The USF football coaching search has entered an interesting phase heading into conference championship weekend.
Most of the speculation — locally and nationally — had been centered on Jackson State’s Deion Sanders and Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell. Football Scoop reported Thursday that Chadwell is the focus for Liberty, and ESPN later reported that Chadwell has told other programs he’s out of contention for their openings. Though nothing has been finalized, it’s reasonable to assume he’s off the board for the Bulls.
Sanders has always seemed like a longshot for USF, despite his Florida ties as a Fort Myers native and Seminoles legend. He has been coy about his future, but most in the industry would be surprised if he ends up at USF.
What if neither Sanders nor Chadwell is an option for USF? Who, then, is behind door No. 3?
Here are a few possibilities:
Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz
The name that has come up the most recently. The 48-year-old led a top-10 scoring defense for the No. 8 Nittany Lions, but his time at Miami is more relevant. Diaz went 21-15 in three seasons as the Hurricanes’ head coach. There were some very rough patches, including losses to Florida International and Louisiana Tech in 2019. But the Miami native and Florida State alumnus turned a 2-4 start last season into a 7-5 record, and Miami could have justified keeping him had Mario Cristobal not become an option.
His two recruiting main classes were ranked 17th and 11th nationally, and he brought in high-profile, successful transfers like quarterback D’Eriq King and first-round pick Jaelan Phillips.
Howard coach Larry Scott
The other name that has come up frequently in the past few days. If USF wants to hire the person who wants the job the most, it’s Scott. The 45-year-old Sebring native was a part of the Bulls’ first recruiting class, spent time at Hillsborough County high schools and was on USF’s staff from 2005-12. Scott also has coached at Miami (including a 4-2 stint as interim coach) and Florida.
Though his 8-16 record in three seasons at Howard isn’t encouraging, it does show progress, from 0-2 in the coronavirus season to 3-8 to 5-6 and a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. Last year’s recruiting class was the highest rated in program history.
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Indiana coach Tom Allen
His situation in Bloomington looks rough. Allen is 6-18 over his last two seasons (with back-to-back losses to rival Purdue by at least 14 points each) and has publicly pushed for more support for players’ name, image and likeness deals. If Allen wants out or the Hoosiers want him out (or both), USF would be a great match. He started his coaching career in Hillsborough County, spent a year as the Bulls’ defensive coordinator and recruits the area heavily.
His buyout if he left for another job dropped to $4 million Thursday, while the Hoosiers would owe him more than $20 million if they fired him. Maybe there’s a scenario where Allen and Indiana settle in the middle, giving both a fresh start. Does Friday’s news from 247Sports that Allen is hiring an offensive line coach to his Hoosiers staff squash this possibility?
Mississippi running backs coach Marquel Blackwell
The USF Hall of Famer has name recognition as a former star quarterback, Bulls staffer and high school coach on both sides of Tampa Bay. He also helped Quinshon Judkins develop from a three-star recruit into one of the nation’s top 10 rushers as a true freshman with the Rebels. Blackwell does not, however, have college head coaching experience, which could be an issue.
Potential wild cards
Toledo coach Jason Candle has a chance at winning a second MAC title this weekend and has recruited Florida heavily. He has also underachieved, relative to his team’s recruiting rankings. … James Madison coach Curt Cignetti has never had a losing season and just led the Dukes to an 8-3 season. But he doesn’t have strong Florida connections. … TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley is a wunderkind who also lacks obvious ties to the state. … North Dakota State coach Matt Entz has won a pair of national titles as the head coach of a program that mines the area for prospects. His Bison play Montana on Saturday in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, which sounds like a complicating factor. … If former Gators coach Dan Mullen wants back in as a head coach this cycle, USF might be his best available option.
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