USF needs to regain its ambition

by Gary Shelton on November 10, 2022

in general

Jeff Scott couldn't get over the hump./STEVEN MUNCIE

Thursday, 4 a.m.

He stood in the end zone, his chin high, defiant. His team had just beaten UCF, again, and Jim Leavitt was posed -- regal, defiant -- in front of any critics there might be.

To some of us, that is still the picture of USF football.

Say what you want about Leavitt. His tenure with the Bulls did not end peacefully. To this day, he still maintains he was pushed out of his job at USF because he made too much money. He denies he ever slapped a kid, which investigators say.

But while he was at USF, the Bulls mattered. They were an ambitious team, perhaps the most ambitious in the nation. They were a chip-on-your-shoulder team that won faster than expected. Leavitt grew them from nothing, from a wild idea, and while here, he managed to win 95 of 152 games. He took his team to five bowl games. He achieved rankings, although his teams never could quite hold them. But when Leavitt was in charge, tomorrow seemed like a better idea than today,

He believed. He had passion. He had fire.

And then he was gone, and a program misses him still.

I'll be honest. I covered a lot of that investigation, and I've talked long periods of time with Leavitt, and to this day, I have zero idea what really happened. But a school can't stick with a coach who has such allegations against him.

The school fired him on Jan. 8, 2010. In a lot of ways, USF football has never been quite the same.

USF sighed again this week, and moved on again. This time, it was from Jeff Scott, who at 4-26 had the least successful run in school history.

In the almost 14 years since Leavitt was fired, the school has had a smattering of successes. Willie Taggart -- despite a slow start -- was good for a while, until he jumped to Oregon. Skip Holtz had a couple of big wins -- Clemson, Notre Dame. Charlie Strong wasn't great, but he was better than y ou remember in his three years.

But every year, USF has seemed to matter less than it did the year before. They are just another team in just another conference. Other teams grin when they see the Bulls coming.

Now, with the job open, here is the No. 1 quality the Bulls need in a new coach: They need passion. Leavitt had that. To a degree, so did Taggart. They are both from the area, and as such, both of them believed in USF. I never quite felt Strong did. I'm more sure Scott did.

Taggert's teams were probably the most fun to watch of the bunch, a fast, high-tempo team that ran away from its opponents. If things had fallen right, you could have seen that team in a bigger conference.

It started with Leavitt, though. He would thrust his chin out, and he would compete like heck, and he never wanted to hear any praise when his teams came close. You win, or you lose. No one gets a gold star.

USF needs some of that. It needs some playmakers, players like Andre Hall and Marlon Mack, like Matt Groethe and Quinton Flowers. It needs to win some recruiting battles and stop grabbing the second-best tier.

UCF, once a whipping-boy, has left USF in the dust. These days, you cannot imagine the Bulls beating FSU or Miami or Clemson or Notre Dame.

The program has come a long way since those days meeting underneath a tree.

Somehow, being someone, this team needs to get back its ambition.

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