A two-time conference coach of the year, strong recruiter and one of the best defensive minds in college football, Charlie Strong was named the fourth head coach in USF football program history by USF Director of Athletics Mark Harlan on Dec. 11, 2016. The announcement was met with tremendous excitement from the Bulls faithful and nearly universal acclaim from national and local media outlets.
A two-time Big East Coach of the Year while at Louisville, Strong was also a vital part of two national championships as defensive coordinator at the University of Florida. At USF, he will lead his third program after head coaching stints at the University of Texas (2014-16) and the University of Louisville (2010-13). Strong’s appointment at USF returned him to the state of Florida, where he previously spent 15 of his 34 seasons as a collegiate coach.
“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Charlie, his wife, Vicki, and their children Tory, Hailee and Hope, back to the state of Florida and to our Bulls family,” Harlan said. “Charlie is a tremendous leader and mentor for our student-athletes and a widely-respected coach with a resume full of achievements at the highest levels of college football. He combines a drive to win with great integrity and deep, long-standing connections in the state of Florida. The future of USF football is very bright under his direction.”
Established as a charismatic leader, detailed strategist and developer of talent, Strong experienced great success as a defensive coordinator in the SEC for 11 seasons, including helping former University of Florida and head coach Urban Meyer win national championships in 2006 and 2008. Since 1995, Strong has coached 15 players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and had 37 taken in the first four rounds.
“We are especially excited to welcome Charlie Strong to the University of South Florida,” said USF System President Judy Genshaft. “He joins our football program at an incredibly exciting time, and we look forward to seeing him build on our ongoing foundation and momentum. The board of trustees and I believe he brings outstanding leadership and experience, and is sure to be a tremendous resource to the entire USF System.”
At Texas, Strong rebuilt the roster, put his stamp on the culture and elevated the program’s infrastructure while posting a 16-21 record, leading the Longhorns to one bowl game (0-1) in three seasons. His tenure at Texas included wins over No. 10 Oklahoma (2015), No. 12 Baylor (2015) and No. 10 Notre Dame (2016). He secured back-to-back top 10-ranked recruiting classes and a 2015 true freshman class that featured three freshman All-Americans, three other players who earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, and 10 players who started a game.
Strong’s Texas teams featured a dynamic running game that ranked 17th nationally (224.8 ypg) in 2015 and 19th in 2016 (239.3 ypg). Running back D’Onta Foreman won the 2016 Doak Walker Award and led the nation with 2,028 yards rushing during the regular season. A number of players earned individual honors at Texas under Strong. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown was a finalist for both the Nagurski and Outland trophies, as well as becoming the 47th consensus All-American in school history. Brown and linebacker Jordan Hicks earned All-America honors.They were also among 12 Texas players to secure All-Big 12 accolades since 2014.
Strong also developed pressure defenses that ranked fifth in the country in sacks per game (3.08), and a turnover margin that was tied for ninth best nationally (+11) in 2015. Texas ranked fifth in the nation in sacks (3.42) and 16th in tackles for loss (7.6) in 2016. In 2014, Texas ranked 25th in the FBS in total yards allowed (348.5 per game), No. 11 in passing defense (184.2 ypg), No. 7 in yards allowed per play (4.68), 15th in passing efficiency defense (110.04 rating), tied for 11th in sacks (3.1 pg) and 31st in points allowed (23.8 pg).
Strong proved to be an exceptional developer of talent. Following the 2015 season, two of Strong's former players were taken in the NFL Draft, while eight others signed undrafted free agent contracts. Former Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was selected 12th overall by the New Orleans Saints, while Texas DT Hassan Ridgeway was picked in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts.
Five players - Brown (first round to New England), Hicks (third round to Philadelphia), safety Mykkele Thompson (fifth round to NY Giants), cornerback Quandre Diggs (sixth round to Detroit) and tight end Geoff Swaim (seventh round to Dallas) - were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Malcom Brown became the fifth player under Strong to be drafted in the first round during his first two seasons at Texas.
In addition, nine of Strong’s former players at Louisville were chosen. Louisville’s DeVante Parker went in the first round (14th overall) to Miami in 2015. In 2014, Louisville had three first-round picks in safety Calvin Pryor (18th overall to New York Jets), defensive end Marcus Smith (26th overall to Philadelphia) and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (32nd overall to Minnesota).
Strong led Louisville to back-to-back Big East Championships in 2011 and 2012 and posted a 37-15 record in four seasons leading a Cardinals program that was coming off back-to-back losing seasons. He reached a bowl game in all four seasons (3-1), including a 33-23 victory over No. 4 Florida in the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl, completing an 11-2 season. Strong’s 2012 Louisville team finished 13th in the final top 25 rankings and his 2013 team, which competed in the American Athletic Conference, finished ranked 15th with a 12-1 mark, and posted back-to-back bowl victories for the first time in program history.
