What just happened? Less than a month ago, the Bulls were celebrating their first 10 win season after a victory over rival UCF. Not too long after that, the team got word of their selection to the Birmingham Bowl and the chance to prove themselves against a SEC team. USF was ranked and on the national radar once again, bringing a sense of excitement on campus that hasn’t been seen in years; then the shared euphoric high came crumbling down.
Just a few days after being told that they would be heading to Birmingham, the players were told that they would be without the man that led them to this point. Head coach Willie Taggart accepted the same position with the University of Oregon and would not be coaching the team through the bowl game. After coaching four seasons at USF, Taggart will not see his first recruiting class play their final game as Bulls.
Losing Taggart after the best season in program history was definitely a punch to the gut for USF fans and most likely the players as well, but athletic director Mark Harlan and university president Judy Genshaft didn’t wait long to fill the vacancy. Co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist was named as the interim head coach for the bowl game; an executive call that will help preserve the potent “Gulf Coast” offense that has brought the team so much success.
This is unfamiliar territory for the Bulls, having only two other coaches before Taggart and firing both. Oregon poached Taggart from USF after seeing his success in rebuilding two separate programs, Western Kentucky being the other, and decided to pull the trigger on hiring the up-and-coming coach. While USF may not be used to losing their coaches to a Power Five program, ask plenty of other Group of Five conference programs what it’s like and they’ll tell you that you that it’s just the nature of the beast.
The Bulls found themselves in an opportunistic situation, being one of the most sought after destinations by coaching candidates this season. As we all know, the Bulls are currently fielding their most prolific offense in the program’s history. With versatile quarterback Quinton Flowers at the helm of the “Gulf Coast” offense, any coach would be excited at the prospect of showcasing this team’s abilities.
There wasn’t a shortage of candidates to choose from, but the Bulls knew who they wanted and they got him. Charlie Strong had spent the previous three seasons as the head coach of the University of Texas, before being fired after ending each season with seven losses. However, the Bulls are familiar with Strong’s resume at Louisville, the stop before his stint with the Longhorns. The Louisville Cardinals were a conference rival of the Bulls when they were members of the Big East conference.
While Strong’s win percentage is over .500, his head coaching history is relatively short, with only seven total seasons as the shot caller. Strong does have a lengthy resume of coaching, including multiple stints with the University of Florida that spans over three decades, where he was able to pick up two national championships as the defensive coordinator.
This is absolutely a big grab for the USF football program. I can write about the impressive nature of the USF offense until my fingers curl up from carpal tunnel, but the defensive unit hasn’t been much to talk about this season. The addition of Strong’s defense will help bring balance to the Bulls on both sides of the ball.
What everyone should be excited for, is Strong’s ability to recruit in the state of Florida. Taggart had an ability to find players that were considered to be the “cast-offs” of the major universities in the state; however, Strong will be able to bring in a caliber of player that USF may not have been able to target before. Hell, he has the name recognition to potentially flip recruits from some of the state’s Power Five programs.
Even with the addition of big names like Butch Davis at FIU and Lane Kiffin at FAU, Strong will stand out over the others as he takes command of the winningest team in the state of Florida this year that will only be losing nine seniors. Unlike those other programs, there is no need to rebuild the foundation of the program; a factor that could sit favorably with incoming recruits.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, USF is still considered to be a stepping stone program, but with a big name hire like Strong and the slightest possibility of an on-campus stadium and continued success, USF could find themselves in the conversation for a spot in a Power Five conference. Abby Rinaldi of USF’s The Oracle reports that the school’s Board of Trustees has approved a study for the feasibility of an on-campus stadium; so it’s possible that this hire is just the beginning of the next great step for USF football.