Marc Daniels: The Timing Of The UCF Hire Is Different Than Past Hires


Central Florida v South Florida

UCF is in the rare position of needing an athletic director and football coach. But back in 2015, UCF was in the same boat.

In June of 2015, Todd Stansbury left UCF to take the athletic director position at Oregon State. In October, George O'Leary retired after eight games of a winless season. For a week, the Knights had an interim Ad and interim football coach. 

A week after O'Leary stepped down, UCF introduced Danny White as its new athletic director. White stepped into a search for a new football coach that was already underway. But White quickly went to work on his own to identify the school's next coach. And on December 1, 2015, UCF introduced Scott Frost. It all took about one month.

Frost took over a winless program and a team yearning for a new voice. He had to make players want to come into the football facility and make them love the game again. His energy, focus and vision made an impact. That would be both White and Frost. 

Over the next two years, Frost took a winless team and went 6-7 in his first season and then 13-0 in his second year. White parlayed the football success into bigger donations and new supporters of the program. His "National Champions" claim after the 2018 Peach Bowl thrusted UCF into a national debate and generated significant revenue for the athletic department. 

But Frost's stay would not last long. UCF fans will remember the incredible two games in 2017 where UCF beat rival South Florida in an all-time thriller only to have a more memorable game the following week beating Memphis in double-overtime. The post-game after that win saw a teary-eyed Frost acknowledge he was leaving to go home and take the job at Nebraska.

But the wheels on Frost's departure began in November. Before UCF beat Temple in Philadelphia for it's 10th straight win, Frost was rumored to have met with Nebraska AD Bill Moos and Matt Davison- a former teammate of Frost and currently an assistant AD in Lincoln. At that meeting, the pitch was made about bringing Frost home. Davison's pitch and Moos' financial package and the allure of taking over his alma mater as well as having his dad see him coach the Cornhuskers was too much eventually for Frost to turn down.

Yet, Frost heard from others. There was the offer from Florida and the pitch to stay at UCF. An emotionally drained Frost said yes to Nebraska. But when he left, the Knights finished off an unbeaten season.That meant whoever was coming in next was taking over one of the most unique situations you could ever face.

Hello, Josh Heupel. Three days after UCF beat Memphis for the conference title, Heupel was introduced as UCF's new coach by Danny White. The hire didn't wow the college football world. Heupel led Missouri's offense to impressive numbers, but now he was taking over a team whose fanbase believed they would never lose again.

I still think people undervalue the job Heupel did taking over. He had to recruit in the same office and building where Frost and his staff were part-timers as coaches for UCF and recruiters for Nebraska. They even recruited some of the same players. Then Heupel had to adapt and adjust and make a football team that just won every game believe in him.

Heupel led UCF to a 12-0 regular season and UCF became one of the hottest brands in college football.

The win streak ended at 25 and UCF went 10-3 in 2019 and finished 6-4 this year. But few saw a scenario where Heupel would be anywhere else in 2021. Then deja vu struck when UCF found itself without an AD and coach again.

Danny White shocked all when he bolted for Tennessee and then hired Heupel just days later. 

Josh Heupel's chance to jump to Tennessee is life changing money. He will make $4 million a year and has a six-year deal. It's also not the first time Heupel had a chance to look at other offers. After his 12-1 season in 2018, several schools kicked the tires about Heupel, but his massive buyout ended any thoughts about an interview. But Heupel's buyout dropped significantly in January of this year and even before Danny White called him on his new Tennessee phone, other schools had Heupel as someone to possibly look at it because of his offensive success at UCF. But Heupel had no plans to leave UCF and even when Danny White left and rumors began to fly, he appeared set on not listening. But then White called with an offer he could not refuse.

Now, UCF is back in search of its new AD and football coach. That process is underway and a new athletic director may be hired in the next two weeks with the football coach shortly after.

The new athletic director inherits a brand much stronger than 2015 and while not as "hot" as when Frost left in 2017, very few don't know who UCF is. Meanwhile, the new football coach does not take over a winless team or an undefeated team. He takes over a team that some nationally believe has lost some mojo. But all that can change with an opening season win over Boise State and a big spot with a road game at Louisville a couple of weeks later. Winning usually solves all in college sports.

But the two positions have never had more value for UCF than they do today. Even before UCF hired a firm to assist in the vetting and interview process, sitting ADs, top assistant athletic directors and many others in the sports industry have reached out to express their interest. The same goes for the football hire with current head coaches, top coordinators and position coaches seeking the job. UCF has been flooded with those who want to be the next football coach. And why not?

It didn't end well for George O'Leary, but he built a program that won conference titles, bowl games and a major bowl game. Scott Frost added to the appeal of the job by showing what a packed stadium and high octane offense can be and Heupel made the offense go even faster. Frost and Heupel did bounce for big paydays and one went home while the other followed his boss. 

It's a unique moment for UCF and the reality is both jobs have never been better.

Final thought: Creamy peanut butter is preferred 60% compared to the 40% that prefer crunchy

Photo Credit: Getty Images


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