USF’s Alex Golesh and Amir Abdur-Rahim’s friendship has paid dividends

Men’s basketball head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim paid a visit to a spring football practice last Thursday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF football coach Alex Golesh and men’s basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim come from exceptionally different backgrounds. 

One is an Ohio native, the son of Russian immigrant parents. The other hails from north Georgia and is one of 13 siblings. 

Related: Sacrifice shaped Golesh’s drive as head football coach

But there is one uniting factor between these two men – they both inherited athletic programs that were desperate to win.  

“We walked into very similar situations,” Golesh said about Abdur-Rahim during a Monday press conference. “You could probably argue who was tougher and what I respect so much about him is that he didn’t care.” 

Golesh was handed a team that was considered one of the worst in the nation – compiling a mere 4-29 record from the 2020-22 seasons. 

Abdur-Rahim’s job wasn’t easy either. Men’s basketball hadn’t finished with a winning record in conference play since 2012. Their only mark of recent success was a 24-win season and a CBI Championship in 2019. 

In almost storybook fashion, the two coaches led their respective programs to some of the biggest one-year turnarounds in all of college sports.

Football returned to the postseason for the first time since 2018, and won in dominant fashion. Men’s basketball won 25 games, the most in program history. The team also won the American Conference regular season title for the first time. 

But more importantly, the two have been the driving force behind a seismic shift in the culture of USF Athletics. 

Related: ‘It’s been crazy’: USF students crowd Yuengling Center before second-round NIT matchup

“When you’re in year one, you want to win games, but the little things matter,” Abdur-Rahim said after his win over Charlotte on Feb. 7. “They go into your culture.”

Abdur-Rahim has had culture in mind since he first stepped foot on campus. Oftentimes he can be found somewhere on USF’s campus, either encouraging students to show up for games or dishing out free drinks at Starbucks.  

“It’s the humility he goes about his business with,” Golesh said. “It’s so easy to connect with him and see why those guys want to play for him.” 

Golesh’s support for his fellow first-year coach has been evident. He’s been spotted courtside at Yuengling Center multiple times this season. 

Me and coach [Golesh], we talk a good bit,” Abdur- Rahim said. “Whenever we win on the road, I’ll always get a text from him. Just like when they won, I would always text him. That’s what it’s about.” 

Abdur-Rahim returned the favor. Last Thursday morning, he stopped by a spring football practice to share some wisdom. On Monday, he came back to practice a second time.

Golesh said Abdur-Rahim spoke about the importance of trust and team building within a program.

He noted the leadership of senior Bulls guard and Co-AAC Player of the Year Chris Youngblood. Golesh compared Youngblood’s “demand for excellence” to his star redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown. 

“How do you get all nine guys to play?” Golesh asked. “They all want their minutes and their points. It seems like every night is a different scorer. It’s really fascinating to watch. It’s similar in terms of what we’re trying to do.” 

As both coaches transition into their second season at USF, look for the friendship beyond between the two coaches to be paramount in their continued success. 

“I’m just super proud of him and super proud of that basketball team,” Golesh said. “They’ve energized this campus over the past two months like nothing I’ve ever seen.”