Genshaft’s athletics legacy at USF includes success, stumbles

OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft in November 2014.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft in November 2014.
Published September 14 2018
Updated September 14 2018

Scholastically, her body of work elicits a sheen unlikely to dissipate for decades.

Dr. Judy Genshaft, 11th president of the University of South Florida, retires next summer as the Axl Rose of local academia. A campus rock star whose passion and political savvy catapulted USF to preeminent status, turbo-charged a 10-figure fundraising campaign, and helped the university shed its commuter-school stigma.

"Judy gave more to USF than we can ever repay her for," said former Bulls men's basketball player Anddrikk Frazier, now CEO of a local natural-gas company.

Related: Editorial: Genshaft steered USF to new heights — and it should keep climbing

But segue from academics to athletics, and Genshaft's legacy gets a bit more complicated.

A good bit, some might suggest.

On her 18-year watch, the Bulls reached previously uncharted stratospheres, ascending to the Big East and enjoying a cup of coffee in rarefied BCS air (see No. 2 football ranking, 2007). She also oversaw a stunning upgrade — from antiquated to practically palatial — of on-campus facilities.

When the women's basketball program was contaminated by allegations of racial discrimination at the dawn of her presidency, she fired the coach (Jerri Ann Winters) and replaced her with a 29-year-old assistant (Jose Fernandez) who has led the program to five NCAA Tournaments.

When widely admired AD Paul Griffin resigned amid pressure in the scandal's wake, Genshaft responded with an upper-deck home run of a hire (Lee Roy Selmon). Others coming aboard during the Genshaft era include Michael Kelly, Charlie Strong, Willie Taggart, Stan Heath, Mark Kingston, Lelo Prado and Denise Schilte-Brown.

She has remained a regular at football and basketball contests. Softball fans have an endearing image of her dancing in the bleachers during the 2012 NCAA Super Regional, where USF clinched a Women's College World Series berth.

Seventh-year volleyball coach Courtney Draper said Genshaft never has missed a senior night during her tenure.

"She genuinely cares for our athletes and coaches," Draper said.

Related: USF coaches, boosters comment on Judy Genshaft's retirement

Yet for all that unabashed zeal, many fans remain perpetually embittered over some of her perceived shortcomings.

Atop that list is USF's failure to remain in a high-profile conference upon the Big East's dissolution.

As other conference peers found new homes in the ACC, the Bulls were relegated to the fledgling American Athletic Conference, which cost them cachet and gobs of TV revenue. To this day, many fans deem it downright negligence on the part of Genshaft and then-athletic director Doug Woolard.

Supporters also remain divided on her dismissal of football program architect Jim Leavitt, after an investigation revealed he grabbed a player by the throat, slapped him, then lied about it. Any rational assessment would conclude Genshaft had no choice but to fire Leavitt.

But she did have a say on Leavitt's successor (Skip Holtz), as well as the baffling extension afforded him after a 5-7 season.

And for all of Fernandez's success, the campus' other basketball team rarely has gotten it right in the Genshaft era.

All of which makes for an interesting deliberation. Athletically, does Genshaft leave an imprint or a divot? Something to be celebrated or smoothed over?

It's complicated.