The first thing you notice when you walk into Michael Kelly’s office in the Lee Roy Selmon Athletic Center on the University of South Florida Tampa campus is a table full of football helmets.
“I’ve got to get a shelf,” the new Vice President of Athletics says with a smile.
Next to a shiny new Bulls helmet at the front of the collection is an old school cremesicle orange Buccaneers helmet autographed by Selmon, the Bucs legend who was Kelly’s boss at USF during his first tenure with the school in 2001-2002.
The shadow of Selmon, who joined USF’s athletic department in 1993 and served as athletic director from 2001-2004, remains strong for Kelly.
“He was huge to me,” said Kelly, who previously served as USF’s associate A.D. for external affairs. “It’s very meaningful to me to sit in a building that’s named after him, to walk by his portrait every day I walk into the offices. It’s a great reminder I think, not only for me, but for everyone that comes into this building on a daily basis, that what better role model than Lee Roy Selmon?”
In addition to the Bucs and Bulls’ helmets, there are ones commemorating Kelly’s unprecedented work as president of host committees for three Florida Super Bowls, including Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.
Kelly thinks his experiences in the Tampa Bay community, which also includes serving as executive director of the Organizing Committee for the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four held at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, helped him secure his new job.
“I just think, like many things, it comes down to fit,” said Kelly. “With my acumen on the sports scene locally and nationally, having a great understanding of the national landscape, having a passion for this community, having connections in this community, just makes it work.”
The first, and perhaps most pressing, issue Kelly faces is the ongoing demand for an on-campus football stadium.
Kelly's predecessor, Mark Harlan, was at the helm when potential sites were revealed and a feasibility study began. Now, a preliminary version of that study is available, and it doesn't paint an overly optimistic picture.
Currently, the funding for a state-of-the-art stadium isn't there, and fans don't want something viewed as cheap.
“The comforting thing is that a lot of our donors that were questioned in the study stated that if we’re going to build something, and we see the assets of having (a stadium) on campus, let’s make sure we build it not only right for the student-athletes, but for the fan experience,” said Kelly.
“We don’t want to trade in what is already a very good fan experience at Raymond James Stadium and not have some of the same amenities that exist there at our on-campus facility,” he added. “If we want to take the pros of being on campus and combine it with maybe a size that fits us best and with the amenities we already enjoy, that’s what we want to create when the time’s right.”
"I think it's still a worthy project, but the feasibility study and the practicality of it all is that we have higher priorities and higher needs right now in terms of our ability to raise money," said Kelly. "The priority from a major capital standpoint for athletics is going to be the USF Football Center.”
The $4o million facility, which will include an indoor practice facility, will include operational space. Moving the football team into the new building will free up space in the Selmon Athletic Center for services for USF’s other teams, like nutrition, student services, life skills and academic assistance.
“All these things are growing as our departments do, and to keep up with others are doing, and to best serve our coaches and student-athletes, that’s the priority for us right now,” said Kelly.
Currently, Kelly said they’ve raised “just north of $10 million in pledges” for the center.
“We’ve got a road to go on that, but I’m encouraged and excited about the momentum we’ve got,” he said. “Bottom line is that’s gonna get done and we just have to make it happen as fast as possible.”
We’ll have more from Kelly later today. In the meantime, hear more from him by clicking on the interview link above.