When former USF football coach Willie Taggart accepted the same position at Oregon on Dec. 7, the Bulls were left to face the rest of their collegiate careers without the man who had led them to a program-best 10 win season in 2016.
It was a bittersweet ending to a record-breaking season, but the Bulls’ brief dismay was soon replaced with excitement for the future when USF hired former Texas coach Charlie Strong to replace Taggart on Sunday.
“I think he’s going to build off what coach T left,” junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. “His name holds weight, he’s a sought-after guy. A lot of people wanted him and we’re happy to have him. I think he’s going to do a lot of great things here.”
Strong was introduced as the fourth head coach in USF football history on Thursday in the Marshall Student Center in front of a packed crowd that quickly filled the second-floor ballroom to capacity.
When deciding whether or not to take the job, Strong, 56, said his conversations with Taggart helped make up his mind even while the former USF coach offered him a position on the Ducks staff in Eugene.
“I had this conversation with Willie when he took the Oregon job and there were many opportunities (at Oregon) and I said to him, ‘I’m going to go be the head coach at South Florida because I know this: it’s a program where the foundation has been laid, and it’s a program that’s only going to get better and better and better,’” Strong said.
In his first head-coaching job, Strong led Louisville to a 37-15 record over four seasons including wins in the Beef O’Brady’s, Sugar, and Russell Athletic bowls.
However, he struggled to put it all together in Texas as he stumbled to a 16-21 record over three seasons, with no winning seasons or bowl wins to show for it.
But after making recruiting connections in Texas and returning to a state he’s recruited before (worked on Florida’s staff from 2003-09), Strong said he was confident in his ability to attract top tier talent to USF.
“You can travel just down the road to Lakeland (High School) where Bill Castle is,” Strong said. “When I was with the University of Florida, I signed six guys from that team. You talk about the two Pounceys, you talk about (Chris) Rainey, and you talk about Ahmad Black. They never lost a high school football game. So there’s enough talent, it’s just making sure we evaluate it the right way and get players that fit your program. There’s more than enough talent in this area.”
As far as recruiting the players who have already committed, Strong said he’s already reached out to each and every one of them, though many were caught off guard when answering the phone.
“I’ve spoken with every recruit that has committed to us… so they’ve heard from me and it’s been great conversation,” Strong said. “A lot of times, I’ll call and say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and they’ll ask, ‘Who is this?’ I tell them this is coach Strong and then their tone of voice kind of changes.”
Strong has been out observing practices as USF prepares for the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29 against South Carolina, but he won’t take charge until the Bulls wrap up 2016.
As USF prepares to follow up its best-ever season with several important players likely to return, Strong begins his USF career with high expectations not unlike those he’s faced in prior stops.
“Everybody knows him, everyone has heard of him,” junior offensive lineman Cameron Ruff said. “He has a great reputation and I’m glad he’s here to help build on our foundation.
“Everyone is anticipating all the hype with him coming in and that adds a little pressure to it, but we’re ready.”