Charlie Strong was unemployed for only two weeks. Hired to succeed Willie Taggart at USF, he now has a shot at redemption.
Charlie Strong, exiled from the University of Texas after three consecutive seven-loss seasons, won’t have to wait long to begin restoring his tarnished reputation.
Strong fully earned his pink slip in Austin. True, the Longhorns are in better overall shape today than they were when he arrived early in 2014. But the gains made inside the athletic facilities and on National Signing Day didn’t adequately translate to Saturdays, which is the only measurement that really matters at the end of the day. And after the way Year 3 ended, a loud and hideous thud in the form of back-to-back losses to Kansas and TCU, it was clear that both sides needed new directions.
All things considered, Strong’s first two weeks since getting the boot from AD Mike Perrin could not have gone much better.
Strong has landed on his feet far quicker than most coaches who fail to deliver in such a visible and high profile manner. Flop as a head coach at a major university and a prove-it stint as a coordinator is typically the required penance before ADs will even consider kicking tires and relighting the fires. Think Lane Kiffin or Gene Chizik or Brady Hoke. But Strong has amassed enough gravitas, largely from his three decades prior to taking the Texas job, to bypass a return to life as an assistant coach.
And Strong hasn’t just landed any job. He could be teed up for instant success and professional redemption.
In 2010, Strong supplanted Steve Kragthorpe, who was an unmitigated disaster at Louisville. In 2014, he had to clean up after Mack Brown, who stopped seriously minding the store on the Forty Acres years earlier. In Tampa? Strong will be taking the baton from Willie Taggart, who was recently hired by Oregon, in a far better situation than what he inherited from his predecessors with the Cards or the Horns.
Taggart has already done most of the heavy lifting at USF. Strong’s job will be more about maintaining what his predecessor started than some kind of a reclamation project. The Bulls are 10-2 this season, and Taggart was perennially filling the pipeline with quality local talent. Next year could be even better. Like Jim Leavitt-good, since quarterback Quinton Flowers, running back Marlon Mack and the team’s three best defenders are juniors.
Strong is taking the reins of a talented program with the wind at its back. Even better, he’s returning to his home away from home. Strong may have been raised in Arkansas, but the state of Florida is where his reputation as a coach and a recruiter was first forged. His most important player during the Louisville years? Miami’s Teddy Bridgewater. Strong intimately knows the local landscape, including the premier high school programs and their coaches. And that’s especially important now that the area’s top young recruits will not only be hearing from Jimbo Fisher, Jim McElwain and Mark Richt, but also Butch Davis, Scott Frost and Lane Kiffin.
Attendance aside, South Florida is a terrific place for a coach to resurrect his career. Momentum. Facilities. And a solid base of returning talent. In fact, the Bulls could be favored in every game in 2017, with a non-conference schedule including games with San Jose State, Stony Brook, Illinois and UMass.
Are you the Louisville Strong or the Texas Strong, coach? South Florida sets up as a professional rubber match for a man who desperately needs to make the most of a promising opportunity, because third chances don’t happen in this profession.