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Tom Jones: USF’s safe choice is the right choice

Michael Kelly checks a lot of the boxes USF was looking for.
A USF flag flies above a tailgate party before a 2016 game against East Carolina. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
A USF flag flies above a tailgate party before a 2016 game against East Carolina. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jun. 26, 2018|Updated Jun. 26, 2018

USF hired Michael Kelly as athletic director on Tuesday.

Is it a good hire? Hard to say.

But it's a safe hire. And that might make it a good hire.

Kelly checks a lot of the boxes USF was looking for.

He has more than two decades of sports administrative experience. He served as COO of the College Football Playoff and helped lead efforts to bring the Super Bowl and Final Four to the Tampa Bay area.

He has local ties, having worked at USF under the late Lee Roy Selmon.

And he's plugged into the local business community. That's critical, seeing as how USF needs someone who is going to raise money and get Tampa Bay's movers and shakers excited about USF athletics.

RELATED: USF hires Michael Kelly as its athletic director

Most of all, he checks a box that apparently was very high on USF's list. He comes with no baggage.

Which brings us to the guy USF did not hire: former Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich.

There are a few ticked off people today that Jurich was not USF's choice. Jurich had a lot of support among many close to and even inside the USF athletic department.

There's no question Jurich did great things at Louisville and there was a sentiment among some that he could have given USF that exact shot of adrenaline that it needs.

RELATED: Why Michael Kelly inherits a better department than his predecessor

It often feels like USF is not all that it can be. It has so many things going for it. Outstanding academics. It's in a major market. The weather. And yet it doesn't feel like a big-time program. It feels like something is missing, that USF is a step behind the big boys.

You might even say it's a sleeping giant and, perhaps, Jurich could have shaken USF out of its doldrums and taken it to the next level and maybe even into a power conference.

But in the end, USF apparently couldn't get past Jurich's issues at Louisville.

He was the guy who hired football coach Bobby Petrino after Petrino did a lot of sleazy things at Arkansas. But, most of all, Jurich was in charge when Louisville's basketball program went off the rails with an ugly stripper scandal that led to coach Rick Pitino losing his job and the school being stripped of its 2013 national championship.

By many accounts, Jurich is a heck of a nice guy and a very smart administrator. There's no question he could do the job. Maybe if USF had hired Jurich, it would have taken a public relations hit for a day or two and then ended up with a home run. You also get the sense that someone is going to end up hiring Jurich eventually and he'll do a bang-up job, leading a lot of folks at USF to say, "See? Told you so.''

But you can't blame USF for not wanting to go down that road, especially because it seems to have found a qualified candidate in Kelly.

However, this choice might not go over well with everyone.

USF football coach Charlie Strong has close ties with Jurich. He worked for Jurich at Louisville. And while Strong is professional and willing to work with anyone, you have to ask if his odds of staying at USF long-term would have been better with Jurich instead of Kelly?

Then again, if Kelly can deliver what USF needs, most notably a first-class football training facility and maybe even on an on-campus stadium, then he might be able to keep Strong or attract someone really good to replace Strong if Strong leaves.

USF's track record with athletic directors is not great. The last two, Doug Woolard and Mark Harlan, were swell guys, but not great at their jobs. Kelly seems a bit more dynamic and on the ball than those two, but there's no question that this hire is a bit of a gamble.

But hiring Jurich would have been a greater gamble because of the shady optics.

Hiring Kelly was the safe choice.

That makes it a good choice.


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