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In 2012 after USF finally fired lousy Skip Holtz and began searching for the Bulls new Head Football Coach the options were narrowed down to three names in Mark Stoops, Gus Malzahn, and Willie Taggart. Obviously the Bulls ended up with Coach Taggart, the man that turned the program around from a roaring dumpster fire to the top 25 10-2 (7-1) dynamic group of playmakers of 2016. With Coach T opting to take his talents west to the land of endless uniform combinations and Nike apparel (aka Oregon), USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan was forced to revisit the available coaching candidates in search of a figurehead as special as Willie Taggart.
Fortunately for USF, Athletic Director Mark Harlan was able to reel in the best coach available in former Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong. Strong agreed to a five-year deal to become just the fourth head coach in USF’s 20-year program history. Strong’s recruiting track record in Florida is beyond solid, after mining the Sunshine State for Florida’s top talent during the Gator’s Championship run under Urban Meyer (2006 & 2008). Notably, Strong is also the only head coach in USF program history who will arrive in Tampa with previous Power 5 head coaching experience.
Strong met with USF officials in Tampa on Friday December 9th and Saturday the 10th and was offered the USF job. Strong elected to head back home to Austin, Texas to discuss the job offer with his family before deciding on Sunday December 11th to sign on the dotted line as the new coach of the USF Bulls. Sources noted that Strong reached out to, and discussed the USF position with former Head Coach Willie Taggart over the weekend prior to making his final decision.
Strong was fired by Texas last month after finishing three seasons in Austin with a 16-21 record. But Strong, 56, led the Louisville Cardinals to back-to-back Big East Titles (2011 & 2012), while finishing his four seasons in Louisville with a 37-15 record. Strong led the 2012 Cardinals to 11 victories, 12 wins in 2013, and bowl wins over Florida and Miami respectively. In the two NFL drafts immediately following Strong’s departure from Louisville to Texas, eight Louisville players were selected in the 2014 and 10 in 2015 NFL Drafts, including four first round picks. Strong’s star player at Louisville, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft as the 32nd overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings.
USF is making out like a bandit thanks to how Strong’s Texas buyout was structured. USF forks over just $1.00 million total in Strong’s first two seasons, while he collects $5.70 million next year and $4.70 million the following season from his Texas buyout which nets $9.40 million. (Charlie Strong’s USF Contract PDF)
Assuming Strong remains as the USF head man for four years, he will return to Austin in the 2020 season opener to square off against Texas on Sept. 5, 2020. That will certainly be one to watch.
Let me leave you with one final thought: Jim Leavitt loved USF. He was NEVER going to leave for any job, anywhere. Leavitt’s enthusiasm and work ethic is unmatched and it remains the same today. USF faithful must hope the Bulls sustain their recent on-field success and leap to a P5 program to return to national prominence. Here’s a quote from Jim Leavitt prior to the 2008 season:
“Leading the USF football program is much more than just a job,” said Leavitt when he was hired. “And it is much more than a task at hand. It is something that is a major part of my life, and it will always be that. I am going to do everything I can to build a program without illusions, without cutting corners, doing things the right way and bringing in coaches with character.”
by Matthew Manuri
Publisher & Editor, SoFloBulls.com | @Mcknurkle
Mark Harlan on Charlie Strong:
“When you meet Coach Strong and you talk to people across the country who know him, some things become immediately clear. First, he is an excellent man, highly respected for how he conducts himself, how he cares for people, his tremendous integrity, his drive to succeed, and how he is absolutely loved by the players he works with. Second, he is an excellent football coach. Part of two national championships right here in the state of Florida, two-time conference coach of the year, and a developer of numerous All-Americans and multiple NFL Draft picks. He is a tactician and a motivator. His resume of achievements over 34 years of coaching goes on and on. Third, he is an excellent recruiter. A man who identifies not only talent but the desire and passion to work and achieve on and off the field with young men. He is well acquainted now with the student-athletes that reside right here in the Bay Area and in the state of Florida. He is going to bring the best of these young men to USF for the opportunity to achieve great success on the field, in the classroom, and in this community.”
