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Kelly keys USF’s growth

The pieces are starting to fall in place for the University of South Florida athletics program to become a power among the nation’s top athletic schools. This fall, the Bulls had a winning record in Division I-A football, a tournament appearance in men’s soccer, a chance at an NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance and the addition of new personnel to ensure the school’s future athletic notability.

When USF hired Michael Kelly as the associate athletic director, it was looking for someone who was well-respected, had a strong resume and could get the community involved in Bulls athletics.

Kelly first came to Tampa when he was working as the executive marketing director for the 1999 NCAA Final Four and has been in love with the Tampa Bay area ever since.

After working on the Final Four, Kelly took the same job for the Super Bowl, where his duties were to be the primary contact for the community to the NCAA and NFL respectively and to make sure the community filled all their bid obligations to the NFL and NCAA.

Kelly cited the area and the chance to be a part of an up-and-coming athletic program as reasons for his arrival at USF.

“I saw it as a unique opportunity to get involved in the college program,” Kelly said. “Especially with a football program that made a good transition with (a short amount of) time and a community I really enjoy living in.”

USF isn’t the first college Kelly has worked at – he was involved with Wake Forest’s athletic department. Men’s soccer coach John Hackworth also worked with the Demon Deacons, as an assistant coach.

Kelly and Hackworth were both hired around the same time in 1998 by former athletic director Paul Griffin – Kelly for the Final Four and Hackworth as soccer coach.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Michael and everything that he does,” Hackworth said. “I think he is bringing a lot more to the table as far as marketing than we have done in the past. He is trying to take this athletic department to another level.”

Already Kelly is helping lift the department to another level by bringing more people out to events. He has helped put together Pass for Cash, which boosted attendance from student organizations and started a student sports marketing organization called the Bull Rushers.

This football season USF had its highest attendance for a Bulls football game at Raymond James Stadium when Houston visited for the Homecoming game.

Kelly still has a lot to accomplish to get this program where many people feel it should be.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to develop more resources,” Kelly said. “Our budgets are somewhat limited and our staffing is below where it needs to be.”

In order to overcome these obstacles, Kelly and the athletic department have set a long term plan.

“I have to magnify the image of USF in the community and increase revenue so the resource problem doesn’t exist anymore for our department,” Kelly said. “We have gone from several hundred donors to several thousand. We’re finding ways to shift responsibilities and focus to generate more revenue.”

If everything is done according to the way Kelly and the athletics department envision it, when it is all said and done USF will be what Kelly calls “Tampa’s team for all seasons.”

  • Contact Bryan Fazio at oraclebryan@yahoo.com