On the night before his final day as head football coach at South Carolina – two weeks after the Gamecocks concluded a 1-10 season – Brad Scott asked his teenage sons, Jeff and John, to join him downstairs in the sunroom of the family’s Columbia home.
There, in a gathering fraught with emotions for all three, the elder Scott told his sons they would attend a news conference the next day, where he would be resigning after five seasons and a 23-32-1 record – a “resignation” that athletics director Mike McGee had made clear the coach had little say about.
“He, basically, told us he’d been let go,” Jeff Scott said of that night in late November 1998. “It wasn’t a shock after going 1-10. Even at 18, I knew what was probably coming.”
Jeff Scott remembers feeling angry, upset and embarrassed, for his father and for himself. “But then – the thing I’ll never forget – Dad said, ‘We’re all disappointed, but we’ve got to trust that God has a better plan for us, a plan much bigger and better than we can see right now.’ ”
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Scott laughed. “That wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. I knew he was just making us feel better. But Dad was being genuine. He believed something better was out there.”
That was hard for a teenager to swallow, especially one who aspired to follow in his father’s coaching footsteps one day. Even worse: two hours after the news conference, Jeff, a senior, attended his Hammond School all-sports banquet. “I had to walk into that room with all my teammates, the students staring,” he said.
“It was a very difficult time.”
Who could’ve known?
Just shy of two decades after Brad Scott’s head coaching career ended, Jeff Scott was part of perhaps the greatest football season in Clemson history. The 2016 Tigers, with Scott as co-offensive coordinator, beat Alabama, 35-31, to win the school’s first national championship since 1981.
His father, now Clemson’s assistant athletics director/player development after 12 seasons (1999-2010) as assistant head coach, watched as his 37-year-old son directed a powerful attack, led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, which carved up the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. Both Scotts later received championship rings commemorating the Tigers’ 14-1 season and title.
Something better … you could say that.
Brad Scott, still cognizant of USC fans with long memories, politely declined to discuss his departure and the years since working for the Gamecocks’ rivals. Jeff Scott, though, has no qualms saying his father’s firing, in retrospect, was a long-term blessing in disguise.
“No doubt, it turned out to be the best thing for our family,” he said. “Now, I wouldn’t want it any other way than how it turned out. Everything since then has been very special for our family.”
For Jeff Scott, the past 19 years include being a walk-on wide receiver at Clemson, coaching Blythewood High to a state title in its inaugural season, a brief stint as an assistant coach at Presbyterian College and, since 2008, a growing role in his alma mater’s football program – not to mention marriage to Sara McDaniel, whom he met at Clemson, and a two-year-old daughter, Savannah.
Would any of that have happened to him had his father not lost his USC job when he did? Who knows?
A blessing … yeah, you could say that, too.
Quick rise to success
Life is often a series of moments, choices and crossroads, not all apparent when they occur. Within a week of Brad Scott’s dismissal, Clemson coach Tommy West also lost his job. Replacing him was Tommy Bowden, fresh off an 11-0 season at Tulane and looking to build a staff. One of his first calls went to Brad Scott.
That made sense. Prior to USC, Scott was offensive coordinator at Florida State under Bowden’s father, Bobby. The Scotts and the Bowdens were close – Bobby had advised Brad about taking the Gamecocks job – and Scott’s reputation as a recruiter at FSU was well-deserved. Tommy Bowden offered Brad the tight ends position and a title of assistant head coach.
“Dad was out of a job, and coaches’ pay scales were a lot different then, so he didn’t want to sit out the (1999) season,” Jeff said. “The reality of this business is, when you’re asked to leave, you’ve got to find another job.”
Jeff Scott’s life changed quickly, too. He had a scholarship offer to play football at Furman, but hadn’t committed. “If Dad had stayed another year at South Carolina, I likely would’ve gone to Furman,” he said. “But (Bowden) offered me an opportunity to walk on at Clemson.
“One of my dreams and goals was to play for my dad, but we felt that wasn’t the best situation with him as head coach (at USC). But being an assistant … and he wouldn’t be my position coach (Jeff already planned to move to receiver).” Too, Jeff Scott knew he wanted to be a coach, and to be able to play in new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense was attractive.
There was one uncomfortable moment. A week after Brad was fired, Jeff was invited to play in the SCISA North-South Game. His dad having been hired at Clemson, he wore a Tigers cap to register for the game – and ran into Steve Taneyhill, Brad Scott’s former quarterback at USC and now a high school coach.
