The University of South Florida hired Alex Golesh to right a listing ship; he has already accomplished something off the gridiron his predecessors could not – visiting the St. Petersburg campus.
Golesh led the University of Tennessee’s high-flying offense last fall before becoming USF’s sixth head football coach in December 2022. After a whirlwind recruiting period and spring practices, he crossed Tampa Bay to visit a fanbase vital to the Bulls’ success.
While Golesh is familiar with St. Pete – particularly Lakewood High School – from his time on the recruiting trail, Monday’s meet and greet was his first time on campus. After the event, he relayed its significance.
“This campus is part of our community as well, and them knowing that we appreciate them,” Golesh said. “More than anything, I truly believe that the college football program is the front doorstep to any university.”
He also noted the importance of increasing school spirit around the recently established “OneUSF” mantra and that the team plays its games nearly halfway between the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses at Raymond James Stadium. “There’s 5,500 potential loud, screaming fans that could be at our games,” Golesh added.
Thousands more alumni, fans and potential corporate partners surround the downtown university.
School officials are making serious headway toward a long-awaited stadium on the Tampa campus. The Board of Trustees approved a $22 million design agreement in March, and the plan is to open a 35,000-seat facility in time for the 2026 season.
Golesh realizes USF must tap into the entire Tampa Bay market to see the $350 million project to fruition and then fill its seats. He said that requires “every bit” of community and corporate involvement, from Pinellas to Polk County.
“We’re Tampa-St. Pete’s college football team; we’re the bay area’s college football team,” Golesh said. “So, I think that’s absolutely critically important.”
Ensuring local ties remain strong is also vital to recruiting efforts. The area is a hotbed for high school talent, and Golesh is trying to transform a program that went just 4-26 under former head coach Jeff Scott.
Bernard “Speedy” Reedy, a Lakewood High product, helped catapult Golesh’s career. He served as a position coach and recruiting coordinator for Toledo University from 2009 until 2011 and helped secure the Mid-American Conference’s top recruiting class in consecutive years.
One of the first players he ever recruited was Reedy. The undersized but quick slot receiver had an “incredible” career at Toledo, played five seasons in the NFL and is now “crushing it” as a home healthcare business owner in Atlanta.
Golesh continued tapping the local well throughout his coaching career, which included a stop at the University of Central Florida. He called Lakewood “one of the better programs in the area” and noted that Corey Moore is still the school’s head coach.
“This was a huge part of our recruiting base, everywhere I’ve been,” Golesh added. “I’ve really always believed in bay area kids. The high school football is elite, the players are elite and their work ethic – this is a blue-collar community. This is what you want.”
Many USFSP students and faculty want a head football coach to show he cares. Dr. Jacob Diaz, campus dean, called Golesh’s efforts to increase local ties “really special.”
He added that it sends a message to faculty, staff and students that they are appreciated and included in the football program’s rebuilding process.
“This is the first time – at least in the time I’ve been here, the last nine years – that I’ve had the coach come on out,” Diaz said. “So, it’s a big statement. I think it matters.”
Sean Schrader, the outgoing campus governor, orchestrated the event before he left office in the coming weeks. He wanted to do something that embodied the OneUSF spirit and proposed the idea to Athletic Director Michael Kelly in January.
Schrader said the two spent months planning to make the idea a reality. USF officials also told him that Monday’s event marked the first time a head football coach visited the campus, which Schrader said makes it “even more special.”
He relayed that the student government and athletics department have discussed ensuring local stakeholders have a voice in stadium discussions and potentially bussing people from the St. Petersburg campus to games.
“I think that’s something they’re reviewing,” Shrader said. “I do know, from time to time, that student government can look at allocating certain fees to provide transportation. I think for next year, that’ll kind of be on a case-by-case basis if there is interest for it.
“By what we’ve seen today, I think there is.”
During his presentation, Golesh stressed that what attendees see on T.V. is not why he became a coach. His ultimate goal is to provide examples of “great” husbands and fathers to help young people live successful lives, like Reedy.
He added that “is at the core of what we’re building,” and the rest will fall into place once achieved.
“We’re working extremely hard to make you guys very proud,” Golesh concluded. “Our kids will certainly give you everything they have to bring USF back. I’m really humbled to be in front of you guys. Thank you for having me.”