TAMPA — USF athletic director Michael Kelly understands the quick-glance comparison. The resume of the head football coach he just hired, Alex Golesh, reads a lot like the resume of Jeff Scott, the coach he just fired.
Both were relentlessly upbeat 38-year-olds with no head college-coaching experience when they took over the Bulls. Both were offensive coordinators under offensive-minded head coaches. Both were well regarded as recruiters with Florida connections, and both had been finalists for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant.
But Kelly has another comparison in mind.
“There was a 39-year-old defensive coordinator from Kansas State that everyone was pretty freakin’ high about,” Kelly said, “and he’s the winningest coach in program history.”
We won’t know for months, if not years, whether Golesh is another Jeff Scott or the next Jim Leavitt. But what the Bulls said during and after Golesh’s welcome ceremony Monday explain some key differences from his predecessor — ones that will be vital to unlocking this program’s unrealized potential.
Start with the arc of Golesh’s career. While Scott was a longtime receivers coach, Golesh has worked in all three phases. He has spent time with defensive linemen (as a student assistant at Ohio State) and linebackers (as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State). He coached special teams and running backs at Illinois, and tight ends at almost every other stop, including his last one as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. He has done everything from sweeping floors to, yes, calling plays — unlike Scott, who didn’t have that primary duty at Clemson.
“I have done every job imaginable,” Golesh said. “I’ve taken no shortcut to get here.”
And Golesh knows firsthand that there are no shortcuts to where the Bulls want to go. While Scott spent all but two of his pre-USF years at Clemson, Golesh has hopscotched from one rebuilding job to another, leaving Toledo, Iowa State and Tennessee better than he found them.
“It’s one thing to do it when you have elite resources,” Kelly said. “It’s another thing to do it when you have to turn things around.”
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And after Scott’s 4-26 tenure, USF has a lot of turning around to do. The good news for long-suffering Bulls fans is that Golesh doesn’t only know how to make it happen. He knows how to do it in the modern era — a driving force in Kelly’s monthlong search.
For all of Clemson’s success, the Tigers have been nonfactors in the transfer portal, before and after Scott’s time there. Tennessee, however, acquired Golesh’s star quarterback (Hendon Hooker), No. 2 receiver (Bru McCoy) and left tackle (Gerald Mincey) as transfers.
Scott didn’t have any experience in name, image and likeness before taking over USF because it was not yet legal. Tennessee built a reputation as one of the industry leaders in that space.
That means Golesh has experience navigating two fluid but crucial aspects of the game. He’s already working on both; he plans to hire a staffer whose sole focus will be the portal, and he promoted USF’s Fowler Ave Collective during his introductory remarks.
“NIL’s real. The portal’s real, ” Golesh said. “We need you all to support it. We need you to support it in a big way.”
Whether Golesh gets that support depends largely on him. Like Scott, he didn’t take over the Bulls as a household name.
He’s not Jon Gruden, the first big name that was very, very briefly linked to USF. He’s not Deion Sanders, the NFL and Florida State legend whose name came up, too. He’s not Jamey Chadwell, the ultra-successful Coastal Carolina coach Liberty poached over the weekend. And he’s not Tom Herman, the man Florida Atlantic hired after four top-25 seasons in six combined years at Texas and Houston.
“We’re not trying to win social media awards here,” USF board of trustees chairperson Will Weatherford said. “We’re trying to win football games.”
The Bulls, finally, have put themselves in position to do that at a level they never have. They’ve made off-field improvements to the player experience and will hold the formal opening ceremony for their indoor practice facility in the next few weeks. The institutional commitment Golesh wanted to see in his next job is in place.
The only unknown now is the first-time head coach in charge of it all — the one with a resume that reads a lot like his predecessor’s.
“We just landed the top-rated freakin’ coordinator in the country,” Kelly said. “So let’s get real. Let’s be celebrating this success of this guy and look at someone that’s real, wants to be here, he’s passionate, he’s going to treat the kids right and he’s fired up. So let’s get behind, and let’s go win some championships.”
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