“Steve said, ‘Come on, man, really?’ He didn’t know about Dad going to Clemson,” Jeff said, laughing.
Scott played four seasons and earned a degree in secondary education, then was hired as a coach and math teacher at Columbia’s Ridge View High. Two years later, when Blythewood High began varsity football, he hoped to land a spot on the Bengals’ staff.
Instead, the school’s new principal, Dr. Sharon Buddin, urged the 24-year-old to apply for the head coach’s position. “Eight coaches who’d won state titles applied,” he said. Scott’s hire at first was turned down by the Richland 2 board, but Buddin appealed – and won.
“She was the first to believe in me,” Scott said.
That fall, Blythewood lost its opener to Ridge View, but then swept to 14 consecutive victories and the state Class 3A crown. Two weeks later, Buddin and her husband took Jeff and Sara for a celebratory dinner. “She said, ‘Jeff, I think you have a bright future, but I want to know: how much longer are you going to stay at Blythewood?’
“I told her, ‘I’ll definitely be back next year; we only lost two seniors and I want to defend the title.’ ” Scott laughed. “That was Friday night; Saturday at 10 a.m., I got a call from Bobby Bentley” – who’d been hired as Presbyterian’s coach and was offering Scott his receivers coach job.
It was too good to turn down; PC was moving from NAIA to NCAA Division I-AA status. Too, Scott wanted to avoid going the graduate assistant route – “where you made less than $20,000, you’re taking classes” – to reach his goal of being a college coach. “I was 25, had a family and wanted to skip that step.”
But after PC’s 2007 season, “I started to regret rushing the process,” he said. “I didn’t want to take shortcuts.” He told his father he wanted to return to Clemson as a grad assistant – and Brad Scott said, “Absolutely not. You’ll make 50 percent the salary and spend two years getting where you are now.”
Jeff persisted, his father relented, and Bowden hired him for 2008. Part of his summer duties as a grad assistant were working Clemson’s summer camps, helping the camp director and Tigers’ wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney.
“(Swinney) gave me more responsibility as assistant camp director,” Scott said. “Later, I got a call from him to say thanks for doing a good job. He said, ‘I want to let you know, when I’m a head coach someday, you’ll be one of my first hires.’
“I told Sara, ‘You never know. In five or six years, that might happen.’ ”
Three months into that season – Jeff Scott’s first – Tommy Bowden was out as coach, replaced by Swinney as interim. That same day, the new head coach named Scott to replace him as receivers coach, and at season’s end, when Swinney was named permanent head coach, Scott added recruiting coordinator to his job description.
“Something better” had arrived.
A people person
As reluctant as Brad Scott is to talk about moving from USC to Clemson, he’s equally happy to discuss his son’s career. After all, the elder Scott saw it coming years before Jeff started down that path.
“Early on, Jeff wanted to be a college coach and John wanted to be a doctor, and both achieved that,” Brad said. Around second or third grade, Jeff would leave his elementary school, located adjacent to Florida State’s practice fields, and hop the fence to join his father, leaving only when mother Daryle arrived to pick him up four hours later.
As a youngster, Jeff also accompanied his father on recruiting trips, before NCAA rules later prohibited it – “he just loved that,” Brad said – and when he was older, he drew the duty of manning his father’s headset cable on the sideline during games, at FSU and later at USC.
“As he got older, he kept getting closer to the huddle during practice,” Brad said, and laughed. “When he started wanting to suggest plays, I had to back him off.”
The son also studied his father on those Friday night recruiting trips, digesting all the small, vital details: the hand-written notes and phone calls to high school players (and especially their mothers). “He just picked up on a lot of stuff,” Brad Scott said. “It’s all about relationships, and he’s a people person. He worked hard at it.”
Today, Brad Scott sees parallels between his career and Jeff’s. Both learned their trade coaching high schools; “I wanted him to experience doing a bit of everything: cutting grass, marking fields, doing laundry, being a teacher,” Brad said. “After he won that state title, he said to me, ‘Dad, that was fun. What do I do now?’ ”
Both also worked as graduate assistants before rising through the college ranks to become offensive and recruiting coordinators. Both won national championships (Brad with FSU in 1993), and both established close relationships with talented, game-changing quarterbacks. Brad still has a leg up on Jeff, since his Seminoles QB, Charlie Ward, won a Heisman Trophy.
The first time Brad Scott watched Deshaun Watson in practice as a freshman, he said he told longtime sports information director Tim Bourret, “Not since Charlie Ward have I seen in a quarterback what I’m seeing in Deshaun.” When Clemson played in the Orange Bowl in January 2016, Ward came to a practice, and now a treasured photo from that day shows both Scotts and both QBs.
