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For USF's Football Program, Safe Is Death

Bob Levey

Now's the chance for USF to give its football team the personality and excitement they lacked with Skip Holtz, make themselves stand out from the crowd, and take advantage of the upside of playing in Florida.

This may be a completely moot point. Doug Woolard may already know who he wants to hire to replace Skip Holtz as USF's football coach, and maybe it's only a matter of time before the contract is signed, the press conference is held, and that new coach gets to work.

But if it's not a done deal, and USF is looking around for the right person to lead the football team back out of obscurity, I might suggest a guiding principle that another coach in Tampa used several years ago while he was winning a championship:

Safe is death.

That was John Tortorella's philosophy as the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004, before a petulant little hobbit ran the whole sport off a cliff. The idea was that the Lightning needed to set the tempo. Never sit on a lead. Never stop attacking. Never let the foot off the gas. Be the aggressor. A one-goal lead is not as good as a two-goal lead. And so on.

This philosophy would serve USF well when they look for a new coach. Skip Holtz's program was marked by a lack of aggressiveness, and a total lack of personality. Remember the time against Cincinnati last season, when he let the clock run down and settled for a field goal at the end of the first half near the goal line, instead of trying to score a touchdown? His explanation after the game was, "I was not willing to roll the dice." That was hardly what you would consider rolling the dice, and yet Holtz still wouldn't do it. Safe was death.

There are any number of reasons why USF should embrace "safe is death" as its philosophy:

1. Safe doesn't excite fans on its own. Winning would excite fans, even if it was safe. But a bold, aggressive team would reenergize the USF fan base even before the first game started. I know Woolard would have never hired him, but look at what happened at Washington State when Mike Leach was hired. It was a total shot in the arm for everyone in Pullman. People were excited to root for that team. They were happy to tell other people they were Wazzou fans. It sold tickets. These are all things USF needs for its own program.

2. Safe doesn't excite recruits... especially the recruits available to you. Florida has skill position players all over the place who would love to play in a wide-open system. We know this because so many of them leave the state to go to places like West Virginia, or to #MACtion. Meanwhile, USF spent the last few years beating their head against the wall trying to get the same kind of players that Florida and Miami and UCF wanted. Give them something different and you have a competitive advantage.

3. Safe could quite literally be death for the program. If USF goes out and gets some failed retread coach (say, Tommy Bowden), and it doesn't get everyone excited, that person will already have one strike against them when they walk in the door. And if they don't get things turned in the right direction quickly, casual fans will stay away and the diehard fans, hard as this might be to believe, will be even more upset and disillusioned than they are now. Then what happens if and when the next shot at conference realignment comes around? You're doomed.

4. Safe has no personality. You want personality? Try this:

What if USF got a guy like Sonny Dykes? What if USF ran the Air Raid, with all the skill position talent available in their backyard (and the receivers that are already on their roster)? They could sell that to everyone -- current players, recruits, the hardcore fans base, and especially casual fans who would get to see something wildly different than what they see on Sundays. It would be incredibly exciting. Even a 6-6 or 7-5 season would still be a lot of fun to watch. And most importantly for a school like USF, with a limited recruiting budget, you could exploit a market inefficiency. No one in Florida has ever run the Air Raid, even though in theory it's easier than anywhere else (except for maybe Texas) to get the players you need to run it. Florida, Miami, and UCF are somewhere near pro-style. FSU and FIU run a kind-of spread. Up until this year, FAU was still running straight pro-style offense. The first team to go Air Raid in Florida may give themselves an edge on and off the field. Why not USF? (Reference intended.)

The only question would be quarterback. I bet you could sell Asiantii Woulard on the chance to throw for 15,000 yards in four years, and get him back in the fold for 2013. But if not, that's really the only position you'd have to consider leaving Florida to recruit. As Collin pointed out when we talked about it, you follow the Bobby Bowden method. Keep as many players home as you possibly can, then go national for a QB. You're offering the chance to put up video game numbers -- someone will be interested and capable if you ask around.

(We can talk about defense later, because a lot of Air Raid coaches end up with bad defenses, but the right kind of defense would be key here. A Chris Cosh defense would be a terrible fit. You need the defense to be as aggressive as the offense, and if you give up some touchdowns, oh well, just go score some more touchdowns.)

USF football needs an identity. It needs something that will make it distinct. Something to get people to notice it again. And it needs a competitive advantage. The Air Raid gives them all of those things. Let's hope that Doug comes to the same conclusions.

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