The potential of University of South Florida athletics remains just that – potential – so the hiring of a new athletic director stands as the most important move in the program’s history.
Doug Woolard will finish his contract and remain at USF through 2015 in some capacity, but his AD tenure likely will be done well before then because the priority should be to have a new era in place without much delay.
Woolard will mostly be remembered for overseeing USF’s massive facilities upgrade, including the renovated Sun Dome and new stadiums for baseball and softball. The facilities issues haven’t ended, though.
The new AD must have the creativity and vision to address USF’s needs for an on-campus football stadium. Anyone who attended the USF-UCF contest in November saw how much that added to the atmosphere.
USF is fortunate to have Raymond James Stadium. But it isn’t a true home. The next game-changer is a 40,000-seat stadium that would invigorate the football program – and the campus.
That requires fund raising and the cultivating of people who will write big checks. It’s a top mission for the new AD because football unquestionably drives the train and sets the overall perception.
Elsewhere, until the AD decision is made, there will be uncertainty – and some nervousness. In any workplace, the search for a new boss has everyone asking questions. How will the culture change? What are the priorities?
USF won’t be any different.
Willie Taggart was Woolard’s hire and the move was widely praised. But for the new AD, Taggart could be a 2-10 football coach with plenty to prove. Woolard also hired Stan Heath, who received a contract extension in 2012 after guiding men’s basketball to its first NCAA tournament bid in 20 years. But for the new AD, after basketball’s failure to immediately build upon that momentum, the clock could be ticking.
Then there’s the long-range future. Will there be a new round of conference realignment and is USF positioned for a spot at that table? In financially dire times for higher education, can USF avoid the predicament of other schools that have eliminated some sports programs?
There are questions everywhere – hard questions – so it’s easy to realize the importance of making a good decision on the new AD.
Cruising: With National Signing Day rapidly approaching on Feb. 5, football coach Willie Taggart is doing his best to impress. According to Josh Newberg of 247 Sports, USF’s latest recruiting weekend included a cruise on the three-story Yacht Starship and dinner at Hogan’s Beach, operated by wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Taggart said he can sign up to 31 players. USF has a verbal commitment from Sickles OT Zach Hudson, who earlier said he was going to Missouri. The bloodlines are excellent. Hudson is the grandson of legendary Chamberlain coach Billy Turner, who has the most victories of any coach in Hillsborough County history.
With former USF commitment Deiondre Porter switching to Florida, the Bulls have just one quarterback in their class, Quinton Flowers of Miami Jackson.
Bulls bits: Ken Eriksen’s softball team is No. 25 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association preseason poll. The Bulls, who return eight starters from last season’s Big East Conference tournament championship team, have three top-five ranked teams on their early home schedule (No. 1 Tennessee, No. 4 Florida, No. 5 Michigan). …Jose Fernandez’s women’s basketball team (10-8, 5-2 American Athletic Conference) has won five of its last six games. Courtney Williams (21 points) had her fifth 20-point game of the season. The Bulls, which have diminished depth at point guard after losing freshman Trimaine McCullough to a season-ending knee injury, are at No. 1-ranked Connecticut on Sunday afternoon. …Matt Hill’s men’s tennis team opens its home schedule against Florida Atlantic on Friday at 2 p.m. USF competed last weekend in the Illini Open at Fort Myers, highlighted by Roberto Cid’s 6-2, 6-3 victory over Florida’s Elliot Orkin, the nation’s 53rd-ranked player.