Jeff Scott on taking the job at USF: Dabo said, "This is one of those jobs you want"
|Friday, April 17, 2020, 8:02 AM- -|
Jeff Scott wasn’t going to leave Clemson for just any job. The job had to meet certain geographic requirements, but it also had to have the blessing of head coach Dabo Swinney. When Scott was offered the head coaching job at the University of South Florida, it didn’t take long for Swinney to chime in and tell his valued wide receivers coach that it was time to go.
Scott replaced Charlie Strong as the Bulls’ head coach in early December, leaving Clemson after serving as the co-offensive coordinator since 2015 and as a member of the Tigers’ football staff at his alma mater since 2008, Scott was a key part of the rise of one of the most dominant football programs in the nation. He helped lead the Tigers to five straight College Football Playoff appearances, four CFP Championship game appearances (2015, 2016, 2018 & 2019 seasons) and national titles in the 2016 and 2018 seasons while coaching in nine CFP games and posting a 6-3 record.
TigerNet caught up with Scott recently to discuss his new job, his time at Clemson, and his coaching and recruiting approaches.
We will start the series in early December – the Tigers have just defeated arch-rival South Carolina and are preparing to take on Virginia in the ACC Championship Game. Strong was fired on December 1st, and Scott was one of the first names mentioned for the job.
“This was one of the few jobs that I really kind of had on my list. I mean obviously the fact that it is in Florida, an area where I've done a lot of recruiting, was big,” Scott said. “There are great players in this area. I have a lot of family that's down in this area. So, in my mind, I've always kind of looked at some of the programs that are in the state of Florida as potential places that I may want to go work. And then also for me, looking at all the different conferences that are out there, the American Conference is one that's really had my attention because I've had several friends that have started their head coaching career in the American Conference and had a great experience.”
Scott mentioned several top coaches that got their start in the AAC.
“Tom Herman started at Houston and did a really good job there. And obviously, Scott Frost did a great job at Central Florida. And then, Mike Norvell being in Memphis. I've known Mike for a while,” Scott said. “And so really just the last few years thinking about the American Conference is one of those that I think is up-and-coming and you know, we like to consider ourselves in the Power Six if you will. I think there's a pretty big separation between the American Conference and the other Group of Five conferences.
“And so for me that was a kind of a nice target zone. And then within the American Conference, there are really only four schools that are within my kind of geographic footprint, you know, wanting to stay in the Southeast if I could. You had South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, and East Carolina. And so it definitely was a school, a program that I had my eye on.”
Scott said he wasn’t out looking for a job – he was happy at Clemson.
“But you know, I guess I was not really ever out trying to get another job because I realized how incredible the experience that we had at Clemson really was,” he said. “There was a part of me that really was thinking about trying to stay at Clemson as long as I possibly could because of what the university means to, not just myself, but to my entire family. You know, obviously my wife and I both attended Clemson and had a great experience there. Her entire family all graduated from Clemson. And then for me, Clemson gave my family a second chance whenever my dad got fired at South Carolina. Three days later he got hired at Clemson and he's been here for 20 years. And so there's definitely a part of me that always struggled with the thought of leaving.”
However, taking that next step in his professional life was something that he didn’t want to pass up.
“But the other part of me as a coach, you're wanting to always take on the next challenge, just like you teach your players and talk to your players about trying to accomplish their goals and reach new goals and really try to progress if you will, and really not settle for maybe staying somewhere because you're comfortable, which I think sometimes the easiest thing to do,” Scott said. “I didn't want to just go leave just to be a head coach because I knew the importance of taking the right job. And I think the fact that I was in such a great situation, it allowed me to be very selective and be patient. And that's why even when I did have some other opportunities and other strong interests in past years that I really did not even interview because I knew that I could stay right there and be patient and enjoy coaching and living in Clemson for a few more years.”
The firing of Strong caught Scott by surprise.
“Well the funny thing is obviously at the end of the year, which is always right after the South Carolina game, there's a lot of coaching changes that take place on that Sunday,” Scott said. “And so I remember as we were in there working, getting ready for Virginia, just kind of doing some preliminary film work as an offensive staff, one of the GA's just kind of made a comment as some of these coaches would leave or it was being released that some coaches were being let go.
“You know, one of the coaches said, you know, South Florida basically, that Charlie Strong wasn't going to be back in South Florida. And to be honest, it caught me by surprise a little bit because I knew early in the year a lot of the talk was that he was not on the hot seat or, or whatnot. So really outside of just going, wow, that's kind of interesting. I was really just kind of so locked into what we were doing, I really didn't spend a lot more time thinking about it.”
South Florida AD Michael Kelly – no stranger to the ACC or the Tigers after serving as a senior associate commissioner for the ACC and as the COO of the College Football Playoff – reached out to Clemson’s Woody McCorvey about Scott.
“It was Sunday that it was announced he was let go and then they had a press conference on Monday. Michael Kelly did. So really outside of just kind of seeing that or hearing about that, that was about it,” Scott said. “I really didn't try to contact anybody or anything. And the next thing that I heard about it was Monday night after our practice, Coach McCorvey pulled me aside and told me that Michael Kelly, the AD at South Florida, had contacted him earlier that day to see they thought that I would have any interest in their position.
“And so I told Coach McCorvey, I said, well I definitely would have interest in talking to them. And then he said, okay, I'll think he's going to call Coach Swinney. So you know, just kind of leaving the practice field I was like, well, that's interesting and pretty cool that they at least called to have to see if I had an interest. And really at that point you just kind of think that you're going to be one of many names which they're probably going to reach out to and talk.”
A call came late that night, but it wasn’t Kelly or South Florida. The call was more local in nature.
“And then went back to the office, graded video. We finished up about 11 o'clock and I got home about 11:15 on a Monday night," Scott said, "and then the phone rings and it's Coach Swinney. And he said, ‘What you doing boy?’ I said, ‘Well, I'm just getting home. About to get ready to get a bed.’ And he said, ‘Well, I just got off the phone with Michael Kelly. So we were talking a little bit. He said he had an interest in talking to you. So what do you think about that?’ And I say, ‘Well, before I tell you what I think about it, what do you think?’”
Swinney didn’t hesitate to give an answer.
“And his words to me are, ‘Hey, this is one of those jobs that you want.’ He talked about Kelly being there, the importance of having an AD that understands football and is going to be very supportive and somebody that you can work with,” Scott said. “And Coach Swinney and Woody McCorvey were very familiar with working with Michael Kelly because Michael Kelly had been the second in charge of the College Football Playoff for the previous five years. And then before that, he was the assistant commissioner of the ACC for five years. So both of them had a lot of dealings with him over the last 10 years.
"And so that really struck a chord for me because in previous conversations, either that year or in previous years, maybe when there had been a little bit of contact, and I would ask Coach Swinney his opinion, he'd always say, ‘No, that's not the right one,'" Scott said. "And he'd give me a reason why I just need to stay patient. So when he told me that he thought that would be a great opportunity for me, then, to be honest, I knew from that moment that he said that, that not only was it going to happen but that it really was the right move for me."
Tomorrow: Scott talks about the interview process with South Florida and eventually taking the job.