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Why Charlie Strong-to-USF would be more question mark than exclamation

Could Charlie Strong, who has strong ties to Florida, be a viable replacement for Willie Taggart? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Could Charlie Strong, who has strong ties to Florida, be a viable replacement for Willie Taggart? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Published Dec. 10, 2016

It appears that USF has zeroed in on Charlie Strong to be its next head football coach.

My immediate reaction? Meh.

Let's face it, when you're USF, any coach you hire is going to come with as much doubt as promise.

But I do know this: I wouldn't want any coach I have to talk into taking the job.

There are reports that Strong might be interested in being Oregon's defensive coordinator under Willie Taggart. Now if that's true, if Strong really is considering taking a step back to be a coordinator, that tells me something:

He's already thinking about his next job, the one after this one. And if I'm USF, that would be enough for me to move on to someone else.

But such is life when you're a middling program.

USF is not a big-time Power Five conference school. It's not up there in the American Athletic Conference with the big boys in the SEC or Big Ten.

Don't believe that? Then explain why a local guy such as Taggart would leave for Oregon. That's clear evidence that USF doesn't quite measure up in prestige as those sitting at college football's grown-up table.

Then again, USF is in a better class than schools from Conference USA or the Sun Belt. USF is a way better program than, say, Western Kentucky or Western Michigan from the Mid-American Conference. I think.

Anyway, when you're in the middle and you have an opening, you're generally choosing between three types of coaches.

One is a former, established coach who was fired, is now an assistant and is looking for another chance. Lane Kiffin and Greg Schiano, for example.

Two, an up-and-coming coach who is either a coordinator at a big school or the head coach of a small school. Taggart was that coach when USF hired him. Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher were once such coaches.

Three, an established coach who is out of work, probably because he was fired. Just like Strong.

There's nothing wrong with hiring a coach who was once fired. Tony Dungy won a Super Bowl after he was fired.

My reservations about Strong have nothing to do with him being recently fired by Texas.

It's about why he was fired. How can we just erase what happened at Texas?

He lost seven games each of his three seasons and was 16-21 overall. That's the worst winning percentage of any Longhorns coach. Ever.

Strong is a supposedly a defensive specialist, yet his Longhorns were 94th in the country in total defense this year after finishing 106th a year ago.

This season, Texas gave up 31.5 points, which was tied for 89th. That was even worse than USF's defense (31 ppg, which was 86th).

Then there's this stat: During Strong's tenure, Texas was 5-10 in games decided by seven points or fewer, including 2-5 this season. Some might say that only shows how close the Longhorns were to winning. But those who follow the program closely say that proved Texas wasn't coached well enough in tight games.

On the positive side, he did a bang-up job at Louisville. From all reports, he's a nice man who runs a clean program.

In the end, no hire comes without warts, whether it's Kiffin or Schiano or Strong. Any hire USF makes will be punctuated with a question mark, not an explanation point.

That includes Charlie Strong.