The South Florida job is one of the best in Group of 5. It should come as no surprise Bulls AD Michael Kelly has a handful of good options available to him as he seeks Charlie Strong’s replacement.
Hired in the summer of 2018, Kelly — who has spent the majority of his career working in conference and national offices, not on a college campus — is a first-time AD set to make his first football hire. He said Monday he plans to handle the search in-house.
The whisper within the coaching profession is that Willie Taggart and Clemson’s co-offensive coordinators, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, are the lead candidates for the job.
The arithmetic isn’t hard to do here in either case. Taggart is a Tampa native who led South Florida to a 10-2 record as recently as 2016. He, of course, left for Oregon ahead of the 2017, and the Charlie Strong era in Tampa actually reflected positively upon Taggart, as Strong started 17-2 before a 4-14 finish, a collapse that led to the opening Kelly is now trying to fill.
Hiring a football coach is about grappling with the unknown and the unknowable, and rarely is a candidate a known quantity like Taggart is at USF. The flip side here is Taggart is only available because he went 9-12 in two seasons at Florida State. While a Taggart 2.0 era at USF would be helmed by a wiser, more seasoned version of the head coach, the Taggart brand is not as (pardon the pun) strong as it was in 2016.
As for the Clemson coordinators, the world has collectively counted the days until the right opportunity to leave the nest presented itself. (The same applies to Brent Venables, though we hear he continues to focus solely on Clemson at this time.)
Kelly was previously the senior associate commissioner in charge of football at the ACC and the chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff before taking the South Florida job. Both gigs allowed him an up-close look at the Clemson machine and those who make the gears turn.
The opportunity here for Kelly would be to press his own fingerprints upon the program through an Elliott or Scott hire, potentially a ready-made match between a coach who knows how to build a championship-level program and a [gestures wildly at the Florida recruiting landscape] championship-level program waiting to be built.
Of course, the possibility remains that a Door No. 3 could open at some point, but as of now Doors No. 1 and 2 look enticing on their own.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.