Strong is the only coach in Louisville history to have won three bowl games and prior to his arrival the Cards had won just six bowl games in the program’s 100-year history.He was named Big East Coach of the Year in both 2010 and 2012. Overall, as a head coach, Strong has coached in six bowl games (3-3) during his career.
During Strong’s final two years, Louisville was the nation’s fourth-winningest program, posting a 23-3 record (88.5 percent) and registering bowl victories in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. The Cardinals’ 11-plus win seasons in 2012 and 2013 were the fourth and fifth in school history and the first back-to-back. Louisville finished among the nation’s top 15 for a school-record second straight year. The Cardinals ended 2013 among the top 25 in both polls for just the ninth time in school history.
Featuring an explosive offense and stingy defense in 2013, the Cardinals ranked 15th in both the USA Today Coaches and Associated Press polls (also No. 18 in final BCS Standings) after compiling a 12-1 record, including a 7-1 mark in the American Athletic Conference, and capped the year with a 36-9 win over Miami (Fla.) in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Strong’s squad racked up 554 total yards while holding the Hurricanes to just 174. It marked just the second 12-win season in school history (2006).
In 2013, the Cardinals led the nation in nine team categories: total defense (251.5 yards per game), rushing defense (80.7 ypg), third-down conversion defense (26.7 percent), sacks (3.31 per game), fewest passes intercepted (4), fewest turnovers lost (10), fewest first downs allowed (183), completion percentage (70.8) and punt-return defense (1.15 yards per return). Louisville also ranked second in scoring defense (12.2 points per game), third-down conversions (56.0%), time of possession (33:49) and turnover margin (+1.3 pg), while placing in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per play (third – 4.20), passing efficiency defense (fourth – 99.2 rating), passing yards allowed (fifth – 170.8 pg), tackles for loss (sixth – 7.8 pg), red-zone defense (fifth – 68.4%) and passing efficiency (third – 171.9 rating). Additionally, Louisville was one of only five schools to rank among the top 28 in the FBS in both total offense and defense, and one of just seven to rank among the top 25 in both scoring offense and defense. The Cards ranked 25th in scoring offense (35.2 ppg) and 28th in total offense (460.8 ypg).
Bridgewater, then a junior, was a finalist for the 2013 Manning Award and a semifinalist for both the Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award. He threw for 3,970 yards and a school-record 31 TDs with only four interceptions and led the nation with a 71.0 completion percentage. On the defensive side of the ball, Smith was a Hendricks Award finalist and earned second-team All-America honors while leading the nation in sacks (1.1 per game/14). The Cardinals had 11 players earn All-American Athletic Conference honors in 2013.
In 2012, Louisville posted an 11-2 record, claimed a Big East Championship and finished the year ranked 13th in the BCS Standings, USA Today Coaches Poll and AP Poll. The Cards capped the year with a 33-23 upset win over the fourth-ranked Gators in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Bridgewater was named Big East Player of the Year, ranked eighth in the nation in passing efficiency and helped the Cardinals finish No. 3 in the FBS in red-zone efficiency (93.0%), tied for sixth in turnovers lost (13), eighth in third-down conversions (49.7%) and 24th in passing offense (296.1 ypg). Defensively, they ranked 16th in passing yards allowed (154.2 ypg), tied for 22nd in first downs yielded (18.2 pg) and 23rd in total yards allowed (340.3 ypg).
Strong departed Louisville for the University of Texas in 2014. He has also held positions on the coaching staffs at Florida, Texas A&M (1985, graduate assistant), Southern Illinois (1986-87, wide receivers), Mississippi (1990, wide receivers), Notre Dame (1995-98, defensive line) and South Carolina (1999-2002, defensive coordinator). He was a finalist for the Broyles Award (nation’s top assistant coach) three times.
Strong began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Florida in 1983. He spent 15 seasons as an assistant at Florida over four stints, including seven years as the defensive coordinator, the last five of which were under current Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Strong also served on two of coach Lou Holtz’s staffs, spending the first two years of his Notre Dame tenure under Holtz, as well as four more as defensive coordinator at South Carolina under the Hall of Famer.
