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USF's Charlie Strong: No reason we can't compete for championships every year (w/ video)

"Go Bulls!'' Charlie Strong says during a news conference today at USF. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
"Go Bulls!'' Charlie Strong says during a news conference today at USF. [ANDRES LEIVA | Times]
Published Dec. 16, 2016

TAMPA — He emerged from the side entrance of a second-floor ballroom brandishing a charcoal-gray suit, a green tie speckled with tiny USF Bulls logos, and a shiny, ebony pate.

Minutes later — amid whoops, applause and fight-song music from USF's band — Charlie Strong made his first audible as the fourth football coach in school history: "Well, if I knew I was going to get this reception, I would've came earlier."

From there, the 56-year-old married dad of three outlined his three-tier plan to build on the momentum and mojo of predecessor Willie Taggart: graduate players, win a championship of any kind and prepare the young men under his watch for life after football.

"Coach Taggart built an unbelievable program, a program that has a solid foundation," Strong told an audience of several hundred — including current Bulls players — at the de facto pep rally inside the Marshall Center.

"Now it's up to me to continue to build on this foundation, 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."

Four days after signing a backloaded five-year, $9.8 million contract, Strong seemed to push all the prominent buttons — even the hot buttons — during his opening remarks and token question-answer session with reporters.

He acknowledged the handiwork of Taggart, who won 17 of his last 21 games as Bulls coach and gave a nod to USF lore by recalling an encounter with Jim Leavitt (who will serve as Taggart's defensive coordinator at Oregon).

MORE: The stakes are high for USF AD Mark Harlan's first big hire, Tom Jones says.

He also name-dropped Tampa Bay area high school coaches Earl Garcia (Hillsborough), Robert Weiner (Plant) and Sean Callahan (Armwood), and he spoke of the necessity of an on-campus football stadium, comments that drew applause.

"I feel like once you get a stadium on campus, it's their home," Strong said. "It's what they defend, it's their house. And that's going to be critical, and that's going to happen."

On this morning, the outset of his green-and-gold honeymoon, Strong tried reassuring the audience he will be around for more than a short time.

The coach at Texas the past three seasons and at Louisville the four years before that, Strong insisted the USF job represents more than a shot at rehabilitating a career tarnished by three consecutive seven-loss seasons with the Longhorns.

For one, his wife, Vicki, grew up in Lakeland. He also served four separate stints as a University of Florida assistant, serving as defensive coordinator or co-coordinator for the Gators' 2006 and '08 national title teams.

"In no job that you ever take do you look forward like, 'I'm coming here to use this as a stepping-stone to go move on to the next job,' " said Strong, who met with USF's players earlier Thursday. "Go take your job … and go make that the best job in the country."

Moreover, Strong's annual total compensation jumps from $1 million to $2.5 million in Year 3 of the deal.

Meantime, he will collect more than $9 million in severance pay from Texas the next two years. USF athletic director Mark Harlan also confirmed Strong will receive a $2.5 million retention bonus in Year 3, with money coming from athletic department-generated funds in an agreement with the USF Foundation, a school fundraising arm.

"That's the contract part of it," Harlan said. "The reality of it is this is home. (Strong) believes that this is where he wants to be, and I'm very convinced he'll be here for a long time."

With that, Strong exited through the same side door he entered less than an hour earlier. In this frenetic transition, there are kids to recruit (he already has phoned every high school senior who has verbally committed to USF), a coaching staff to assemble and a team to observe in prebowl workouts.

"I think he's just going to build off what (Taggart) left," junior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. "His name holds weight; he's a sought-after guy. A lot of people wanted him. We're happy to have him, and I think he's going to do a lot of great things."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.