South Florida players and coaches during a groundbreaking event for the university’s indoor … [+] performance facility on September 8, 2021.
Tom Layberger Following a groundbreaking event for an indoor performance facility on September 8, University of South Florida athletic director Michael Kelly spoke about how his department and the university are moving forward in addressing the details that are within their grasp as the college football landscape shifts around them, and in latest round of movement did not include them.
“All you can do is control what you can control and build on what you think you can do,” said Kelly, a former College Football Playoff executive who assumed his current post in the summer of 2018.
USF was dealt a blow when in-state rival UCF, along with fellow American Athletic Conference members Houston and Cincinnati as well as independent BYU, was officially invited to join the Big 12, perhaps as soon as 2023. USF, meanwhile, was left on the other side of the velvet rope.
It should be noted UCF, which took to the gridiron for the first time in 1979, and especially Cincinnati (1885), BYU (1922) and Houston (1946) have been playing a lot longer than USF, which this year is commemorating its 25th season.
It now seems rather remarkable that the Bulls were No. 2 and behind only Ohio State in the initial BCS standings of 2007, their 11th season of football and eighth at the FBS level. Crowds of 50,000-plus routinely filed into Raymond James Stadium.
USF was part of an eight-team Big East at that point. Five of the other seven teams (Louisville, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia) ultimately ended up in current Power Five conferences, one (Cincinnati) is headed in that direction and one (UConn) is an independent. (The Huskies returned to the Big East, which reformatted as a non-football playing conference in 2013, for all other sports in 2020.)
The Bulls have certainly experienced some good times in the American, highlighted by a combined 21-4 mark in 2016-17 that included a pair of bowl wins over Power Five opponents.
USF has not won many games since and the lack of facilities, especially an indoor practice facility to combat the region’s unrelenting heat, humidity and thunderstorms that play havoc with preseason and early-season practice schedules, has not helped the cause when it comes to conference expansion/realignment.
With respect to winning, or lack of it, the Bulls have lost 24 of their last 29 games, including 14 straight to fellow FBS opponents.
Indeed, the timing of the program’s downward trend could not have been worse.
At least, as Kelly said, the athletic department and the university, which is in the nation’s No. 12 television market, have been moving forward on facilities. Fourteen years after that No. 2 ranking, construction equipment finally rolled in to get going on the much-needed indoor facility.
Last Wednesday’s groundbreaking for the $22-million project, which Kelly said should be operational in 10 to 12 months, followed renovations to the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center that totaled $3.3 million and included a new football locker room that was ready in time for preseason camp. Both projects are privately financed.
Also, Kelly noted $10-$12 million in funding has been raised for a football center that would be built “in concert” with an on-campus stadium.
During the groundbreaking ceremony USF’s board of trustees chairperson, Will Weatherford, proclaimed that such a venue will be built.
“USF is a university that is progressing in every metric academically,” said the 41-year-old managing partner of Tampa-based Weatherford Capital, who was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 2012 to 2014, to a gathering of boosters, alumni and the football team. “It has an athletic program that is ready to take on the challenge. Frankly, this community, the students and the athletes deserve a stadium on their campus. We can do it and we are going to do it.”
Nobody can blame USF fans for being skeptical of Weatherford’s comments. After all, in 2017 and 2018, before Kelly came on board, site surveys and the like for a stadium were performed, but failed to yield results.
South Florida unveiled its new locker room in the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center prior to preseason … [+] camp.
Tom Layberger Weatherford, brother of former Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford, was adamant that an on-campus stadium will be — not could be — something that gets done and likely sooner than later even as a site has yet to be determined. Weatherford’s comments would lead one to believe that some wheels are in motion.
“We are not here to talk about all the details, but those are coming,” he said. “You will see some rollouts of details and a lot of articulation of what this dream could be like in formation. We are not sharing it just yet. Stay tuned. It’s coming.”
Maybe USF will find itself in a good place before too long. After all, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby did not rule out additional expansion. The ACC? You cannot rule out anything these days.
Though things have been rough on the football field, second-year coach Jeff Scott bought into the long-term vision shared by Kelly and then-university president Steven Currall — former board of trustees chair, Rhea Law, assumed the presidency on an interim basis on August 2 and has a vision that aligns with all concerned — when he was being courted to take over the program, which he did in December 2019.
Scott understood that something far more substantial than a fresh coat of paint was required. Nearly two years later, his enthusiasm does not seem to have wavered despite a pandemic-challenged 2020 (1-8) and a difficult start (losses to North Carolina State and Florida by a combined 87-20) to 2021.
“This program needs a coach that wants to be here and is willing to be here,” said the 40-year-old former Clemson receiver and co-offensive coordinator, following the groundbreaking. “This is not a three-year job. It is really not. This will be a long-term play and in my opinion we’re going to put ourselves in a great position.”
Time will tell. It always does.