TAMPA — As the USF football coaching search continues, the Bulls are trying to find someone who can help them win conference championships and live up to their potential as one of the nation’s premier mid-major programs.
So we wondered: What types of hires have done that elsewhere?
We identified 22 mid-major coaches who either led their teams to a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game in the playoff era or won multiple conference titles since 2010. Then, we grouped them into four general categories: top assistants, internal promotions, retreads and head coaches at smaller programs.
We didn’t study every hire of every cycle, so don’t view this as a statistical analysis, exactly. Instead, consider it a broad overview at what types of coaches succeed at programs like USF.
Top assistants (10)
The list: UCF’s Scott Frost (Oregon), UCF’s Josh Heupel (Missouri), Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell (Ohio State), Memphis’ Mike Norvell (Arizona State), Louisiana’s Billy Napier (Arizona State), Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck (Bucs), Houston’s Tom Herman (Ohio State), Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson (North Carolina), Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter (Texas A&M), Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren (Wisconsin).
Analysis: This was the most common path we found and is responsible for every mid-major appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl since 2015. Aside from Anderson and Fickell, the successful coaches didn’t last long; Napier and Norvell were at their mid-major jobs for four years each before taking over Florida and Florida State.
Potential fits: Penn State co-offensive coordinator Ja’Juan Seider is a Belle Glade native and expected to get head coaching looks this cycle. … Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins rebuilt the Seminoles’ offensive line … Mississippi running backs coach Marquel Blackwell is in USF’s hall of fame and leads one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. … Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby spent time at UCF, but the Sooners’ 2022 struggles make him a tough sell. … Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh has helped get the Volunteers to the cusp of the playoff.
Internal promotions (6)
The list: Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, Boise State’s Chris Petersen, TCU’s Gary Patterson, Northern Illinois’ Rod Carey, Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm, Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield.
Analysis: Patterson and Petersen are arguably the two most accomplished coaches that fit our criteria. Both, like Niumatalolo, stayed for a long time. That’s notable for USF fans who don’t want this to be a stepping-stone job.
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Potential fits: Interim coach Daniel Da Prato would be the top, and probably only, option but lost his debut by 18 points to SMU.
The list: Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin (Tennessee/USC/Raiders), UCF’s George O’Leary (Georgia Tech), San Diego State’s Rocky Long (New Mexico), Nevada’s Chris Ault (previous run at Nevada).
Analysis: USF failed with this route with Charlie Strong in 2016. Kiffin transformed his image with a stint as Alabama’s offensive coordinator before winning Conference USA twice. Though O’Leary’s tenure ended poorly, he won four conference titles and took the Knights to the Fiesta Bowl. UCF’s current coach, Gus Malzahn, looks like a great hire from this category, too, despite getting fired from Auburn.
Potential fits: Former Texas/Houston coach Tom Herman wants back into coaching and went 22-4 with the Cougars. ... Scott Frost flopped at Nebraska but has proven success in the AAC in the state at UCF. … Is former Gators coach Dan Mullen holding out for a Power Five job? … Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken isn’t a perfect match in this category, but we stuck the former Bucs assistant here because of his 13-25 record at Southern Miss. … Bill Clark had to step down from Alabama Birmingham to get back surgery and has a great resume, if he’s healthy enough to return. ... Indiana’s Tom Allen makes sense, if he’s fired and wants to use USF as a soft landing.
Head coaches at smaller programs (2)
The list: Boise State’s Bryan Harsin (Arkansas State), Alabama Birmingham’s Bill Clark (Jacksonville State).
Analysis: Harsin failed at Auburn but won three conference titles at Boise State, while Clark’s resuscitation of the Blazers is one of the best coaching jobs of this generation. Lance Leipold didn’t match our criteria but won his division twice at Buffalo after winning six Division III national titles at Wisconsin Whitewater. Willie Taggart also didn’t qualify but led the Bulls to their best season ever after coming from Western Kentucky.
Potential fits: Jackson State’s Deion Sanders is the splashiest name, but we still think his next job is in the Power Five. … Willie Simmons is 32-12 in five years at Florida A&M. … Larry Scott is making progress at Howard and was a part of USF’s first recruiting class. … We think Jamey Chadwell leaves Coastal Carolina this cycle, and his innovative offense would bring buzz. … Jason Candle won a conference title at Toledo in 2017 and has clinched a spot in this year’s championship.
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