Charlie Strong is a home-run hire for the South Florida Bulls. Under his leadership, USF will win its first outright conference championship in school history.
Make no mistake about it: Strong walks into a great situation in Tampa. Unlike his previous stops at Louisville and Texas, there’s no need to rebuild everything from scratch. Willie Taggart transformed the Bulls into a contender in the AAC, guiding the team to a 13-3 mark in conference play over the last two seasons. Considering that Quinton Flowers (2,551 yards passing, 1,425 yards rushing, 27 total TD’s), Marlon Mack (1,137 yards rushing 15 TD’s), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (19.1 ypc), and most of the defense will return next fall, South Florida figured to be the favorite to win the league, regardless of who would coach the team.
With Strong calling the shots, the team will take the next step forward. He’s a proven head coach that knows how to get the job done.
I realize that last sentence will raise a few eyebrows, especially with our readers from Texas. They’ll quickly point out that Strong went 16-21 during his tenure in Austin, marking the first time since 1936-38 that the Longhorns finished with three straight losing seasons.
Although that’s true, it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Remember, the cupboard was completely bare when Strong arrived in 2014. As such, he needed more time to rebuild the program from the ground up. While the ‘Horns didn’t win as often as the university brass would have liked, the fact of the matter is that Strong had the team heading in the right direction. Had he returned to Austin for the 2017 campaign, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would lead the Longhorns to a 10-win season.
That’s not exactly a stretch given how well he did at Louisville. Strong took over a Cardinal program that went 4-8 the previous season, and guided it to a victory in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in his first year at the helm. Two years later, he led UL to the Big East title and a trip to the Sugar Bowl, where the Cards whipped Florida 33-23 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would suggest. The following season, Louisville went 12-1, highlighted by a 36-9 victory over Miami in the bowl game.
Of course, the records don’t tell the entire story. Under Strong’s watch, the Cardinals improved so much that he not only landed the gig at Texas, but he made the UL job so attractive that the school was able to lure Bobby Petrino back to campus.
It’s also worth noting that this success wasn’t all because of Teddy Bridgewater as some have suggested. Sure, having Bridgewater under center made the Cardinals tough to beat. But, so did the Louisville defense. Under Strong’s leadership, the Cardinal D finished in the top 25 nationally every season — including 2013 when it led the country in total defense.
The last paragraph speaks volumes about why South Florida fans should be excited about Strong’s hiring. Yes, the Bull offense will still be one of the more explosive units in the nation with most of its key weapons from this year’s team – which ranks 10th in total offense — returning. Yet, with Strong coaching the defense, the USF D will be noticeably better than it was this season, when it gave up 482 yards per game (120th in the country). The improvement on that side of the ball will make the Bulls even tougher to beat next year.
Simply put: South Florida made an outstanding hire. Don’t be surprised to see the Bulls play in an NY6 Bowl game next season.