As coaching carousel spins, Charlie Strong says he wants to be at USF

Speculation has linked USF coach Charlie Strong to the vacancy at Florida.
South Florida Bulls head coach Charlie Strong watches the offense during the first half at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 21, 2017. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
South Florida Bulls head coach Charlie Strong watches the offense during the first half at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 21, 2017. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Oct. 31, 2017|Updated Oct. 31, 2017

The wild speculation linking USF's Charlie Strong to Florida's coaching vacancy may not be laid to rest any time soon.

Not that Strong hasn't slept much lately anyway.

Strong, who said he spent all of Saturday night — and Sunday's wee hours — second-guessing himself in the wake of the Bulls' 28-24 loss to Houston, on Tuesday found himself addressing the wild speculation connecting him to UF, where he served as defensive coordinator for UF's last two national title teams.

"I told the team that my focus is here," Strong told reporters Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

"This is my job. This the only job I have, this is the only job I'm concerned about. A year ago, I was in Texas, I got fired. So I don't get caught up in all the talk."

If the Gators were to call, Strong said he'd first have a discussion with Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan, who signed him to a back-loaded five-year contract last December. Despite his success as a Gators coordinator, a Strong-to-Gainesville scenario seems a long shot.

For all his success in his first head coaching job at Louisville (37-15, four bowl berths) and his 7-1 record with the Bulls, Strong's losing record at Texas (16-21) remains fresh in the minds of many, and UF almost certainly will focus on coaches with sparkliing offensive resumes.

But the buzz about Strong's future won't end once a new coach is hired in Gainesville. To the contrary, Strong's name is sure to surface at several other schools with potential vacancies (i.e. Arkansas, Tennessee, Ole Miss).

"I want to be here next year," Strong said.

"The thing you've got to look at is, you've got to build a program, and you have a chance to build a program. And you have some really outstanding players here, guys that really enjoy football and they really enjoy this university. And we know what we've got to do here and we know what we can get done here."

WOULD'VE, COULD'VE, SHOULD'VE: In lieu of sleep Saturday night, Strong said he pondered a number of things he might have done differently in the waning moments of the Bulls' loss.

Among them: calling a corner blitz on fourth-and-24, when Cougars QB D'Eriq King rolled right and found 6-foot-2 sophomore Courtney Lark, who outleaped at least two defenders for a 30-yard catch. King scored the winning TD on a 20-yard scramble five plays later with 11 seconds remaining.

Had Strong called a blitz, "(King) wouldn't have been able to even roll, he would've had to stop and sling it," Strong said. "There's so many things. … I told the guys after the game that this is on me because, you know what, the fourth-down play, we probably should've done something a little different."

What Strong is not second-guessing is his clock management on USF's final scoring drive, which ended with a short Emilio Nadelman field goal with 1:46 to go. Roughly 15 seconds remained on the play clock on third down, a 4-yard D'Ernest Johnson run up the middle.

"I don't think that made (a difference)," he said. "At the end, you still got 'em to (fourth-and-24)…where you had a chance to go make a play."

OFFENSE GETS DEFENDED: Though Strong and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert were occasionally booed Saturday for a game plan that appeared to lean heavily on the halfback dive, Strong again suggested Tuesday no drastic changes are forthcoming.

The Bulls finished with a season-low 137 yards on 55 carries. QB Quinton Flowers, often bottled up in the pocket, finished with 7 yards on 14 carries.

"If you look at our run game, we've had four or five games of 300-plus-yards rushing," Strong said.

"The thing about Houston is, their defensive front is pretty good. The thing about (Ed) Oliver (Houston's All-America defensive tackle), he can cause you a lot of problems and disrupt. So it was more of that we didn't see is the big runs. You saw on second-and-6, it was a 4-yarder, a 5-yarder, a 3-yarder.

"We were just hoping one time we would pop one and we didn't pop one."

ODDS AND ENDS: Strong said he has a "clock coach" (he didn't specify whom) in the press box for the sole purpose of reading the clock. … The Hartford (Conn.) Courant reported Tuesday that Connecticut senior Jamar Summers, the Huskies' most experienced defensive back, will be suspended the first three quarters against USF. After his interception Saturday against Missouri, Summers threw the ball at the intended receiver. … Several Bulls were insulated in long-sleeve body wear and compression pants at Tuesday's practice, though the weather was more crisp than cold. "I told Jeremy (Lees), our equipment manager, 'We're not taking all this stuff (to Connecticut),'" Strong said. "We've got to play a football game, we can't worry about the weather. We'll be all right. You're not gonna get frost-bitten, you're not gonna freeze, you'll be all right." … Dave Lamont (play-by-play) and Ray Bentley (analysis) will call Saturday's USF-UConn game for ESPNU.

AUDIBLE: "One of the (players) joked with me on Sunday about it. I said to him, 'Listen, the way we just got beat last night, let's not worry about another job. We've got a job right now to be concerned about.' But you have to have the conversation with 'em, you have to let 'em know because they're gonna read it. Don't let them read something. It's best it comes from the person who the conversation is about." — Strong on the reports (many of them baseless) linking him to other coaching jobs