Crossing enemy lines

Chuck Bresnahan coached the Bulls’ defense for two years until being let go in early December. Over the weekend, he accepted the job of defensive coordinator with UCF. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHEIU

Turns out a member of the USF football program wanted to be like rival UCF after all.

Well, former member that is. 

Coach Willie Taggart’s infamous “hell no” when asked if he aspires to build a conference like UCF after the Knights’ 16-0 win over the Bulls proved ironic Sunday night when multiple media outlets reported that former USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan agreed to take the same job with the Knights.

Can you blame him? 

Bresnahan, who was fired from USF in December, now gets to show off UCF’s shiny Fiesta Bowl trophy and its on-campus stadium. Meanwhile, USF averaged a little more than 19,000 fans per game at the 67,000-seat Raymond James Stadium and can only tout leftover Meineke Car Care Bowl gear from 2010 — its last bowl appearance.

All jokes aside, Bresnahan’s new gig will surely stoke the flames of this blossoming rivalry even more when the two teams meet again in Orlando next season. But before any of that conversation and trash-talk starts, USF has to deal with the fact that it could feel this move where it hurts most: the recruiting trail.

Take former USF running backs coach Telly Lockette for instance. When Lockette surprisingly bolted for Oregon State to take the same position earlier this month, what was his next move? Lockette, who has strong recruiting ties to the Miami-Dade area, almost instantly began trying to pluck prospects from USF to flip them to join the Beavers.

Among the recruits courted by Lockette was USF commit Khalid McGee, who is rated as a three-star safety by Three days after Lockette’s departure, McGee, a Miami native, was offered a scholarship to Oregon State.

An NCAA violation? No. 

Classless? Let’s just say he probably won’t find a Christmas card from Taggart in his mailbox this year. 

With the bridge to USF essentially smoldering in flames behind him, Bresnahan would be foolish not to attempt the same stunt to help the Knights.

Despite the Bulls’ dip in non-binding verbal commits from defensive players (five) as compared to this time last year (12) — a disappointing 4-8 record following a 2-10 season will do that  — there are still plenty of two- and three-star prospects that Bresnahan might convince to come over.

Plus, Bresnahan had a strong hand in developing several local USF standouts, such as sophomore defensive back Nate Godwin (Freedom High) and linebackers Nigel Harris (Hillsborough) and Auggie Sanchez (Northeast). 

Personal feelings aside, this move makes sense for Bresnahan.

Long before Bresnahan became an NFL assistant for 15 years and — eventually — USF’s defensive coordinator in 2013, he and longtime UCF coach George O’Leary worked together at Georgia Tech for five seasons (1987-91). O’Leary served as the Yellow Jackets’ defensive coordinator and Bresnahan was linebackers coach. Their time together included a national championship in 1990. 

“It was fun. We had a blast, we really did,” Bresnahan recalled before USF’s game at UCF in 2013. “We’ve stayed in contact very minimally, but I’ve followed his career and he’s done an unbelievable job.”

Now, Bresnahan looks to create similar memories with his old pal, O’Leary. A national title may be out of the question for the Knights, but a third straight American Athletic Conference crown is certainly within reach.

That’s what makes this so hard to swallow for some USF fans. Bresnahan was supposed to make that happen here. 

He and his players constantly preached that they wanted to be a top-10 defense. Instead, his once-promising unit slipped from 30th nationally in 2013 to 71st this season. Bresnahan, who was the team’s highest-paid assistant at $350,000 per year, was dismissed.

One could argue the regression was a result of a lack of depth, conversion to the 3-4 scheme or loss of major contributors from the year before, such as Julius Forte, Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch. 

But in reality, the numbers simply weren’t good enough and shouldn’t be for a program that believes it is close to contending for bowl berths and — some day — its first conference championship. 

Still, the end result of Bresnahan’s tenure doesn’t diminish the sour taste this leaves. It will sting a lot more in a few months if the Knights hand the Bulls their third straight loss in the series.

Hey, maybe next time, Taggart should reconsider his stance and want to be like UCF.

Bresnahan sure does, and that can’t bode well for the Bulls.