TAMPA ― He arrived at his Dec. 11 introductory pep rally bearing smiles and slogans, vigor and visions. Bereft of sleep but not zeal, new USF coach Jeff Scott sermonized on unity and fresh starts.
“Here in about 20 days, we’re getting ready to start a new decade,” Scott said in a carefully crafted address he had finished around 2 o’clock that morning. “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.”
That declaration elicited a few amens from the audience, which clearly saw Scott as the personification of a re-birth.
And not a retread.
Scott, who turns 39 on Saturday, represents the prevailing hiring trend among Group of Five programs over the past half-dozen years. In a nutshell, those schools generally have gravitated toward the rising stars instead of the falling ones.
Since the Big East formally was re-named the American Athletic Conference (on July 1, 2013), 76 coaches have been hired by Group of Five programs (AAC, MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West).
Of those 76, 32 have been former Power Five coordinators with no previous Division I-A head coaching experience. Thirteen of the 76 were previous I-AA head coaches.
Only 12 were former Power Five coaches, including Scott’s immediate predecessors at USF, Charlie Strong and Willie Taggart. Strong arrived in Tampa from Texas (where he had a 16-21 record in three seasons), and Taggart recently was hired by FAU after an abysmal 9-12 stint at FSU.
So far, only one of those 12 (FAU’s Lane Kiffin now at Ole Miss) has earned another Power Five coaching job. By contrast, seven of the 32 coordinators (22 percent) have parlayed their Group of Five coaching gig into a Power Five opportunity.
That group includes UCF’s Scott Frost (Nebraska), Memphis’ Mike Norvell (FSU) and Temple’s Geoff Collins (Georgia Tech).
What does it all mean for USF? For now, nothing. Time will determine whether Scott evolves into the next Norvell or Bob Diaco (the Notre Dame defensive coordinator who flopped at UConn). But for now, Bulls fans have reason to feel comfortable about their new guy.
“This young man was born to be a head football coach,” Bulls athletic director Michael Kelly said.
Which is to say, USF brought on someone attempting to launch ― not re-boot ― a major college head coaching career.
History suggests that was a wise move.
Onward and upward
Of the 32 Power Five coordinators hired for Group of Five coaching jobs in the past six years (since July 2013), seven have performed well enough to earn first-time Power Five head coaching jobs:
Neal Brown, Troy (West Virginia): Four seasons at Troy included three with double-digit victories
Geoff Collins, Temple (Georgia Tech): 15-10, two bowl berths with Owls
Eli Drinkwitz, Appalachian State (Missouri): Went 12-1, won Sun Belt title in lone season with Mountaineers
Scott Frost, UCF (Nebraska): Led Knights to 13-0 record in 2017
Tom Herman, Houston (Texas): His 2015 Cougars team went 13-1, won AAC title
Chad Morris, SMU (Arkansas): Led 2017 Mustangs to first bowl bid in a half-decade
Mike Norvell, Memphis (FSU): Capped successful four-year Tigers tenure with 12-1 mark, AAC title in 2019