Former Tulane great King on opposite side as USF comes to town Saturday
Even with a surprising loss last week, Tulane’s matchup against undefeated South Florida Saturday night at Yulman Stadium may be its most significant home game since Shaun King was quarterbacking the Green Wave to a perfect season in 1998.
King will be on the sideline for the nationally televised American Athletic Conference game between the Green Wave and the 16th-ranked Bulls, which kicks off at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
The other sideline.
In the same location where King and his Tulane teammates 19 years ago practiced daily en route to a 12-0 record and a top-10 national ranking, King’s “new team” will look to keep similar goals alive in front of what could be the largest crowd of the year Uptown.
“It’s just amazing what people are capable of doing when they put their minds together,” King said of Yulman Stadium. “I think that university, that program, needed (an on-campus stadium). Coach Fritz is doing a great job.”
The Tampa Bay native is in his second year as a USF assistant coach after a post-playing career as a television analyst.
“I was enjoying doing television when Coach (Willie) Taggart called me,” said King, a 1999 Tulane graduate and 2004 inductee into the university’s athletic hall of fame. “He thought I could help take that next step. It was a big decision, but I haven’t looked back since.”
After working with the quarterbacks in 2016 under Taggart, he was the only assistant from Taggart’s staff retained by new Bulls head coach Charlie Strong and now serves as running backs coach.
King did his share of throwing and running in his Tulane days, flourishing in his final two years under head coach Tommy Bowden and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, when he earned Conference USA offensive player of the year honors in both 1997 and 1998.
King’s 183.3 passer rating in 1998 was an NCAA record at the time. In that magical season, he completed 68 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,232 yards and 36 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
Add in 641 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns while operating the first iteration of the read option in college football, and King would not only account for 47 TDs in the Green Wave’s 12-0 season, but he would become the first player in NCAA history with 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in one season.
Two decades later, King’s single-season marks for completion percentage, yards per completion, yards per attempt, touchdown passes, TD-to-interception ratio and passer rating all remain entrenched in the Tulane record book.
After leaving Tulane, King was selected in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft by his hometown team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and stepped in for an injured Trent Dilfer to lead the Bucs to the NFC championship game in 1999. He went on to start all 16 games in 2000, leading Tampa Bay back to the playoffs.
“I’ve been kind of fortunate in my life,” King said. “I had a lot of success in football, but I was able to do it in two tremendous places, New Orleans and Tampa.”
His six-year NFL career also included a brief stop with the Arizona Cardinals and a training camp with the Indianapolis Colts.
Once his playing days ended, King transitioned into the media, making stops at ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and Yahoo as both a game and studio analyst.
King had coached in 7-on-7 and served as assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach at his alma mater, Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, before Taggart called him following the 2015 season.
Last year, King worked daily with Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers, who was named American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year after setting 40 school records, including USF single-season marks for total offense (4,337 yards), total touchdowns (42), passing touchdowns (24), rushing yards (1,530) and rushing touchdowns (18).
Flowers became the 21st quarterback in FBS history to eclipse 3,000 rushing yards in last Saturday’s 33-3 victory over Cincinnati.
Does Flowers remind King the coach of King the player?
“The mental toughness part, a lot,” King said. “Nothing at the end of the day fazes him. He’s as good of a person as he is a player.
“I tell him every day, I (threw) it much better than him, but some of the things he can do on the football field, I could never dream of doing. He’s the kind of kid you root for. Even though people have started to know who he is, he hasn’t changed one bit.”
With a new staff and new offensive coordinator on board, King has transitioned to working with a group of USF running backs that has helped the Bulls rank eighth nationally in rushing offense – behind, among others, option teams Navy, Georgia Tech and Army and an Arizona team coached by Rodriguez.
“We’re a run-based team, a lot like Tulane (which ranks 10th in rushing offense),” King said. “Coach Strong believes if you play great defense and run the ball, you can win games. Most good teams in the country, you’ve got to be able to run the ball.”
It’s a balanced USF rushing attack, with no backs in the top five in the American in rushing yards. Darius Tice leads the Bulls with 493 yards, followed closely by D’Ernest Johnson with 485 and Flowers with 475.
“That’s a testament to Coach Taggart – he recruited really well,” King said. “That’s where you’d like your program to be, where it’s not dependent on one guy.”
USF, which at 6-0 has matched its best start in school history, now has the nation’s longest winning streak at 11 games and has scored 30 or more points in a nation’s best 23 straight games. Saturday will mark exactly a year since USF lost a football game – a 46-30 defeat to Temple on Oct. 21, 2016.
King can rely on his personal experience of two decades ago with his current players.
“I talk to our guys all the time. The reason we made it (through 1998) undefeated is because we approached every week like it was its own season,” King said. “We just go out and handle our business, one game at a time.”
Will Saturday night be awkward for King?
“No, this is life,” King said. “Those memories at Tulane are never going anywhere. That’s a special (1998) season, that’s a special four years. No matter where I coach, it’s not gonna change that. This is just business.
“This week, I’ll be working to beat them. But every other week, I’m rooting hard for them.”
- < PREV Volleyball Report: AOL, ESJ, TJ post wins Monday
- NEXT > Louisiana sportswriters high school football polls (Post-Week 6)
Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…