While our own Russ Perry and his Florida contacts were busy breaking this story early Thursday afternoon, we set upon a mission to learn what affects the move might have on our program's current recruiting endeavors. By the time various news sources were contacting us for information, long before radio talk shows and TV stations were hinting at the possibilities, we had already gathered the facts.
We have positively learned that Coach Strong was taken off of the recruiting trail as early as November 25th, but no later than November 29th. It was not a knock on Strong, but rather a move designed to limit the potential damage that could have been done in this event. And it wasn't because our coaches did not trust Coach Strong. And Coach Holtz was IN NO WAY, and we have been told to emphasize that fact, angry with Coach Strong for leaving.
As it was explained to us by a source that has asked to remain unnamed, there was beginning to be some concern about Charlie's yearly interview processes and the subsequent uncertainties cast about among both our coaching staff and yearly prospects. Unfortunately, the interviews and traveling were taking place during a critical time on our calendar, smack dab in the middle of each recruiting season. And these days, relationships are built well back into the early years of a prospect's high school career.
Lou Holtz is no dummy. He began making plans for Strong's departure in the fall of 2001 by announcing his replacement well ahead of time in Chris Cosh. Cosh served as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State before joining Holtz on his staff at South Carolina. And Cosh's defenses are known to be explosive and dynamic - modern in design and flexible. Also, Holtz took into account that eventually Skip would be the head man in charge, and Cosh and Skip Holtz work well together.
And there is another consideration to take into account. We have learned through our sources that Chris Cosh was beginning to receive feelers from various programs wanting to explore the possibility of luring Cosh away from us here at USC. Now consider what a mess we might be in right now if we were trying to replace both Strong AND Cosh at this critical juncture in our program's growth. The mere thought alone gives us the willies. Talk about a potential disaster! Thankfully Holtz is old enough and was wise enough to prevent this from happening. But it came closer to happening than many of us were aware of prior to this week.
Back to the potential recruiting backlash. The only prospect that might waiver as the result of Strong's departure would be Ryan Brown. Strong has been working Brown since his HS freshman year - and what compounds the issue is that even before Strong announced his departure, Brown's second favorite was Florida.
We are talented enough and deep enough at linebacker to suffer an uncommitted/unsigned loss should it come to pass. However, we hope Ryan Brown will decide to stay home and loyal to his instate school and sign with our Gamecocks when the time comes. But we admit he may be the one player swayed by recent events.
Given the fact that Cosh was named the replacement defensive coordinator two seasons ago, and given the fact that Strong was taken off of the recruiting trail this year, more than a month ago - the potential damage to this year's recruiting class is absolutely minimal. Through Lou Holtz's foresight, our current class remains intact and our focus remains exactly the same. There has been very little disruption in the entire process other than the media's concentration on the cause and effect. They have guessed at the reasoning and so far they have been wrong.
The reason Charlie Strong departed is this. The last two defensive coordinators at Florida are now head coaches. Also, Strong's wife Victoria is a native of nearby Lakeland, FL (in proximity to Gainesville). And to top it off, Strong received a boost in salary and benefits of roughly 20k more a year than he was making at South Carolina. Sure, this was a smart move for Charlie Strong. But quietly, it is even a better move for the South Carolina coaching staff. Letting Charlie go not only serves to solidify our position for many reasons in seasons to come, but it answers some internal questions and it allows key issues to be resolved now rather than later. We are now set, with no staff distractions expected for the first time in two seasons. And as in this case, sometimes change is just a good thing. The timing was advantageous for all three parties involved.
Coach Holtz had this to say about the move. "I spoke with Charlie on Thursday and he told me that he wouldn't take the job if it would impair the relationship between the two of us. I assured him that it wouldn't, and that if he felt that this was something he needed to do, then he should do it. I have the utmost respect for Charlie, both as a coach and as a person. I really hate for Charlie to leave. It's like losing a member of your family. He's done so much for me and the South Carolina program. Charlie said that he felt that this was in his best interests professionally and I hope he made the right decision. He has a wonderful family, with his wife Vickie, and two beautiful children. We wish them all the best."
But you have to guess that Holtz is relieved. Now the Gamecock staff is able to focus on recruiting, AND focus on developing a defensive strategy that improves upon the poor numbers accumulated in 2002 - particularly in giving up the third and long conversions.
We wish Charlie Strong well but we are thrilled with the prospect of having Chris Cosh firmly in command of the defense for the upcoming season. Cosh will prove to be the coach that will elevate our defenses into the nation's elite status in short order.
Our program's attraction in the eyes of the prospects we are after were not hindered in the least by Strong's departure. South Carolina is South Carolina ... Charlie Strong was not what this program is being built around.
And as far as a replacement is concerned? Once we know, you will be the next to know. All we have been told so far is that Strong's replacement will be a dynamic recruiter and in all likelihood he will specialize and be highly experienced in the art of coaching interior defensive line personnel.
One final note. Long term effects will be minimal as well because one of two things will happen. Either Strong will have huge success in Gainseville and be gobbled up as a head coach within one or two seasons - or he and the current staff he has chosen to coach with will fail miserably and he will drop from the ranks of the attractive HC candidates on the block. Either way, he will not be there long enough to hurt us recruiting within his old South Carolina hunting borders.