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Why new USF AD Michael Kelly inherits a better department than his predecessor

An improved football program and upcoming facilities upgrades are among the reasons why the job is better than it was four years ago.
One reason why USF is a better job than it was in 2014: The possibility of leading a push for an on-campus stadium. [Courtesy of USF]
One reason why USF is a better job than it was in 2014: The possibility of leading a push for an on-campus stadium. [Courtesy of USF]
Published Jun. 26, 2018

TAMPA — A day after holding a search committee meeting, USF hired College Football Playoff executive Michael Kelly as its next athletic director, our Joey Knight reports.

Kelly is well respected in college athletics, and he qualifies as a splashy hire. Other names reportedly in the mix — including former Louisville AD Tom Jurich and ex-Arkansas AD Jeff Long — were big names, too.

The quality names in the pool back up what search committee chair William Sutton said during Monday's meeting.

"It's a better job this time around," Sutton said.

Remember where the Bulls were in March 2014, when they hired then-UCLA senior associate AD Mark Harlan.

The football program had just suffered through a 2-10 season that included a 53-21 home shellacking by McNeese State in Willie Taggart's debut. Stan Heath was days away from being fired as men's basketball coach. USF, Gary Shelton wrote at the time, was a "broken athletic program."

That phrase no longer applies.

The basketball program continues to struggle, but football has taken off. USF replaced Taggart with a high-profile, big-name coach (Charlie Strong). The Bulls have gone 21-4 over the last two seasons and finished in the top 25 both years, for the first time in school history.

We don't know how the team will fare in the post-Quinton Flowers era, but we do know that other pieces are in the works to help sustain success.

"We've got a football practice facility to build, and hopefully down the road a football stadium to build," Sutton said Monday. "We need someone who can come here and marshal the forces to get that done for us."

RELATED: Expect USF to break ground on indoor facility in '18

Fundraising and constructing a facility is an enormous task, but it also leaves an enormous legacy. Imagine being the man who ends years of debate and finally brings a football stadium to campus. That's an enticing possibility.

USF has established itself as one of the top Group of Five programs in the country. Combine that long-awaited success with its built-in advantages (market size, recruiting footprint), and the Bulls have the potential to move up in the next wave of conference realignment.

"That's been a point that we're trying to make with anybody that we talk to; this is one of our priorities…" Sutton said Monday. "It's a daunting task, and we don't want somebody to be afraid of it."

Given Kelly's connections in the industry, he shouldn't be afraid of it. If and when conference realignment happens again, he has an attractive program to sell — one that's better off than it was four years ago.