USF athletics director outlines football head coach search plan

In a Tuesday press conference, Director of USF Athletics Michael Kelly wouldn’t comment on any possible football head coach candidates, but said he should have a decision before the transfer portal opens. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

Director of USF Athletics Michael Kelly made his first public statement Tuesday since firing former coach Jeff Scott on Sunday. But before he could speak, he was already being asked about the possibility of hiring former NFL coach Jon Gruden.

Many names of potential candidates have been circulating the internet since the announcement, with Gruden being one of the headliners along with former USF coach Jim Leavitt. 

Kelly did announce Tuesday he is beginning the head coach search, but there is no short-list of candidates at the time. He anticipates a decision to be made before Dec. 5 as that is when the transfer portal opens. 

Firing Scott during the season is not something Kelly said he would typically do, but based on the timeliness of the portal, he felt it was necessary. 

“The recruiting season as it is is important, and so to have a chance to really have an open mind, have an ability to build the right relationships, understand the right relationships with people who are going to be interested in this job are important,” Kelly said. 

The day Scott was hired in 2019 came eight days after Charlie Strong was fired Dec. 1. Kelly admitted that was fast, but said it was normal based on the timing of the leadership change being after the season ended. Now, he looks forward to having about a month to find the right fit.

Dozens of interested candidates have reached out, he said — to which Kelly added he will not be commenting on anyone in particular. He also expects to continue receiving more as the head coaching job at USF is still “highly attractive.” 

“We’ll take the time to evaluate that list for consideration, whittle it down and ultimately get to the right candidate that we feel is in a place to move forward for USF,” he said. “This is a great job, it will be a great job.”

He attributed the attractiveness of the job to the investment that has been put into the team, paved by Scott.

Scott set a foundation for the future of USF Athletics and its strategic plan of improving the Athletics District infrastructure by pushing to get the team a new multimillion-dollar locker room and the indoor practice facility — which the players will start using as soon as this week, according to Kelly.

Kelly also said Scott helped him identify ways to “put the players first,” including the locker room, better nutrition and different places to live.

“It’s just unfortunate that many of the things he helped open our eyes and help build and help become reality, we just weren’t winning at the same timeline that this was coming,” he said. “It unfortunately just came to the point where … we couldn’t sustain the lack of winning at the same time to continue to keep the right perspective and optimism and hope alive … It’s just really a matter of timing and circumstance in my opinion for Jeff.”

The main points Kelly brought up that he will be looking for in candidates are ability to recruit and retain. But he said the coach will need to be “ultimately focused on winning championships and winning games.”

Head coaching experience won’t be a prerequisite, Kelly said, as it wasn’t when Scott was hired in 2019.

“I think the most important thing for us is to have, again, someone that loves the vision of what we’re trying to build here,” he said. “I think our strategic plan, … our first goal is to have an elite student athlete experience and having those that have or can generate that type of experience can attract and retain student athletes that want to take USF to the next levels, who we’re going to be looking for and we’re going to find the right partner to do exactly that.”

To hire Scott, Kelly didn’t use a search firm or consultants. But for the current search, Kelly said he still hasn’t determined whether he will use outside guidance for things such as background checks. 

Kelly said no matter what the search will be led by him, and a final decision will be made by him with approval from USF President Rhea Law and Board of Trustees Chair Will Weatherford.