NEWPORT, R.I. — University of South Florida DT Todd Chandler felt his heart drop when he awoke to an early morning text message on his cellphone.
His position coach, Eric Mathies, had just been arrested on a charge of driving under the influence. The ESPN alert carried little other information, leaving Chandler to wonder alone in bed on that May morning about the immediate future of himself and his coach.
The Bulls had just seemingly hit rock bottom, going 2-10 and staggering into the offseason with six straight losses. Now came the possibility that Mathies, who had worked with Chandler since arriving with the rest of coach Willie Taggart’s staff, would be dismissed from the program.
“I didn’t want to see him in that light,” Chandler said. “I know how hard it is to come back once you’re in that light.”
Chandler can look at Mathies differently now. Taken off indefinite leave from the program and reinstated, Mathies will be with USF when it opens fall camp.
“He’s taken care of the business and the things we’ve asked him to do,” Taggart said. “He’ll be with us.”
Mathies, who is entering his 16th season in the college game, offered the Bulls a group apology in the immediate aftermath of his arrest. It was his willingness to humble himself in front of his players that put Mathies back on good terms, Chandler said.
“What he did was not right,” Chandler said. “He made that very clear to us. He’s a man, he owned up to his mistakes and we welcomed him back with open arms.”
USF’s defensive line finished 12th in the nation in tackles for loss per game in 2013, averaging 7.6 per game. The Bulls went from nine turnovers forced in 2012 to 25 last season.
East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa are newcomers to the American Athletic Conference in 2014, adding another layer of difficulty for coaching staffs and players as they prepare each week.
“I’ve seen ECU play on TV,” Bulls WR Andre Davis said. “I’ve seen Tulsa play a little on TV. That’s it.”
USF plays the Pirates on Oct. 11 and visits the Golden Hurricane the following week. Consecutive games against unfamiliar opponents are certain to present the Bulls with a unique challenge.
“You definitely have to prepare more,” Davis said. “You haven’t seen these guys the year before and the year before that. Film study will definitely play a big part in games like that. It will make it that much more exciting.”
The Bulls aren’t scheduled to face the Green Wave this season.
Taggart said DB Kenneth Durden, who appeared in all 12 games in 2013, has left the program.
Durden, who had 32 tackles and an interception in 11 starts, was suspended indefinitely after a January arrest on a charge of possession of marijuana.