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Michael Kelly hired as USF athletic director

The former USF associate AD has served as COO of the College Football Playoff
Michael Kelly (left) has been hired as the new AD at USF. He was in town in January 2017 as part of the College Football Playoff. [ AMY SCHERZER | Times ]
Published Jun. 26, 2018
Updated Jun. 26, 2018

Michael Kelly, chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff and a former USF associate AD to Lee Roy Selmon, has been hired as the Bulls' next athletic director.

Former ESPN college football insider Brett McMurphy first reported Kelly's hiring Tuesday morning. The school made it official around noon.

His official title is vice president of athletics.  He'll formally be introduced on Friday.

Kelly, 47, replaces Mark Harlan, who resigned earlier this month after four years to take the same position at Utah. His impending arrival was being widely applauded around the campus and community Tuesday.

"This isn't a great hire, it's more than that, it's the perfect hire," said Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins, a USF alumnus who worked closely with Kelly when the CFP title game was held at Raymond James Stadium in 2017.

"I couldn't be more excited for where USF athletics is headed with Michael Kelly at the helm. Team Tampa Bay just got even stronger."

A married dad of two girls, Kelly would seem to check the most significant box on the list of prerequisites outlined by USF search committee chairman Bill Sutton.  On Monday, Sutton reiterated the school was seeking someone with the national clout to ultimately help propel USF into a power conference.

"First of all, for this job, his ties to that area just made him a natural," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said.

"And in college athletics, he's really done it all. He has a great national perspective, and that comes from working with a national event like ours for 5 1/2 years. So he's been able to learn from the best — other athletic directors, coaches, commissioners. He's a great listener, and consensus builder. He's a terrific people person."

In addition to his position with the CFP, Kelly also served as senior associate commissioner of the ACC from 2007-13. A 1992 graduate of Wake Forest (where he studied politics), his brief stint at USF occurred on Selmon's watch in 2001-02, though he was hired by Selmon's predecessor, Paul Griffin.

"Michael Kelly is a proven leader with a wealth of experience across the national collegiate athletic landscape, as well as within Tampa Bay," USF president Dr. Judy Genshaft said in a statement released by the school.

"He has a track record of promoting competitive excellence, building strong community relationships, developing marketing campaigns, reaching fundraising goals and supporting academic achievement. His future-focused vision and high moral character will ensure that our already strong USF Athletics program reaches new heights. I look forward to all that USF and the Tampa Bay community will achieve under Michael's leadership."

Griffin, who lured Kelly to USF in 2001 shortly before being forced out, said no one has more "extensive, positive contacts" on the collegiate sports scene than Kelly.

"Everybody that cares about (USF) athletics should be excited and encouraged because you're getting a great person with high integrity, and a person that…like Lee Roy, really interacts and deals well with people," Griffin said.

"Without being an overbearing and aggressive individual, he's a very engaging individual. And at the same time, he also brings 20-plus years of college athletic experience and plenty of widespread experiences."

The Tampa-based Super Bowl was among three in which Kelly has served as lead local executive. He also was executive director of the local organizing committee for the 1999 men's Final Four in St. Petersburg.

His only smudge (at least to zealous bay area sports fans): Kelly was raised in Washington, D.C., and has remained a fan of that area's pro sports teams including the Washington Capitals, who toppled the Tampa Bay Lightning en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

"I am truly honored to return to (USF) and Tampa Bay," Kelly said. "This is a dream opportunity for me, and I couldn't be more grateful to President Genshaft and the USF Board of Trustees.

"It's a very exciting time with the university and the entire region on such strong upward trajectories.  I can't wait to get started with our student-athletes, coaches, staff, Bulls fans, donors and alumni everywhere."

Kelly, who earned a master's degree from St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, essentially has run the CFP's day-to-day operations as COO. Hancock said he has managed all the events in connection with the championship game (including the game itself), as well as the external activities (concerts, fan festivals, etc.).

He also was "our primary liaison" with the CFP's New Year's Six games, according to Hancock.

"Absolute best hire they could make," said Clearwater Central Catholic athletic director John Gerdes, who worked with Kelly during a 20-year tenure as USF sports-information director. "He checks every single box and then some."

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