USF players are on board with Alex Golesh, but what will scoreboard say?

John Romano | The Bulls are set to begin a new season with their fourth head coach in the last eight years.
New USF head coach Alex Golesh has clearly connected with his players, many of whom have been through some turbulent seasons with the Bulls.
New USF head coach Alex Golesh has clearly connected with his players, many of whom have been through some turbulent seasons with the Bulls. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 2

TAMPA — He can do the talk, that much we know. Give the man a microphone, and Alex Golesh will give you a soliloquy.

Some of it, inevitably, sounds like a mimeograph from Bear Bryant’s desk drawer in 1965. The usual coach-speak about accountability and adversity.

But USF is not Alabama, and recruits aren’t buying yesterday’s BS. And this, interestingly, is where Golesh seems to excel. It’s not his pedigree, or his references. It’s not USF’s campus, or the program’s name, image and likeness account balance. If USF is to rise from college football’s netherworld, it will be because of the sincerity behind Golesh’s neverending patter.

“When Golesh first got here, nobody knew much about him,” said senior defensive end Jason Vaughn. “To be honest, we were kind of glass half empty on the whole idea because he was a first-year head coach and we had just gone through that with (Jeff Scott). So it was a little concerning to a lot of guys that we had another head coach who didn’t have a lot of experience and had never been in that position.

“But over the course of months that he’s been here, man, it’s been nothing short of amazing. He brought in coaches that really care, that really put the players first. In this day and age of (name, image and likeness), all of the money involved to a point where it’s almost a business, for him to care about you as person more than a player really stuck out.”

When they take the field this morning for the first practice of fall, this will be a completely different USF team in more ways than one. Between prep recruits and transfers, there will be 38 new players on scholarship. There will be a new high-paced offensive scheme. And, if Golesh’s plan works, there will be a new culture built on an offseason of communing as well as the start of an 11-day training camp where players will be sequestered in a nearby hotel without access to their cars.

Is there a bit of a new-age feel to this? Sure. Will it cover up a dearth of talent? Probably not.

But the idea is to create an atmosphere that can thrive regardless of the team’s record and will eventually attract other players. That’s why Golesh established a leadership council in the locker room so players can police themselves. And that’s why he arranged team outings at Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. That’s why players were invited to his house for dinner, and why the team got together for a Super Bowl party.

“Earning their trust is the biggest thing I can do,” Golesh said. “Because the quickest way to fail is to lose their trust. The one thing that has never changed over the years is kids will play harder for people they trust. If they trust you, they respect you. If they know you have their back, they’ll play harder for you.”

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

The challenge, of course, is maintaining that trust, respect and camaraderie when the scoreboard is laughing at you.

The reality is USF has gone 8-37 the past four seasons and has its fourth head coach in eight years. A touchy-feely vibe will get old quickly if there is not some success on the field to back it up.

Golesh, 39, has clearly connected with this group of players, but will it translate into the huddle? One of Scott’s problems as a first-time head coach was game management issues that cost the Bulls in a lot of close losses. Golesh has play-calling experience as an offensive coordinator, but he’s also running an offense without Josh Heupel looking over his shoulder for the first time.

It would be a mini miracle if the Bulls could go from 1-11 to a winning record in 2023, which is probably why Golesh is not talking a lot about wins and losses. His aim is to establish a clear direction that USF can build on going into the next recruiting cycle.

“At Tennessee when we were 7-6, we were a bunch of idiots. We win an Orange Bowl and are 11-2, and it’s like, ‘Man, these guys are really good.’ Well, which one is it? Are we idiots, or are we really good?” Golesh said. “Success will always be defined differently by the media and the outside world.

“My definition of success is how many people can I affect in a positive way? It was that way when I was a high school coach, when I was a GA, when I was an analyst, when I was a position coach and a coordinator. Is that corny? Maybe, but that’s how I was raised. That’s how my high school coach was. If you define success by wins and losses, you will live this roller-coaster life. And that is a miserable way to live. I choose to define success by the people I can touch.”

The man can talk. And, so far, he’s found some believers in the USF locker room.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Twitter and Facebook.