“That was too good a picture to pass up,” Brad Scott said.
Brad said he treasures being able to watch his son follow in his footsteps. “Starting out as an assistant, working into the coordinator job, winning a national championship … it’s been fun to watch his career,” Brad said. “So many things, and people, allowed it to happen.”
Everything happens for a reason
Do the Scotts believe in destiny? Is the hand of a Supreme Being moving lives – theirs and others – across a lifetime?
Jeff Scott remembers his father’s words almost 19 years ago. About a plan, and better days, and this, too: “He said the entire time at South Carolina, we’d tried to be great role models as a family, represent our faith,” he said. “He felt there’d be a lot of people watching us, to see if we would walk the walk, and this was an opportunity to do that, to let people see how we responded to adversity.
“He also said, ‘This is one reason why our family’s life is not based on football; if all your worth is wrapped around football, and things don’t go well, your whole life can go down the tubes.’ He said football is important, but it’s not our No. 1 priority.
“And he said, ‘This chapter has come to a close; let’s make sure we leave the right way. We’re going to be just fine.’ ”
Not all USC fans saw it that way, of course. When Scott joined Clemson, some were outraged, and vocal, as if he should’ve gone anywhere but the rival. “I definitely remember that; we didn’t have our heads in the sand,” Jeff Scott said. “But we understood fans are passionate about their school, and we still have friends (in Columbia) … though they hide in a corner (of Williams-Brice Stadium) to say hi to him” when Clemson visits USC.
Some Tigers’ fans, too, had questions, but 19 years have pretty much answered those. Clemson is home now for all the Scotts. It figures to be that way for a while.
Recently, Brad and Daryle Scott began construction on a “retirement” home, on the shore of Lake Keowee about a half-hour from Memorial Stadium (they’re scheduled to move in this October). Years ago, they bought a house near Brad’s Florida hometown, “but when (granddaughter) Savannah came along, that deal was off,” he said, laughing.
“Daryle pointed out that we need to finish up in South Carolina,” he said. “It looks like this is where we’ll be.” As for Jeff, chances are other offers might come his way – though Brad said, laughing again, “if he moves away, the granddaughter is staying here with Poppa and Nana.”
Who might’ve seen it all coming, 19 years ago – longer, Jeff noted, than his dad’s time at FSU and USC combined? Tommy Bowden, Sharon Buddin, Dabo Swinney all played crucial roles in the life of the Scott family. Others did, too. But the bottom line, Jeff and Brad said, is this: everything happens for a reason.
In fact, Jeff said that truth even preceded his dad’s USC experience. It seems that when Brad was considering the Gamecocks’ offer, seventh-grader Jeff saw the likely move to Columbia as a chance to … well, avoid school work.
“I was really excited because I had a science class project starting petri dishes, recording the progress and turning in a report after Christmas,” he said. “When I thought we were going to Columbia, I decided there was no reason to do that, because we wouldn’t be in Tallahassee.
“I came home one day and my mom said, ‘There’s a chance we’re not going. Your dad might stay here.’ He was having second thoughts. My first reaction was, ‘I’m going to fail my science project!’ So I immediately told her, ‘We need to go, you don’t know when Dad will get another head coaching chance!’ So she called him, said, ‘They’re going crazy,’ and he made one last trip to South Carolina and took the job.”
Jeff laughed. “I look back and wonder: if not for that science project, would any of that have happened?”
But it did. A lot of things did. And now, the rest is family history.
All in the family
A look at the Scott family of Clemson:
Current position: Assistant AD as liaison between Clemson and high schools
Also at Clemson: 12 years an assistant under Tommy Bowden and Dabo Swinney, including three as offensive coordinator
At FSU: Assistant under Bobby Bowden from 1983-93, including four seasons as offensive coordinator. In 1993, FSU won national title and QB Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy.
At USC: Head coach from 1994-98 with a 23-32-1 record
Family: He and wife Daryle have two sons. Jeff is an assistant coach at Clemson and John is a doctor in Boston.
Current position: Co-offensive coordinator with Tony Elliott
Also at Clemson: Replaced Dabo Swinney as receivers coach when Dabo became head coach in 2008; served as recruiting coordinator; played at Clemson from 2000-02
High school coach: Began his coaching career at Blythewood High and won a state title in his first year and the program’s first year. It is believed to be a first in South Carolina high school football history.
Family: Jeff and Brad were the first full-time, father-son coaching combination in Clemson football history.