Friday January 8th, 2010

Thousands of coaches will descend on Orlando, Fla., this weekend for the annual American Football Coaches Association convention. If they're smart, all but a few will come, resume in hand, to the hotel room of South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard.

The firing of Coach Jim Leavitt on Friday for allegedly striking a player is a shameful end to what should have been a fantastic story about a man who built a program from scratch, but anyone who spent any time around the program could have guessed Leavitt's story would end unhappily. His reputation for hotheadedness and for driving assistants too hard was going to catch up to him even if he hadn't had his confrontation with walk-on Joel Miller at halftime of the Louisville game.

This is a chance for USF -- and for one lucky coach -- to write a new chapter. Few jobs in America offer a first-year coach the opportunity to win a BCS conference title in 2010. USF's does. Few jobs in America allow a coach to recruit a BCS conference champion without ever buying a plane ticket. USF's does.

Don't believe USF sits atop a goldmine? Consider this. In the past six years, the state of Florida has produced 1,186 BCS conference signees. In last year's study of how location affects recruiting and on-field success, we found that programs that can draw players from within 200 miles from campus have a prohibitive advantage over schools that cannot. So guess how many players from within 200 miles of USF's campus signed with a big-six conference team or with Notre Dame in the past six years? Nine hundred nineteen.

If you need to look away, wipe your eyes and look again to make sure that number is correct, go ahead. It's still 919. That means the 200-mile radius surrounding USF produces an average of 153 BCS-conference caliber players a year. Schools can only bring in 25 a year, so even if Florida, Florida State and Miami take their pick, USF still has three signing classes worth of players from which to choose. And if the new coach can win a conference title or two, it won't be a given that a recruit will choose one of the other three over USF.

So if I'm Tommy Tuberville, I roll the dice and yank my name from the Texas Tech search and hop the first flight to Tampa. Texas Tech is a fine program, but no matter how good the coach is, the Red Raiders will lose most recruiting skirmishes with Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. USF has had more raw talent than anyone in the Big East for the past three years, but Leavitt wasn't able to mold that talent into a team that could play consistently for 12 games.

The right coach can. That may be Tuberville, a great gameday coach who must prove he'll hire a staff that will aggressively recruit the Sunshine State and compete with Florida, Florida State and Miami for players. (He served as an assistant at Miami from 1986-93.) It could someone like former USF assistant and Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney, who is now the defensive line coach at Florida. It could be a hot young assistant such as Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who just celebrated a BCS title on Thursday night.

All three of these coaches would be excellent for the job. They're smart. They know how to win, and, unlike Leavitt, they understand a program of USF's stature needs as much positive publicity as it can get. Tuberville and McCarney are masters of the media interview, and while Smart isn't available for many interviews, he's candid, witty and cerebral when he is.

The winning coach's agents may have to settle for a lower salary than most schools with potential BCS conference championship programs can pay, but USF isn't awash in cash. A smart agent will realize the second payday will be well worth the small sacrifice after a couple of Big East titles. So will a smart coach.

So polish up those resumes, boys. A golden opportunity awaits.

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