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Can USF, FSU make quick turnarounds with new coaches? History says yes

The Seminoles and Bulls begin spring football practice under new regimes Saturday and Tuesday, respectively.
New USF coach Jeff Scott holds his first spring practice Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
New USF coach Jeff Scott holds his first spring practice Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES]

TAMPA ― Conventional wisdom says the Jeff Scott era at USF, and perhaps Mike Norvell’s at FSU, could get off to a wobbly start. But convention sometimes wobbles, too.

An astounding transformation by the Bulls or Seminoles in 2020 wouldn’t lack precedent. Granted, Scott must oversee a quarterback derby, restore the confidence of his receivers and fill some critical defensive holes. Similarly, Norvell must find some running backs and significantly upgrade FSU’s offensive line.

But Steve Spurrier had similar concerns when he took over a beleaguered program in Gainesville in December 1989, and we know how things turned out in 1990. Similarly, that Frost dude in Orlando got things going pretty quickly after inheriting a winless program.

So there’s a chance for USF and FSU in 2020, you say? Yes, that’s precisely what we’re saying.

To further fuel your optimism as the ’Noles and Bulls kick off spring practice (on Saturday and Tuesday, respectively), take a look at some coaches who inherited mediocre programs and won right away.

Related: NCAA forms coronavirus advisory panel, not changing championships yet

Steve Spurrier, Florida (9-2 in 1990)

Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier's inaugural Gators team finished 9-2 with wins against Auburn, Georgia and LSU. [BRIAN CLEARY | Associated Press]

Predecessor: Galen Hall/Gary Darnell* (7-5 in 1989)

Spurrier inherited a one-dimensional offense that became zero-dimensional when Emmitt Smith departed early for the NFL shortly after his hiring. But the head ball coach dug up Florida Field’s artificial turf, installed a radical, pass-centric system and found a fledgling SEC Player of the Year (Shane Matthews) at the bottom of the quarterback depth chart he inherited. You know the rest.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (7-5 in 1999)

In his first season at Oklahoma (1999), Bob Stoops led the Sooners to their first bowl game in a half-decade. [Associated Press]

Predecessor: John Blake (5-6 in 1998)

After flourishing in three years as Spurrier’s defensive coordinator in Gainesville, Stoops inherited a once-proud program that had totaled 12 wins the previous three years. Behind a promising left-handed quarterback named Josh Heupel and an ultra-athletic defense, Stoops’ inaugural Sooners squad made the school’s first bowl game in five years. The following year, OU won the national title.

Mack Brown, North Carolina (7-6 in 2019)

North Carolina coach Mack Brown proved he is still capable of turning programs around, helping the Tar Heels rebound last season. [KARL B DEBLAKER | AP]

Predecessor: Larry Fedora (2-9 in 2018)

Embarking on his second go-round at UNC at age 67, Brown pulled off one of the country’s best coaching jobs last fall, resuscitating a program coming off consecutive nine-loss seasons. Behind a freshman quarterback (Sam Howell), the Tar Heels served notice with a season-opening win against South Carolina. After a 2-6 stretch, UNC won its last three, allowing 30 total points in that span.

Scott Frost, UCF (6-7 in 2016)

Scott Frost and UCF linebacker Pat Jasinski (56) run onto the field after beating Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl to cap a perfect season. [FRANK MATTIA |]

Predecessor: George O’Leary/Danny Barrett* (0-12 in 2015)

After helping develop Marcus Mariota into a Heisman-winning quarterback at Oregon, Frost hauled the Ducks’ deceptive zone-read option attack to Orlando and gave the keys to rookie McKenzie Milton. The learning curve was sharp at times in 2016, but Frost’s ability to lead UCF to the Cure Bowl a year after an 0-12 debacle astounded many. Three of those losses were by seven or fewer points.

Related: Watch: UCF releases clip of McKenzie Milton throwing on practice field

Terry Bowden, Auburn (11-0 in 1993)

Predecessor: Pat Dye (5-5-1 in 1992)

Though the Tigers wouldn’t feel the brunt of NCAA sanctions (incurred during the Dye era) for a few more years, they still were banned from TV and the bowl season in 1993. With far fewer eyes watching, they posted one of the most surreal seasons in SEC history. Preceding it was a brutal conditioning program installed by Bowden, then only 37. Instead of running off Dye’s holdovers, it galvanized them.

Dan Mullen, Florida (10-3 in 2018)

The Gators won 10 games, and trounced Michigan in the Peach Bowl, in Florida coach Dan Mullen's first season in 2018. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Predecessor: Jim McElwain (4-7 in 2017)

The Gators’ offensive coordinator during the Urban Meyer heyday, Mullen immediately stabilized UF’s program and its passer upon his return to Gainesville. His nurturing of redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks after an abysmal 2017 season triggered UF’s turnaround. A versatile run game and stout defense (nearly three sacks per contest) also were critical, but Mullen’s quarterback whispering made the most noise.

Lou Holtz, N.C. State (8-3-1 in 1972)

Lou Holtz, right, then coach at South Carolina, smiles as he and Clemson coach Tommy Bowden chat before the start of their 2004 contest. Holtz made a career of quickly turning around struggling programs.

Predecessor: Al Michaels (3-8 in 1971)

College football’s premier program resuscitator, Holtz needed at least two seasons to turn things around at most of his stops (i.e. Notre Dame, Minnesota, South Carolina), but his impact on the Wolf Pack was instant. Advanced-metrics expert Bill Connolly calculated the Wolfpack finished 14th nationally in his S&P+ ratings in 1972, a 102-spot increase from 1971.

*-Interim coach

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