When coach Jeff Scott came to USF, he already knew he wanted to create a fresh culture within the team. But he also knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight.
And a culture change sometimes means losing one of your most talented players.
Scott confirmed Thursday afternoon that safety Nick Roberts was no longer on the roster because of his response to being benched for the remainder of the game against Tulsa last Friday.
“There are some things that happened, unfortunately, Friday against Tulsa on the sidelines that were unacceptable and really did not meet our standard,” Scott said.
After the Golden Hurricane had made an extra point in the third quarter, Scott heard Roberts trash-talking a player from Tulsa. Scott explained that it wasn’t acceptable, and Roberts “didn’t respond the right way” and was benched.
He then took off his pads and walked into the locker room for the rest of the game.
Scott had a discussion with him Monday, and shortly after Roberts was no longer on the team.
“It became pretty evident early in that conversation that it would be best for Nick and for our program to move on,” Scott said. “These are never easy decisions for a head coach, especially when you’re dealing with a really good player, but I have a responsibility to hold all of our players and coaches to our standard and by law, we’re going to do things the right way.”
Roberts was one of the leading defensive players, ranking second on the team with 39 tackles.
The players were disappointed to hear Roberts would no longer be on the team, as he had been with USF since 2017.
Scott said the adversity they have faced as a team the last couple of years has brought them closer, but he wasn’t going to hold back when it came to discipline and the future of the program.
“My experience is that players and people want discipline,” Scott said. “Even though they may not know it when it happens, they really need it. They desire it because they know that’s what is required to change the outcome of where we are.”
While he said it was tough for him to release such a skilled player, Scott knew taking on the job wasn’t going to be an easy road and he would have to take action eventually.
“I was not naive to think that I was going to be able to come down here and give a couple speeches and go out and call some new plays and everything was going to change,” Scott said.
With the bye week comes a chance to reassess, and in some cases, remotivate his players.
This week, Scott brought in former NFL coach Tony Dungy in an effort to inspire the players to make a change from within the team.
“I mentioned his name [and] everybody kind of perked up,” Scott said. “If I think about some of the most inspirational leaders and coaches and football coaches in the NFL and college, coach Dungy is in the top two or three.”
Scott said he ran into Dungy at his daughter’s soccer game over the weekend. He thought Dungy could offer some advice to the team after going through a similar situation in his first year as head coach of the Buccaneers when they went 6-10, Dungy’s only losing season in Tampa Bay.
Considering the Bulls are 1-5 more than halfway through the season, Dungy’s message resonated with the team, according to Scott.
“[He] did an excellent job and it had a nice relatable story about his first year with the Bucs when they started off 1-8 and really how that team made a decision to change from the inside out,” Scott said.
“I really believe that was impactful for our players.”
Scott said he firmly believes 90% of the players are adapting and living up to the new USF football standard and is eager to build a new culture of champions. He’s prepared to transform his team one player at a time in order to do so.
Within the last 10 years, USF has seen four head coaches after Jim Leavitt was fired in January 2010 — Skip Holtz from 2010-12, during which the Bulls went 16-21, Willie Taggart from 2013-16 when USF went 24-25, and Charlie Strong from 2017-19 when the Bulls went 21-16.
USF has been to five bowl games and won three — a 31-26 win over Clemson in the 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl, a 46-39 overtime win over South Carolina in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl and a 38-34 win over Texas Tech in the Birmingham Bowl the following year.
Being just under .500 in the last 10 years isn’t good enough for Scott, who wants to push the standard further.
“A decade of mediocrity has to change,” Scott said. “There has to be some big-time differences and the standard has to be a little bit higher, and we all have to hold ourselves to that.”