TAMPA — In the face of mounting criticism after the Bulls’ latest loss, embattled USF football coach Jeff Scott made the case for patience as he continues to try to turn his floundering program around.
“Nobody likes where we are,” Scott said during Tuesday’s weekly news conference, “but we’re not going to get to where we want to go just by continuing to push reset.”
The case for hitting reset grew stronger last week when the Bulls fell behind by 34 points in the first half of their AAC opener against East Carolina. The 48-28 defeat dropped USF to 1-4 this season and 4-22 in Scott’s two-and-a-half-year tenure. It was also the 16th time overall (and 11th in conference play) his Bulls have lost by at least a dozen points.
Though Scott didn’t hide from the coaching axiom you are what your record says, he suggested it doesn’t tell the whole story.
USF has lost to three Power Five teams, with two of them (BYU and Florida) nationally ranked. Scott is disappointed the Bulls didn’t play better, but he noted they were at least a two-score underdog in all four defeats.
“Not making excuses, but it is reality,” Scott said. “If our non-conference schedule, which was determined five years ago … if it was a little bit different than it is right now, we’re 3-2 and everybody’s high-fiving and feeling great.”
Feeling great physically would have also made things better. By Scott’s count, 11 players with starting experience were out with injuries against East Carolina. The list includes offensive tackle Donovan Jennings, linebacker Antonio Grier and running backs Kelley Joiner and Jaren Mangham.
“We’re not a good enough team — I don’t know if anybody’s a good enough team — to take 11 starters off your team (and win),” Scott said.
Scott took some positives away from last week. His defense held the Pirates to seven points in the second half — East Carolina’s lowest output of the season. His offense scored on three of their four second-half drives and got to the 1 on the other.
Though the rally was far too little and far too late, it was another sign the Bulls haven’t quit on Scott or themselves. That’s something, considering the circumstances (down 41-7 after a blowout loss at Louisville, in a sterile “home” stadium after evacuating because of Hurricane Ian). While a pair of SMU Mustangs and Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier recently opted out to transfer after rough starts, USF hasn’t had any defections.
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“It’s very easy to say, ‘Man, look at our record,’” Scott said. “‘We’re not doing what we want to do. We just need to blow it all up and start over.’ But that would be a mistake to do, because at the end of the day we are seeing progress.”
Much of the progress Scott sees comes down to repairing the program’s shaky foundation. USF has only two all-time top-25 finishes, even though Scott’s predecessors had success before coming to Tampa. Scott knew the extent of the challenge when he took the job, and so did his bosses.
“This is not a program that you can just come in two years and change a few things, and all of a sudden you’re winning 11 games,” Scott said.
Instead, it’s a program that had five head coaches, three athletic directors and three presidents in a 12-year span.
“So what you get is just kind of trying to pick up the pieces a little bit and put them all in place,” Scott said.
Scott believes that things are starting to be put in place. He reiterated Tuesday that the administration is more aligned now than ever.
Some of USF’s opponents had that cohesion years ago, Scott said, and they’re benefitting from it now. The Bulls appear to be moving in the right direction; Scott expects to move into the indoor practice facility next month, and an on-campus stadium is in the works. But USF is still years behind some of its peers.
Put it all together — the tough schedule, rotten injury luck, administrative turnover and, yes, poor coaching and execution — and you get Scott’s case for patience in an industry where that virtue is in short supply.
“Nobody is excited about where we are,” Scott said. “Everybody — coaches, players — are frustrated, and we want to see the results right now. That’s OK. You need to be. You need to use that as fuel when you show up to improve and do the things that you can control and eventually, that’s when it’ll turn.”
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