14 of his final 18 games as Bulls coach.
They heard athletic director Michael Kelly, a former ACC administrator who signed Scott to a five-year, $12.5 million deal, suggest Scott “was born to be a head football coach.”
And at least a half-dozen times, they heard Scott deliver the mantra he has coined for his new program.
“United from start to finish.”
Clearly, Scott has been briefed on the disconnect between most boosters and his predecessor in recent years. Or the one that seems to exist on campus, where some prominent student functions annually seem to conflict with home football games.
Speaking of disconnects, that disparity between UCF and USF is ever widening.
“We have a great university here,” Scott said. “It’s big and has a lot of arms, but (Currall) communicated very clearly that it’s his goal to bridge all of those gaps, bring everybody together, much like I want to unite and bring together this football program.”
Kelly, who never has made a more critical hire in his administrative career, is banking on Scott as the guy who can forge such cohesion.
And fake out the Knights another time or two.
“It’s all about fit and timing, ladies and gentlemen,” Kelly said. “And I’m here to tell you this is the right fit and the right time for Jeff Scott to the head football coach at the University of South Florida.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls