USF journal: No staff shakeups, Strong reaffirms

Public criticism of Bulls coordinators Brian Jean-Mary and Sterlin Gilbert has intensified this season
USF coach Charlie Strong observes his team during warmups before the game against Tulane. (OCTAVIO JONES |  Times)
USF coach Charlie Strong observes his team during warmups before the game against Tulane. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published November 5 2018

Twice since his team's embarrassing home loss to Tulane, Bulls coach Charlie Strong has been asked if any staff changes might be forthcoming in the wake of his team's two-game skid.

And Strong twice has said no, with some mild push-back the second time around.

Speaking Monday on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference, Strong had this response when asked by a reporter from The Daily Stampede if he still wasn't contemplating staff changes, even after a review of the Tulane tape: "We won seven games. Were we 7-0? … Why would there be coaching changes?"

The dialogue ended there. With only three regular-season games remaining, the chances for an in-season staff shakeup grows more remote each week.

But a sturdy precedent for such moves exists in college football.

While at Texas, Strong himself demoted co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline one game into the 2015 season (when UT finished 5-7), and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford four games into 2016 (another 5-7 finish).

Earlier this fall, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley — whose sixth-ranked team is 8-1 — fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops following a 48-45 loss to the Longhorns.

Hence the reason for the questions regarding Strong's staff, the first of which was asked by The Tampa Bay Times during Saturday's post-game news conference.

"We're sitting here 7-2," Strong said. "I ain't sitting here saying, 'I think this guy needs to do this and that.' I think our coaches are just as much embarrassed as anyone. Those guys have a job to do, they know what their job is, and they know they've got to get better."

Public pressure gradually has intensified this season on Strong and Bulls defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary, whose unit ranks 11th in the AAC against the run (248.6 ypg).

Similarly, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert consistently has been publicly blasted (mainly for a perceived lack of play-calling versatility) despite a unit averaging 493.8 yards a game. Saturday's loss marked the first time since 2015 that USF failed to score at least 20 points in a game.

"If you're a position coach and your position looked the way it looked tonight, you've got to check yourself," Strong said Saturday. "And me being the head coach, it falls on me because the whole team looked bad."

Related: Despite swoon, USF still alive for AAC East title

Injury update

Strong said TE Mitch Wilcox (ankle) and DT Kevin Kegler (unspecified), both of whom missed the Tulane contest, should be back for the Cincinnati contest. Strong added he's hopeful of also having WR Randall St. Felix (knee), who has missed the last two games.

Still day to day are S Mekhi LaPointe (unspecified) and MLB Nico Sawtelle (shoulder). Additionally, WLB Khalid McGee returns after being benched one game for shoving Bulls secondary coach Blue Adams on the sideline at Houston. McGee publicly apologized the following day.

Odds and ends

The American Athletic Conference's broadcast partners have exercised a six-day hold for games slated the weekend of Nov. 17, meaning kickoff time for the Bulls' game at Temple that day won't be known until next weekend. … A victory Saturday at No. 25 Cincinnati would be USF's first road triumph against a ranked foe since its season-opening upset of No. 16 Notre Dame on Sept. 3, 2011. … Bill Roth (play-by-play) and Mike Golic Jr. (analysis) will call the USF-Cincy game for ESPNU.

Audible

"The first thing we need to do is play physical and stop the run. We're not separating off blocks. … It's a fundamental…technique where we're not winning one-on-one battles. … Today we were watching Cincinnati, watching last year's game, and you had guys like (Deadrin) Senat and Bruce (Hector) and those guys that could get off blocks. We've got to do a better job where guys can win one-on-one blocks, and we're not doing it. We're not making anyone one-dimensional." — Strong, when asked what USF must do to get its defense back on track

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