When Jeff Scott was hired last December to be South Florida’s new head coach, he opted to maintain his duties as Clemson’s offensive coordinator through the College Football Playoff.
That meant having to balance preparing for what would be the Tigers’ fourth national championship game appearance in five years and getting on board in Tampa where he would meet with players and assemble a staff.
As part of that juggling act Scott held his first two USF staff meetings on Zoom while getting Trevor Lawrence and the rest of the Clemson offense ready for the CFP.
“Maybe that was a little foreshadowing of what we had to do,” he said of the video conference meetings, following Friday’s first of what may or may not be many preseason practices.
Little could Scott have known that Zoom would serve as the primary mode of communication between him, his players and staff for an extended period thanks to the pandemic shutting everything down in the spring.
Other unforeseen events have taken place in Scott’s first several months in Tampa, including one of his veteran players leading a much-embraced unity walk in downtown Tampa, player movements taking place throughout the country that his program is addressing, and the uncertainty as to whether there will be a season, something that seemed more and more unlikely as the weekend progressed.
Test results? Instead of the academic variety, those two words are wrapped around the health and safety of student-athletes. Scott noted Friday that in the past two and a half months 514 tests of players, coaches and staff were conducted and 24 were positive. On the first day of preseason practice the 39-year-old coach noted not one player was in quarantine due to a positive test or contact tracing.
That was very good news to a coach who speaks highly of how his team has responded since spring practice was halted.
“There have been a lot of challenges and this group has really handled themselves in a first-class manner,” said Scott. “Sometimes when you come into a program and there is a changeover in staff, maybe as a coach you assume you are going to have a lot of player issues to deal with. Honestly, we had zero player issues in the last 150 days. I am really proud of that group.”
The time frame Scott referenced was the number of days between the Bulls’ first and only spring practice and Friday’s start of fall camp. It is why his team should cherish each minute it is on the field together.
“Appreciate today,” said Scott, of what he told his team before the first practice. “It could end tomorrow. It could end in December. Let’s just enjoy every single day and have no regrets.”
The American Athletic Conference, in which USF is one of 11 football-playing members, announced August 5 that the plan is for eight conference games to be played on their originally scheduled dates. Non-conference games are to be played at the discretion of member institutions.
Like many other plans when it comes to athletic competition these days, it can be altered or scrapped. Still, Scott has a team to prepare and his optimistic nature is at the core of how he goes about his business. That was reflected when he was asked about his level of confidence that there will be a season.
“I am confident and that is just because I am a positive thinker,” he said. “My job as the head coach is to get our players ready so that whenever (athletic director) Michael Kelly and the (university’s) leadership and everybody says ‘here’s our games, we are going to play,’ then we’re going to be ready.”
Far removed from scheduling concerns is a program responding to the social justice movement and student-athlete movements that have sprung up in multiple conferences.
Scott, a former student-athlete and Clemson receiver, noted that his team formed a leadership council comprising 16 players with at least one from each position group.
“It has given me an opportunity to listen to them and also give me an opportunity to share some thoughts with them,” he said. “My message to our guys is, number one, I am here to help serve you guys and support you guys. We really need to stay together during this time and I think when you have so much going on, there are different ideas and thoughts. I think for our team, it was like how can we make some positive changes, but do it within the confines of the team. I have tried to learn and hear from our players and be able to communicate.”
In addition to the leadership council, Scott said the team will be involved in initiatives pertaining to social justice that have the support of the coaching staff and administration. He noted details of these developments will be revealed at a later time.
Scott’s staff has been vital every step of the way. It is a staff that includes his father, Brad, a USF grad and former head coach at South Carolina who is serving as the Bulls’ chief of staff.
“The big focus of our staff has not been about football, but it has been about how we can support our players during this time,” he said. “I can’t think of another time in the last 15 or 20 years when our guys have had so many different things thrown at them. So it was really important for us as a new staff to really develop those relationships, to build that trust and respect with our guys. Our coaching staff has done a great job of that.”