Head Coach Charlie Strong:
“I’m thrilled to be the coach at the University of South Florida… I feel like I’m coming home and I’m excited to be back in this state where my coaching roots began. It’s a state where I spent a lot of my career and where I’ve already had so many great friendships. Mark alluded it to it earlier, I was a part of two national championships just right up the road. I’ve been in this state a long time and I also have some unbelievable ties to this state, which is really good.
“It really wasn’t a hard decision on coming here. My wife grew up right down the street in Lakeland. This is an unbelievable opportunity taking over a program that has won 10 games. I told them earlier, ‘We’re getting ready to go get number 11.’ Coach Taggart built an unbelievable program, a program that has a solid foundation. Now it’s up to me to continue to build on this foundation and continue to keep this program in the spotlight. There’s no reason why we don’t go out and compete for championships year- in and year-out. It’s a special place that is totally committed to winning on the field, as well as off the field. We all have a vision of where we’d like to take ourselves. We all have a vision of where we’d like to take this program. It’s very simple, and I told our guys earlier, the game is very simple. There’s three things that I’d like to talk about and there’s no reason why we can’t get it accomplished. When you talk about a player, you just want to watch them be nurtured. You just want to watch them develop and you want outstanding young men. The first thing they will do is they will graduate. They will get a degree from the University of South Florida. There’s no reason why that’s not going to happen. When you talk about South Florida, you talk about the 86 percent graduation rate. I tell our guys, when you get a degree from this university, it gives you an opportunity to go be successful in life. It gives you an opportunity to go raise a family and it gives you an opportunity to just build confidence within yourself.”
“The next thing we want to see happen is go win championships. We went and got number 10 and we’re getting ready to go get number 11. There’s no reason for us to go year-in and year-out and go compete for championships.”
“The third thing I want to see happen is when you go prepare your players for life. It’s all about them and I told our players earlier, it’s so important for you to understand that there’s life after football. It’s the way you prepare here in college that gives you that chance and that opportunity to go develop yourself and go become outstanding citizens within this community. We have to manage and we have to develop players. Each coach, each player, each staff member and myself, we all have a job to do and we have to go do our job. We’re all held accountable to one another and there’s no reason why we can’t go get it done.”
“Though I’m disappointed in the record, I’m very grateful for the opportunity I had at the University of Texas. We built a program, we put a foundation in place that will allow them to have great success in the future, similar to what Coach Taggart has done here. I learned a lot, I coached outstanding players, I met many, many great people there, and I grew as a coach there in my time at Texas. Those are great experiences for me. Those are great experiences for my family. Those are great experiences for our staff and it’s one that I will never regret. But those are the days that have passed us by and now it’s time to get on and it’s time for us to continue to build the program here.”
“Florida is a state where football is king. We will recruit players that fit this university and we will recruit players that fit the program. Over time, it has been proven that teams that succeed in this profession, teams that win year-in and year-out are naturally competitive. They’re dependable, they’re mentally and physically tough. They’re smart, they’re disciplined and they’re very passionate. That’s what you have right now in the makeup of the football team that we have here right now. That’s the makeup that we have. I’m really excited to be here. This is for sure a program on the rise. I was telling Mark when he came out to visit me, I can remember a few years back when Coach Leavitt was the head coach here. I was on campus and we were walking across the dirt to his trailer. He said, ‘You know what Charlie, someday they’re going to build a football office right there.’ Look where we’ve come from. I think at that time, he ended up getting the program to No. 2 or No. 3 in the country with the job that he did here. We’re looking forward to building this team, build the program to have a foundation that is so firm and easy to stand on that year-in and year-out we’re able to just make it happen. The future of this program is very bright and I’m thrilled to be leading it. Together we will accomplish great things, go Bulls.”
Charlie Strong Q&A:
“When you’re sitting in a room with a recruit now, how much weight does it carry to say you’re the winningest program in college in Florida?”
