Charlie Strong hired as USF's coach (UPDATED)
USF announced Sunday that Charlie Strong has been hired as the fourth football coach in program history.
Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel first reported Sunday morning via Twitter the two sides were closing in on a five-year contract. Strong was in Tampa roughly 24 hours earlier in the weekend.
“Charlie is a tremendous leader and mentor for our student-athletes and a widely-respected coach with a resume full of achievements at the highest levels of college football," athletic director Mark Harlan said in a USF news release.
"He combines a drive to win with great integrity and deep, long-standing connections in the state of Florida. The future of USF football is very bright under his direction.”
An aircraft chartered through NetJets is set to arrive from Austin, Texas, late Sunday afternoon, but whether Strong is connected with that flight is unknown.
USF interim coach T.J. Weist, promoted when Willie Taggart was hired by Oregon four days ago, will remain Bulls coach for the Birmingham Bowl, according to the school.
“I am humbled that we have a shared commitment to take this university and this football program to even greater heights," Strong said in the release.
"Some of the best football talent in the country is right here in the Bay Area and throughout the state of Florida, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with the young men in the USF football program and build on the strong foundation already in place.”
Dismissed as Texas coach last month after three seasons and a 16-21 record, he's still owed roughly $10 million by the Longhorns, which equates to the final two years of base salary according to terms of his contract.
If he lands another job during his payout period, he must pay Texas 50 percent of what he earns at his new position, the contract states.
A married 56-year-old father of three and avid runner, Strong brings patriarchal tough love, defensive chops, a meticulous attention to detail and intricate Florida recruiting connections to Fowler Avenue if an agreement is reached.
He has coached at nine universities in a 34-year career, including four separate stops at the University of Florida, and owns a 53-37 record as a head coach. His three-year tenure at Texas, marred by staff turnover, ended with a 16-21 mark. When dismissed, only one coach from his original staff remained in the same position.
But most agree he greatly replenished the Longhorns' talent and depth. His last two Texas signing classes were ranked 10th and seventh, respectively, by 247Sports.
"He ran into issues at Texas that he couldn't get himself out of with regard to stability in his staff, both on the offensive side and defensive side, but he had just worked that out," Fox Sports college football announcer Tim Brando told 620-AM on Wednesday. "I think (the Longhorns) were on their way."
Prior to his Texas gig, he spent four seasons at Louisville, compiling a 37-15 record and winning a share of two Big East Conference titles. His 2012 squad finished 11-2, capped by a 33-23 romp of heavily favored Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Before that, he established himself as one of the sharpest defensive tacticians in the college game, helping Florida win national titles in 2006 and '08, even as he was bypassed for one head-coaching gig after another.
He became the SEC's first African-American coordinator in 1999 when Lou Holtz hired him to run South Carolina's defense, but some -- including Strong himself -- came to suspect his interracial marriage was being used against him by prejudiced administrators or boosters.
"He told me he felt that, because he was married to someone of another race, he hadn't been given the opportunity to become a head coach at a major university," Richard Martin, one of Strong's high school coaches, told the San Antonio Express-News in 2014. "It bothered him, but he didn't let it get him down."
That barrier long since conquered, he now begins work on another: USF never has won a conference title in its 20-year existence, but almost certainly will be favored to win the American Athletic Conference's East Division in 2017.
Reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Year Quinton Flowers will be a senior. If three-time 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack remains in school for his senior year, 17 of the players who started the regular season finale against UCF would be back.
"Charlie's a great football coach," said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who worked with Strong on two national title teams at Florida.
"Obviously understands the state of Florida, understands the recruiting and the players in the state of Florida. I haven't talked to Charlie since everything happened (at Texas)...but I tell you this, I think he would do one heck of a job if he was at South Florida."