Changes on the Horizon for USF Football

The last two USF football seasons have been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride, both in an emotional and logistical sense. The Bulls and their fans have experienced utter jubilation because of wins over Auburn and West Virginia in 2007 that put the program in the national spotlight for the first time in its short history. They have also have endured the other end, losing five out of their last seven games after posting a flawless 5-0 record in 2008 – a season that was supposed to top the previous year’s early success that characterized not only progress, but promise for the future.

Although the 2009 season is still months away, it already possesses the feel that it might not be so different from the past.  Even now, it has already run the full range of emotions that Bulls fans know so well.

On one hand, National Signing Day two weeks ago brought in the most highly recruited and talented group of high-school prospects set to suit up and take the field donning green and gold. After a pair of disappointing years, USF’s coaching staff, its fans and the players themselves feel optimistic that the added depth will help overcome the team’s recent shortcomings.

The new class of recruits should eliminate most doubt regarding the Bulls’ skill level, but incidents during the past week moved the focus away from players and onto the coaching staff. Due to a series of recent career-advancement opportunities, head-coach Jim Leavitt is now forced to install a new style of recruiting that extends beyond those on the field. In the upcoming months, he will be looking for talent off of it, as associate head-coach and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, along with offensive coordinator Greg Gregory and defensive backs coach Troy Douglas, departed from campus to seek employment at three other universities.

On Feb. 17, the university announced Burnham had left USF after taking the defensive coordinator position at Iowa State where he will coach alongside his youngest son. Under Burnham’s guidance, USF has ranked in the top-30 in total defense in six of the last seven seasons, including a No. 10 ranking in 2008. Burnham completed his ninth season with USF this past year and spent eight of those as defensive coordinator before being promoted to associate head coach prior to the 2007 season.

Prior to Burnham’s acceptance of the Iowa State coaching vacancy, offensive coordinator Greg Gregory left USF to pursue the same position at South Alabama. According to USF’s official athletics Web site, gousfbulls.com, no considerations have been made just yet, but changes to the offensive coaching staff will come at a later date.

Defensive backs coach Troy Douglas has also followed the lead of his fellow co-workers, as he has taken over the same position at the University of North Carolina. Douglas’ departure after three years with the Bulls was the third USF assistant coach to assume a position at a different school in less than a week.

Amidst the absence of coordinators and coaches roaming the sidelines on Saturdays, current University of Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is the front-runner for the defensive coordinator position. Ekeler, who served as a player under Jim Leavitt at Kansas State from 1991-1994, interviewed this past Saturday for the job. Ekeler, prior to his stint with the Cornhuskers, has previously coached some of the nation’s top defenses in the past six years at Oklahoma and LSU. USF is also considering University of Cincinnati defensive coordinator Joe Tresey for the opening.

It is imperative that Leavitt works quickly, as all three of the coaching gaps have yet to be filled just three weeks before spring practices start. Moreover, the newly-hired coaches will be essential pieces to the Bulls’ success this year, as the team’s schedule is one of the most impressive in the program’s history. USF will face traditional conference foes in Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati – three teams in which the Bulls have collectively struggled against over the past few years. The non-conference schedule is no piece of cake either, as USF will travel on the road to face Florida State before hosting another in-state rival, the Miami Hurricanes, over the Thanksgiving weekend at Raymond James Stadium.

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