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How to build a staff as a first-time head coach, according to a first-time head coach

Like all of us, Jeff Scott is doing his best to not let his present circumstances dictate his outcomes. Scott made time Wednesday to clinic with a group of Tampa Bay high school coaches...

.. and to break a little news.

He also made time to chat with me about how he's managing the coronavirus crisis, how to build a culture, and what he learned about building a staff as a first-time head coach.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

FootballScoop: Present moment aside, how much fun are you having right now?
Scott: I'm having a lot of fun. I never expected my first spring as a head coach would be from behind a webcam, but there's something about a challenge that gets you excited. Especially something like this, that has never happened. There's maybe an energy that comes from this challenge that has been really cool. It's been fun to see how our staff has responded and how our players have responded to our plan. Obviously, there's a lot of difficult things going on outside of the football team.

I've had meetings all day long with our administration, to our coaches, our players, to media. I've got a coaches clinic I'm doing tonight with some of the Tampa Bay high school coaches. It's been fun, to be honest; a good challenge. In a strange way it has your adrenaline going.

FootballScoop: What's your strategy to divide and conquer right now?
Scott: Last week we were on spring break; I think last Tuesday was when we got the word our student-athletes were not going to be able to come back to school until mid-May at the earliest. Even though that was disappointing news to hear, it was not unexpected, and it was actually a relief. For the first time we knew for sure we had eight weeks (without the players). From that point I really took about two or three days and in my mind started planning. I talked to a couple coaches, Coach Swinney being one of them, bouncing ideas off of each other. I met with our staff on Friday of last week to refine it. We met with our players through video conferencing on Sunday night. Our big challenge to them was, "Everybody's going through the same thing right now. Every college football team is at home. That's very common. We need to find a way to attack it with a great response that's maybe uncommon to find a way to get an advantage during these two months."

From a 10,000 foot level: our players have meetings every day, Monday through Friday, with our coaches. One day a week I'll have a team meeting with the entire team, and then three days a week they'll be meeting with their position coaches, and then one day a week they'll have an offensive team meeting and a defensive team meeting going forward. The whole goal, in my opinion, is to find connectivity in a time where everybody's practicing social distancing. It's always important for your players to connect with each other, connect with the coaching staff, build that chemistry. But for a new coaching staff, completely all new coaches, I think it's even more critical.

FootballScoop: How are you managing install without any of your own tape to teach off of?
Scott: Charlie Weis, our OC, he has some of his video from FAU. I have my video from Clemson. We have already paired a lot of our stuff together in our system, so we can send them some cut-ups we have through XOS. We also have some software that we're able to put our playbook on. They're able to do quizzes on there, we're able to really feed them information at their speed. That allows the position coach to know exactly where each one of his players are from an install standpoint.

FootballScoop: I'm curious about the process of assembling your staff when becoming a first-time head coach. I imagine you had a list of guys you'd like to hire, but how do you manage communication with them as the process goes from hypothetical to "Okay, this is really happening"?
Scott: I think it's different for each situation. Coach Swinney got a call from (USF AD) Michael Kelly on Monday night of our ACC Championship week, and Coach Swinney called me and let me know that they had strong interest in talking to me and they were going to wait until Thursday night because of all the game planning we were doing. Obviously I was plenty busy getting ready for that upcoming game but in the late evenings whenever I got home I would spend some time thinking that, if this does happen I need to have a plan. I already had a list that I had been working on for the past couple years, but I'm not sure any list is going to matter because a lot of that depends on where the job is and all those type of things, but I had some names on my list. I made a couple feeler calls to a couple guys late at night, just to say, "Hey, just want to put this on your radar." I told a couple guys to be ready.

The biggest thing that I learned from that, before going through that process I would have probably told you that the initial sheet that I had with the names filled out, in my mind I would have hired seven or eight of the 10 guys off of that sheet. But really, what I found out going through the process, is it's good to have a starting point, but I was enamored by the number of people that were contacting me. That's what I did not put into the equation beforehand. They met with me all day Sunday (after the ACC Championship), got there at 2:30 in the afternoon and left my house at midnight. They had made an offer, but there had not been a formal agreement yet. The next morning, as we will still discussing, I guess something had gotten out that it was going to happen, probably at about 11 o'clock through about the next five days I had 620 text messages, and probably 400 of them were either coaches that were interested in a job or they were contacting me for another coach. One valuable lesson I learned there that I would suggest to any coach that's going through the process is: Don't already have your staff hired. Have a good starting point, but then when everything happens, wait and see who's available. What you don't know is who, maybe, in your mind you would think they would not want to leave where they are, but whenever they find out that you have a job, maybe they do want to leave and they contact you.