Strong spent seven seasons as the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida under Meyer from 2005-09 and Ron Zook from 2003-04, where he helped the Gators win a pair of national titles – 2008 over Oklahoma and 2006 over Ohio State. From 2003-09, Strong’s defensive units at Florida produced 13 All-Americans, seven first-round NFL Draft picks and 18 players that were selected in the third round or higher. His units regularly ranked among the best in the nation statistically and allowed an average of just 17.6 points per game over that span, which ranked ninth in the country. Strong coached a National Defensive Player of the Year, a Jack Tatum Award winner, two SEC Defensive Freshmen of the Year, two Thorpe Award finalists, two Nagurski Trophy finalists and the 2008 Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2009, Strong guided one of the nation’s top defensive units, finishing in the top six in four different statistical categories. UF was fourth in the nation in scoring defense (12.4 ppg), second in passing defense (152.8 ypg), fourth in total defense (252.6 ypg) and sixth in passing efficiency defense (96.1 rating) as the Gators went 13-1, including a trip to the SEC Championship game for the third time in Strong’s tenure. Florida finished the season with a 51-24 win over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and a No. 3 ranking in both polls. He was named a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award for the second straight year and became only the second three-time finalist in the history of the award. In Strong’s position group, LB Brandon Spikes earned consensus first-team All-America honors, earned the second of his two Butkus Award finalist nods and was a finalist for the Bednarik Award. CB Joe Haden also earned unanimous first-team All-America honors and was a Thorpe Award finalist.
In 2008, Strong’s defense ranked in the top 20 nationally in 10 statistical categories, including a school-record tying 26 interceptions that also tied for the most in the country that season. UF’s scoring defense showed the third-largest improvement from 2007 to 2008, finishing fourth in the nation by yielding only 12.9 points per game. The defense also ranked ninth in total defense (285.3 ypg), and third in pass efficiency defense (96.76 rating). Spikes preceded his consensus All-America honors from the previous year with unanimous honors and being named a finalist of the Lombardi and Butkus Awards under Strong. In the 2009 FedEx BCS National Championship Game versus Oklahoma, which entered the contest scoring a nation’s best 54.0 ppg, the UF defense held Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford and the Sooners to just 14 points and 363 total yards in a 24-14 win. The Gators ended the year with a 13-1 record and earned their second national title in three years. That came on the heels of a nine-win season in 2007 in which Florida finished No. 13 in the AP poll and No. 16 in the coaches poll with an appearance in the Capital One Bowl.
Under Strong’s watch in the 2006 season, Florida set a BCS record for fewest yards allowed in the national title game, holding Ohio State to only 82 total yards. He guided a Gator defense that limited opponents to a SEC-best 72.5 rushing yards per game for the season, ranking fifth nationally, while rating sixth in the nation in total defense (255.4 ypg), sixth in scoring defense (13.5 ppg) and fourth in passing efficiency defense (98.31 rating). Safety Reggie Nelson earned first-team consensus All-America honors and was a Thorpe Award and Nagurski Trophy finalist, while the AP named CB Ryan Smith second-team All-America and LB Brandon Siler was on its third team.
The 2005 season saw Florida once again win nine games with the defense ranking in the top 10 in both total yards allowed (ninth/299.8 ypg) and rushing (10th/94.9 ypg). The Gators also ranked 18th in scoring defense at 18.8 ppg. UF defeated Iowa, 31-24, in the Outback Bowl and finished the season ranked 12th in the AP poll and 16th in the Coaches poll.
Strong made his first appearance as a head coach in the 2004 Peach Bowl in place of Zook. In 2003, CB Keiwan Ratliff was a consensus first-team All-American and a finalist for the Thorpe Award, while being named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, while in 2004, Siler was the SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year.
His stint as defensive coordinator marked his fourth tenure at Florida, including a stretch from 1991-94 in which he coached defensive ends (1991-93) and defensive tackles (1994) after coaching outside linebackers in 1988-89, and serving as a graduate assistant in 1983-84. He served as Florida’s assistant head coach from 2005-07 and was the associate head coach in 2008-09.
Before returning to Florida for the fourth time, Strong received his first defensive coordinator assignment at the University of South Carolina under Holtz from 1999-2002. There, he earned his first finalist nod for the Broyles Award after he helped guide the Gamecocks to a top 20 national ranking in 2000, which he did twice while at South Carolina, peaking with a No. 13 final ranking in both polls in 2001. The 2000 squad ranked sixth in the country in scoring defense after yielding just 15.8 points per game, while the 2001 team finished 12th at 18.4 points per game. The 1999 team ranked 20th in the nation in total defense, allowing 307.7 ypg. The 2000 and 2001 seasons saw some of the highest achievements in South Carolina history to that point, ending in back-to-back Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State.
A native of Batesville, Ark., Strong was a three-year letter winner (1979-81) and three-time all-conference safety at Central Arkansas, which reached the NAIA Playoffs each of his final two seasons. He was also a two-time all-conference performer in track and field, and graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in education. Strong was inducted into the Central Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. He and his wife, Vicki, have a son, Tory, and two daughters, Hailee and Hope.