“It carries a lot of weight. When you go to a family’s home to recruit, the family needs to understand who you are, what your mission is and what you’re all about. That’s why I always talk about we’re going to graduate our players, we’re going to win championships and we’re going to make them a better person. I tell a family, ‘Just give me your son and when I give him back to you four or five years later, I want him to be an unbelievable young man, a young man that can handle adversity. A young man that can overcome obstacles, a young man that goes out and picks himself up when he gets knocked down.’ That’s what it’s all about. That’s what families want to hear and that’s what parents want to hear.”
“You obviously had some other opportunities you could have had. What appeal does the University of South Florida have among the competition that was out there?”
“I had this conversation with Willie and I told him when he took the Oregon job, I said, ‘I want to go be the head coach at South Florida because I know that it’s a program that a foundation has been laid.’ It’s a program that it’s only going to get better, and better, and better. I always think about it when you talk about taking over a program, just the young men within that program. I know we have some unbelievable young men within the program. I always go back to what Mark talked about the 86 percent graduation rate. I always say this – show me a good football team and I’ll show you great academics. Show me a bad football team and I’m going to show you bad academics. We have a good football team here with great academics. There’s young men that want to do something with their lives.”
“How much have you been able to interact with recruits? Have you been able to talk to them?”
“I spoke with every recruit that committed to us, and we have early enrollees getting ready to come in here in January. I was able to get the phone numbers, just with our compliance we were able to get all that information. They’ve heard from me and it’s been great conversation. A lot of times I call and I say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ They said, ‘Who is this?’ I say, ‘This is Coach Strong,’ and the tone of their voice kind of changes. It’s been great conversation with what is in place right now. The thing about recruits, they see what’s happening within the program and they see the commitment we’re making within the program, so you engage their interest.”
“When you’re looking at this program, prolific offense and the defense spends a lot of time on the field because the offense scores so quickly. What are you looking at to try and help that defense? The thing we need to tell our guys on offense is slow down a little and give our defense a rest. What happens now in the game of football is you see so many explosive offenses. What’s happening is you’re taking athletes on offense, when you have an unbelievable quarterback and he can make a guy miss. Then all the sudden you have an unbelievable running back and wide receivers and an offensive line that can protect, it puts a lot of pressure on defenses. The thing that happens on defense is now you don’t want it to turn into a scoring match. You just try to get a stop, and that’s what happening. You see defenses now, guys that used to have those defensive goals – we want to hold a team to 17 points a game. We’re going to hold them to under 300 yards – that’s not happening anymore because the way the game is now, there’s so many athletes on offense and they can score so quickly. Your defense is back out there on the field. People are going to find a way to get some scores on you. You have to get stops, get the ball back to the offense and tell them to slow the game down a little and let us rest some.”
“How much easier does it make your job when you see how Coach Taggart has laid the foundation here at USF?”
“The thing you’d like to see happen is the foundation has been laid and you never want to get complacent. You want to be able to handle winning. Usually when you have a big year, what really happens now is to see how good of a coach you are. Can you duplicate your success? Can you go back next year and do the same thing? That’s going to be the challenge for the team. Now, can we bounce back and do the same thing? Let’s not rest on those 10 wins, which we’re going to get number 11 and not rest on number 11. We can make it so much better. The work, when it starts, you have to have that motivation and that drive now to go make it better than what it actually was. Not sit back and go, ‘We went and won 11 games, we’re pretty good.’ No, no, no. Now that you’ve won number 11, let’s go get number 12, let’s go get number 13.”
“It has been proven if you have success at this job, you will get opportunities elsewhere. I think fans probably want to know your long-term commitment to USF.”
“Anytime you take a job, you’re there and that’s why you took that job. You want to have success, you want to build that program. No job that you ever take, you’re looking like I’m coming here to use this as a stepping stone to go move onto the next job. Go take your job, go work and go make that the best job in the country. You look at what’s happening here, why can’t that happen? I sit back and I’ve watched it from afar, you always say we’re in an unbelievable city with unbelievable facilities. So why can’t we go out and year-in and year-out go compete for a championship and go be the best? That can happen, that can easily happen, but we’re going to need the support of everyone. You have to have the support of the community. I look at our players and I think about what they put into it and there’s no reason for them not to walk into the stadium and that stadium isn’t packed… Come watch us play.”
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