And then also letting things happen as they happen. I really got to a point where the staff that I hired, looking back, I was confident than the staff that I had on paper beforehand. I probably would not have expected that. In my mind it would have been, this is who I want to hire and I'm settling for these other coaches. That was a fun process and it happened super fast. One example of that is, I had the press conference on a Wednesday, and that night I interviewed my offensive line coach in my hotel room, and then the very next night, my father, who is our chief of staff, and our athletic director got on a plane, flew over to Boca and interviewed Charlie Weis, Glenn Spencer and Wes Neighbors, who were in between head coaches at FAU.

Seven of the 10 coaches that I hired were guys that I would not say I had a strong relationship with before I got the job, but 100 percent of them, somebody that I was very close to and respect in the profession was able to give me a strong recommendation on them.

FootballScoop: What do you want a Jeff Scott football team to look like and play like?
Scott: Number one, I want our program to be a program of class, that's known for doing things the right way on and off the field. I want us to be a program that, any time you watch us play you see a team that plays with great effort. Whether they're up by four touchdowns or down by four touchdowns, the effort and the chemistry that we're playing with is the same. I want our program to be known for having a family atmosphere. Obviously I'm coming form a strong program at Clemson. It's not my goal to turn South Florida into Clemson in an exact model; I think there are some core pieces of the philosophical foundation of Clemson that I feel very strongly in. I've seen them work. Some of those I'm definitely carrying with me, but each university is a different place. South Florida is in Tampa, Clemson is in a small town. But definitely some of the founding principles that I'm trying to build are the same as where I came from.

FootballScoop: Do you think it's possible to duplicate Clemson's culture at a place that isn't Clemson?
Scott: I do think that that's possible. It starts with the people. One of the reasons I think I was chosen for this opportunity at South Florida is because I was part of a special culture at Clemson.

Number one, it's about the people. It starts with the head coach, but it's also about the assistant coaches. You've got to have the right chemistry among your coaching staff. Your assistant coaches are the ones that are bringing in your players and that's another piece that's important, who's in your locker room.

Coach Swinney actually took enjoyment by turning down a 5-star young man if he was not the right fit for our culture. That's been my message to some of our players that were getting in some trouble this spring: You can't be fast enough on a football field for me to overlook the things that are going on in the classroom or off the field. It starts in doing things the right way. I think there's some other programs out there that maybe don't put as much credence in that. I know at Clemson Coach Swinney is very proud of having a very defined culture, and he makes it very clear to the prospects in the recruiting process of what it looks like to be a player at Clemson, and I think for us or anyone that's trying to replicate that culture, it starts with the people that you bring in your program and the people that you have leading them every day.

FootballScoop: Your wide receiver room at Clemson was arguably the strongest, pound for pound in all of college football. The success of your players speaks for itself, but you didn't have guys in trouble with the law and you didn't have guys transfer out. For a young position coach just starting out, what steps should he take to create a culture-within-a-culture for his group?
Scott: I think number one is taking pride in being the head coach of your position. Even though I was the wideout coach for Coach Swinney for 12 years, I wanted him to see me as the best receivers coach in the country. I tried to hold my players to a very high standard and create a reputation of doing things the right way, holding my guys accountable, really creating an energy that's a little bit uncommon from other positions.

One of the best things I heard was, Bloom where you're planted. I've never been one of those coaches that was always in December and January looking for a better job. What I've always believed is success finds those that are too busy to be looking for it. So really just being completely enamored in being the best position coach you can be, having a great relationship with the players that are in your room. The way that you recruit great players into your room is by having great relationships in your room currently, because those recruits are going to talk to your players. Players don't lie, they tell the truth. Once I got a receiver on campus, I let him go hang out with Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins or Amari Rogers for a couple of hours and I didn't really have to do any recruiting, because those guys would say, "Hey, these coaches care about you as people more than they care about you as a player."

The last thing is, be sure that you're always studying new ways to coach your position. If you ever get to a point where you think you have it all figured out, that's when you get left behind. Coach Swinney really did a good job challenging us every off-season of studying our position to see if there's a better technique, a better drill, to find that because we owe that to our players.