In his 35 months as USF’s football coach, Jeff Scott overhauled the Bulls’ culture, helped upgrade facilities and reworked the roster with a nationally lauded transfer class. He was a fundraising partner at a crucial time in program history, brought in players who stayed out of trouble and was regarded as a good man in a profession where decency is in short supply.
But the Bulls fired him Sunday because Scott failed at the most basic part of his $2.4 million-a-year job: Coaching.
His 4-26 record over two-plus seasons is the worst in state history among major-college coaches who lasted more than one year. His teams looked ill prepared and out of sorts, and Scott looked too much like a first-time college head coach who was never the primary play caller during his championship-winning stint as a Clemson assistant.
“While he did so many things right … the on-the-field results fell well below our standards,” athletic director Michael Kelly said in a statement.
Scott will receive at least $192,000 — 20 weeks of his base salary — as a buyout. That total does not include money owed by the private USF Foundation; his predecessor, Charlie Strong, received about $3.1 million.
The Bulls also fired defensive coordinator Bob Shoop for leading a unit that is 129th out of 131 teams in scoring (39.9 points per game allowed). USF elevated special teams coordinator Daniel Da Prato to interim coach and gave the defense to co-coordinator Ernie Sims for the final three games, starting Saturday against SMU.
They — and whoever the Bulls hire as Scott’s long-term successor — will try to resuscitate a program that has become one of the worst in the country.
Since Scott took over before the 2020 season, USF and UMass are the only teams with one Division I-A victory. Eighteen of Scott’s defeats were by at least two scores. A dozen were by at least 20 points.
Scott isn’t entirely to blame for the program’s freefall. When the Bulls hired him away from Dabo Swinney’s Tigers staff at the end of the 2019 season, he became the USF’s fifth head coach in 12 years. The program has also cycled through athletic directors and presidents, rendering institutional alignment impossible. The Bulls were behind in facilities. Their culture was in shambles.
Scott’s first offseason was thrown off because of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, putting the turnaround process further behind and excusing a 1-8 inaugural season. But in 2021, Scott walked into a new locker room — physically, thanks to a $3.3 million renovation, and figuratively thanks to roster turnover. USF went 2-10.
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“In my mind, I’m kind of like, ‘OK, excuses over,’” Kelly said in January, after giving Scott a two-year extension.
That made this season’s performance inexcusable and, ultimately, unforgivable.
The most telling stat: against I-A opponents, Scott’s Bulls were outscored 206-86 in the first half.
On the first play from scrimmage of the first game of this year, USF allowed BYU to take a jet sweep 75 yards for a touchdown. On the first play of the second half of Scott’s last game, USF allowed Temple to take a pitch 75 yards for a touchdown. Though Scott and his team deserve credit for continuing to fight in, the holes were too deep to overcome.
The easiest explanation is coaching — poor preparation, poor schemes, poor calls or a combination of all three. How else can you explain why a team that’s No. 65 nationally in talent (according to the 247Sports composite) ranks somewhere between 108th and 124th in most advanced metrics?
Any hope of a turnaround disappeared Saturday in USF’s seventh consecutive loss — a 54-28 blowout at AAC bottom feeder Temple. The same Temple team USF beat last year for its lone I-A win. Starting Scott’s third November with a lopsided loss to a first-year staff was impossible to overcome, no matter how many notable players have been injured this fall.
“Unfortunately, our football team’s results have fallen short of our expectations and what our fans deserve,” USF president Rhea Law said in a statement. “We are fully committed to finding a new coach who can rebuild the program and consistently put a winning team on the field.”
That coach will likely benefit from some of the work Scott did. The Bulls will soon begin using the long-awaited indoor practice facility, which Scott helped bring to fruition. The on-campus stadium push has also benefited from Scott’s presence.
Scott politely declined a request for comment but said in a statement that he’ll miss the team and believes the program’s future is bright.
“I am disappointed that our hard work didn’t translate to more success on the field,” Scott said, “but I am confident that we have set a new foundation.”
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