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USF football and the ‘rollercoaster of success, failure’ in Year 1

Progress is not linear in a rebuilding job. The Bulls are proving that.
 
The USF football team has suffered back-to-back bad losses.
The USF football team has suffered back-to-back bad losses. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Oct. 18, 2023

TAMPA — First-year USF coach Alex Golesh has been around and through enough rebuilding jobs to know that progress isn’t linear.

“It’s a rollercoaster of success, failure, success, failure, success, failure,” Golesh said, “until you figure out exactly what gets you to be successful and why you’re failing.”

His Bulls are somewhere in the middle of that ride after back-to-back encouraging wins over Rice and Navy turned into back-to-back discouraging losses to Alabama Birmingham and Florida Atlantic. It’s hard for everyone around the program, including and especially Golesh, to stomach. But it’s the nature of a job like the one he inherited, as a quick glance at Golesh’s resume shows.

His first job as a collegiate position coach was at Toledo in 2009. The Rockets started 3-2 and won their conference opener at Ball State with a 51-yard touchdown in the final minute. Toledo lost four of its next five games while giving up 50-plus points to Western Michigan and Central Michigan.

The Rockets made a bowl in Year 2.

Iowa State crushed Patrick Mahomes' Texas Tech team by 56 points in 2016 ... then got blown out by West Virginia the next week.
Iowa State crushed Patrick Mahomes' Texas Tech team by 56 points in 2016 ... then got blown out by West Virginia the next week. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP (2016) ]

His time at Iowa State began with a loss to Northern Iowa and a pair of blowout defeats before picking up with consecutive Big 12 wins in November. The Cyclones’ final two games: a 56-point win over a Texas Tech team quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes followed by a 49-19 loss to West Virginia.

Iowa State made a bowl in Year 2.

The 2021 Volunteers began October with back-to-back blowout wins over Missouri and South Carolina. Then Tennessee lost three of its next four while giving up 52 to Alabama and 41 to Georgia.

The Volunteers made the Orange Bowl in Year 2.

Tennessee took a giant leap in Alex Golesh's second season there after an up-and-down Year 1.
Tennessee took a giant leap in Alex Golesh's second season there after an up-and-down Year 1. [ WADE PAYNE | AP (2022) ]

It’s premature to assume Golesh’s tenure will end in perennial bowl appearances or USF’s first conference championship; he was also a part of an Illinois staff that never finished better than 6-7. But those examples mean that, if nothing else, Golesh understands how the rollercoaster operates.

“I knew what I was walking into,” Golesh said. “I was walking into a situation where it’s not a confident group. I was walking into a situation that there haven’t been just a ton of wins, and you have to flip the entire culture.”

Golesh has seen signs of a culture flip. The Bulls went from a team that hoped to win early in the season to one that believed it could win to one that expected to win at the start of conference play. Golesh said he thinks USF retained that belief the last two weeks, too.

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“But they lost track of how we got there,” he said.

The fear is that the confidence USF spent an entire offseason trying to build disappears after giving up 56 points to the Blazers and Owls. Golesh acknowledged it’s something “you’re monumentally concerned about.”

USF football coach Alex Golesh is trying to instill an elite culture with the Bulls.
USF football coach Alex Golesh is trying to instill an elite culture with the Bulls. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Golesh’s experience tells him the only way to address it is to get back to work with even more intensity geared toward addressing the glaring issues that have proven costly.

Specifically, Golesh said his offense has sputtered too often on the first play of drives and his defense hasn’t played fast enough. The Bulls are trying to fix those problems before Saturday’s game at UConn by a back-to-basics week with an overemphasis on fundamentals, techniques and finishing plays.

The dips in the rollercoaster are also serving as an uncomfortable but tangible reminder to Golesh and everyone else that every detail matters in this foundation: Hydration. Sleep. Education. Preparation. Effort.

“Elite habits will create an elite culture,” Golesh said. “Right now we’re back and forth, which is why you see one week we’re playing really good football on all three sides, and then the last two weeks it’s been about as bad as you can imagine.”

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