USA Football - The Search Begins

Since December 6th, and even before, the excitement of South Alabama fans has been at a fever pitch as the much-anticipated move to establish a football program was finally made. The all-important decision about who will lead the new program falls into the hands of USA Athletic Director Joe Gottfried. Here are his thoughts about the process from a recent interview.

Q. What has been the interest level in this job? Is the word getting out there?
A. There has been a lot of inquiry. Some head coaches, former head coaches, present assistants - all on the college level. So there's been a lot of excitement concerning the position.

Q. Is Division I or FBS experience necessary in a candidate?
A. Obviously you'd like to have that, but what were going to look for is someone who's very patient. We've got to be convinced that that person is going to spend the next seven years building this program from the very beginning and seeing the results as we are accepted into Division I as a full fledged member. That's going to be very key. Obviously experience is very important but the patience level, being able to recognize that that person will give us the seven years, is the most important thing.

Q. Besides patience, what other characteristics are you looking for?
A. We'd like to have someone who is familiar with our area. When I say our area, I mean has recruited here. When you take New Orleans to the Panhandle up through Birmingham and southern Mississippi, that's a pretty fertile recruiting area. I'm not going to close the door and say it has to be [someone familiar with the area], but that's kind of a criteria we're looking for.

Q. If you had to rank them in order of importance, would it be Division I experience or head coaching experience on a different level?
A. I think the Division I experience is [the most critical], but they're both important. I think if you look at the model, South Florida is kind of the model, they went with Jim Leavitt, who was a young assistant at Kansas State. He did not have any head coaching experience. But then you look at Howard Schnellenberger, who started a program at Florida Atlantic. I don't think there is a definite way that you say they have to be. It kind of depends on his personality. The person we look to should be really excited to be at South Alabama.

Q. Is it fair to say that the new coach will have to be a little P.T. Barnum?
A. Without a doubt. That first year and a half it's going to be very critical to get out in the community and this person is going to be the face of the program, so they'll have to be a personality involved.

Q. How big do you think the staff will be in the first year?
A. Because we'll be playing under the 1AA limits, they'll be five assistants. Initially we'll hire anywhere from three to five and then eventually get up to the full level in 2013.

Q. Do you have an idea what the budget will be for the coaching staff?
A. We've got a figure in mind, but right now that's a total dollar figure. It may turn out that we pay more for some assistants than we wanted to pay and less for the head coach, so it's a combination. We've got the money budgeted we're just not sure yet [how it will be distributed] until we know who the final candidate is how much we'll pay to assistants.

Q. So you might pay a head coach with little to no Division I experience a little less and pay more for assistants that have that experience?
A. That's right. It's based on the experience level that the person has.

Q. Do you think that you might bring in an outside consultant with a wealth of Division I experience to act as a consultant in the early days of the program?
A. Well, we have a pretty good resource here in Mobile with my brother [Mike Gottfried]. With his college experience and ESPN experience, he'll be the resource that we'll be looking to.

Q. The official timeline has been to begin interviewing candidates in January or February, no doubt to accommodate coaches who are currently employed in regards to recruiting for their previous programs. However, if a candidate fell in your lap who was not employed by another program, could that timeline be accelerated?
A. The timeline was to have a coach in place by the first or second week of February. If the right person was there and they were interested and we were interested, that could happen much quicker.

Q. How much larger will your athletic department staff have to be?
A. We've looked at that. We've looked at other staffs in terms of trainers, equipment personnel, marketing people and so forth. Our staff will grow as the program grows. We won't have to add people immediately, but we'll start looking at some people this summer.

Q. Do you think there will be walk-ons right away this spring?
A. Possibly. It's interesting because I've had two or three young people who are not even enrolled in our university that want to possibly come in for this second semester. I'm sure there are walk-ons who would enroll here the second semester but that will be up to the coach once he gets hired to determine what we'll do there. Also, our timeline might alter once we get someone hired. We're just kind of on hold about everything right now.

Q. The student fee increase will not only pay for the new coaching staff but also the facilities, right?
A. Yes. Right now we're not sure on the facility part as to what we're going to do. There may be a temporary facility that would be built. When I say temporary, the university has needed a maintenance building and they're looking at possibly building one that could house the football program for a period of two or three years and then that building could be used for storage, which our university desperately needs. So that's a possibility or we could move into another building on our campus……..our new rec center will be completed in approximately three years and then the present rec center is a building that could be occupied by the football program.

Q. It seems like there are so many reasons that football at USA should have been a slam dunk (to mix sports metaphors). Why is it working now?
A. You actually have to give a lot of credit to President Gordon Moulton. Our institution, when we tried this in 2001, was not in good shape financially. But since that time, since he's taken over, we're building the new rec center, the cancer research center, allied health building and other programs have started academically. The institution is in the best shape financially to be able to do this than its ever been in before. The timing is good.

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