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Inside USF’s physical and figurative locker-room transformation

Second-year coach Jeff Scott says he know his Bulls have made a culture change. Will it translate to wins?
USF football's locker room underwent physical upgrades as part of a $3.3 million renovation to the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center.
USF football's locker room underwent physical upgrades as part of a $3.3 million renovation to the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Aug. 3

TAMPA — When USF coach Jeff Scott thinks about the progress his Bulls have made through his first year and a half on the job, he points to the locker room.

The physical transformation was obvious Tuesday when the Bulls opened the doors to their renovated facilities on the eve of preseason camp. Neon signs with mottos and slogans. Bright green lights. A social lounge with video games, snacks and drinks. Facial recognition tools.

Linebacker Dwayne Boyles said the Bulls’ new home felt like a luxury hotel. Offensive lineman Brad Cecil called everything “the best it could have been.”

USF's football locker-room gets a makeover ahead of the new season.
USF's football locker-room gets a makeover ahead of the new season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

But if USF is going to rebound from last year’s 1-8 struggles, it won’t be because of the physical upgrades to the locker room (part of the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center’s $3.3 million renovation). It will be because of the figurative transformation inside the locker room. It will be because of the culture change Scott believes is well underway.

“I think over my 18 months that I’ve been here, there have been a lot of challenges,” Scott said. “But the thing that I can definitely hang my hat on right now is the change … in our locker room.”

Related: As conference realignment begins, USF picked a bad time to be bad at football

When USF hired Scott in December 2019, he put the program’s culture as his No. 1 priority. The Bill Walsh quote outside the locker room about culture preceding positive results is a physical manifestation of that commitment.

A quote from Bill Walsh on the wall in the entrance of the new locker-room.
A quote from Bill Walsh on the wall in the entrance of the new locker-room. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Scott’s focus on intangibles shouldn’t be a surprise. His former Clemson boss, Dabo Swinney, is one of the best culture builders in recent college football history. It’s not a coincidence that one of the mottos in the Tigers’ facilities —Best is the standard — now shines in the Bulls’ locker room, too.

Cecil said the culture change under Scott has been “almost like a U-turn” that shows up in ways that would be hard to see if you weren’t looking for them. For a weightlifting session, everyone would wear the same thing: green cut-off shirt, green shorts, white ankle socks and gold shoes. That’s a standardized attention to detail great programs have.

When players walk the hallways, they’re sure to pick up any stray pieces of trash on the ground. Why? Because Scott tells them you’re never too big to do the little things.

“That’ll translate to the field,” Cecil said. “You can rely on the guy next to you. He cares about you. He cares about this program. He cares about where this place has been and where it’s going to be.”

Scott doesn’t want to make any proclamations about where the program will be this fall. That’s probably a good idea.

USF players get new digs just in time for the new season. Practice starts this week.
USF players get new digs just in time for the new season. Practice starts this week. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

USF’s non-conference schedule includes an opener at always-tricky North Carolina State and the Gators’ trip to Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 11. Add in games against BYU, SMU, Cincinnati and UCF, and a bowl appearance might be too much to reasonably expect.

Related: We ranked all 78 Florida college football games from worst to first

Growth, however, is not. After spending much of last season handling the coronavirus complications, Scott said he finally feels like he and his staff are coaching instead of managing. Cade Fortin has promise at quarterback. The defense has bulked up, and Scott expects the pass rush to be better thanks to improvements from Tramel Logan, Jamari Stewart and others.

“I’m optimistic that our fans and everybody associated will be able to see progress,” Scott said.

We’ve already seen it with a modernized locker room that was a nice first step for USF’s entry into the arms race. We’ll find out whether the other locker-room transformations carry over to the field.

Video game controllers sit on the Bulls logo on a table in the new locker-room.
Video game controllers sit on the Bulls logo on a table in the new locker-room. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Bulls bits

⋅ Scott said he’s “optimistic” the Bulls will break ground on their indoor practice facility this fall. USF initially expected to start construction by late summer with the goal of opening the 88,000-square-foot facility before the 2022 season. Scott said the Bulls are continuing to work through things and that some factors (like building materials) are out of their control.

⋅ About 80 percent of the Bulls have received coronavirus vaccinations, Scott said. That’s up from less than 50 percent at the start of the summer.

⋅ Quarterback Brendan Cyr and New Mexico State transfer Xander Yarberough have left the program due to “personal obligations,” Scott said.

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