TAMPA – University of South Florida head coach Willie Taggart welcomed two new members to his support staff this week, while transitioning Stu Holt into the special-teams coordinator role on his coaching staff. Paul Gonnella will serve as the staff’s director of player personnel, the role formerly held by Holt, while former USF great Marquel Blackwell returns to the staff as director of player development.
Gonnella spent the 2012 season as director of player personnel at Alabama, helping the Crimson Tide sign the nation’s top class. He served in the same role at Purdue in 2011 and at Memphis in 2010. Gonnella has also spent time at Miami, Tennessee and North Carolina in similar roles and capacities.
A native of Wakefield, Mass., Gonnella began his career as a coach and has worked with high schools in his home state as well as in Georgia. He served as the head football coach at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Mass., worked as a defensive graduate assistant and in quality control at Mississippi State, and also served on the staffs at Lovejoy (Ga.) and Somerville (Mass.) High Schools.
Blackwell was a four-year standout quarterback for USF from 1999-2002 and served on the Bulls’ coaching staff as a program assistant from 2009-11. He spent last season as a graduate assistant at Western Kentucky under coach Taggart. Prior to his first stint on the USF coaching staff, Blackwell served as the head football coach at Freedom High School in Tampa from 2007-08.
Blackwell holds most of the Bulls career passing records, including touchdowns (67), completions (795), attempts (1,417) and passing yards (9,108), after gaining the starting job early in his freshman season. He also ranks ninth in career rushing yards (1,235) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (20).
A St. Petersburg native, Blackwell played his prep football at Dixie Hollins High School.
Holt has worked with special teams on numerous occasions throughout his coaching career, including stints as the special-teams coordinator at Western Kentucky in 2005 and ’09. In 2005, Holt helped the Hilltoppers rank fourth in the nation in punt returns. His direction helped place-kicker Chris James earn first-team I-AA.org All-Star and all-Gateway honors, after pacing the league with 1.36 field goals and 7.91 points per contest. In addition, Dennis Mitchell was a second-team all-conference choice as a return specialist after finishing sixth nationally in yards per punt return.
In 2009, Holt coached four players that ranked in the top five of Sun Belt Conference statistical categories, including Jeremy Moore and Bobby Rainey, who led the league in punting and all-purpose yardage, respectively. The Hilltopper kickoff return unit also ranked second in the league.