TAMPA — As USF athletic director Michael Kelly began the Bulls’ football coaching search last week, he said he didn’t have a specific profile in mind. He wouldn’t publicly rule out anything or anyone.
He did, however, acknowledge two important criteria.
“I think having head coaching experience would be great,” Kelly said. “The ability to recruit the state of Florida’s always important.”
Our semi-educated guess: USF’s next coach checks both boxes. Bonus points if the candidate is a splashy name who brings the buzz necessary for the Bulls to stand out in a crowded local sports marketplace and raise money for their proposed on-campus stadium.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of some matches. We excluded a handful of other potential candidates who seem unlikely, such as former Gators/Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen (we think he’s holding out for a bigger job), Jackson State’s Deion Sanders (ditto) and Auburn interim coach Cadillac Williams (who isn’t yet established enough):
Former UCF/Nebraska coach Scott Frost
The case for: The Knights went from 0-12 before his arrival to 13-0 in his second season. USF is at rock bottom now, so hiring the 47-year-old who led a historic turnaround at another AAC school in the same state makes sense. Frost recruited the state at UCF, Nebraska and as an Oregon assistant.
The case against: That 2017 Peach Bowl run is Frost’s only winning season; he’s 22-38 over the other six years. He also received a five-day suspension and show-cause penalty from the NCAA in May for using an improper coach. How weird would it be for USF to hire a rival’s former head coach? And does Frost want a year off before his next job?
Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons
The case for: The 42-year-old is from the Panhandle (Quincy) and has a 52-23 record in three seasons at Prairie View A&M and four at FAMU. He won the Historically Black Colleges and Universities national title in 2019 and led the Rattlers to their first Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearance in two decades last year. He’s an established Florida recruiter; a dozen of his Rattlers are from the bay area.
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The case against: Simmons doesn’t qualify as a big name. His Division I coaching experience is a year as a graduate assistant at Clemson and five at Middle Tennessee State. He resigned after being arrested on a complaint of aggravated assault (the case was closed via court settlement, according to The Clarion-Ledger).
Howard coach Larry Scott
The case for: A member of the Bulls’ inaugural recruiting class, the 45-year-old Sebring native knows the area and the state thanks to experience at Freedom High, Wharton High, USF, Miami and Florida. His Bison challenged USF in September. Scott was 4-2 as Miami’s interim coach in 2015. This wouldn’t be a stepping-stone job for him.
The case against: Like Simmons, Scott isn’t a household name. His records at Howard so far: 0-2, 3-8 and 4-6.
Coastal Carolina Jamey Chadwell
The case for: The 45-year-old Tennessee native has won 31 of his last 35 games and also won the Big South twice in four seasons at Charleston Southern. He leads one of the nation’s most exciting teams, and 22 of his Chanticleers are from Florida.
The case against: His last three seasons have been largely built off Grayson McCall. Can he replicate that success elsewhere without his transcendent quarterback?
Toledo coach Jason Candle
The case for: The 43-year-old Ohio native won the Mid-American Conference in 2017, has a chance to win it again this year and is 52-31 over six-plus seasons. He has recruited the area extensively, signing players like Lakewood High star Bernard Reedy (Lakewood High). His roster features 18 Floridians.
The case against: Since going 11-3 in his second full year, Candle has a .564 winning percentage. That’s unimpressive, considering he signed the MAC’s No. 1 recruiting class every year from 2017-21.
Indiana coach Tom Allen
The case for: The 52-year-old Indiana native started his career in Hillsborough County, first as the head coach at Temple Heights’ Christian school, then as an assistant at Armwood High. A former USF defensive coordinator, Allen signed the Tampa Bay area’s top offensive player (Michael Penix) and defensive player (James Miller) to Indiana in 2018. Allen is responsible for two of the Hoosiers’ three winning seasons since 1995.
The case against: Since finishing No. 12 in 2020, Allen is 5-17, putting his Indiana tenure in jeopardy. That’s good for the Bulls, who normally wouldn’t be able to poach a Big Ten coach, but could USF sell that record to fans?
Kane Wommack, South Alabama
The case for: His Jaguars are 8-2 in his second year and still alive for the Sun Belt West title. He has signed a handful of Floridians in his career, both at South Alabama and as an Indiana assistant.
The case against: The 35-year-old Missouri native is the youngest person on this list and the most unproven, too.
Former Memphis/Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente
The case for: The 46-year-old Oklahoma native led Memphis to its first top-25 finish and had a pair of top-25 runs with the Hokies. He’s 69-54 in 10 seasons. Fuente’s classes regularly featured Floridians, including Robert Davis, who left Carrollwood Day as Hillsborough County’s all-time leading rusher.
The case against: He had two losing seasons at Virginia Tech, which last had one in 1992, and saw the end of the nation’s longest bowl streak in 2020. The Hokies’ 2-8 record this year reflects poorly on what he left behind.