The Charlie Strong era at South Florida began with a joke. As the South Florida head coach introduced himself to his new team, Strong joked how he had to stop himself from telling the Bulls how excited he was to coach at South Carolina, where he was the defensive coordinator from 1999-02.
That wasn’t the only moment of levity in Strong’s introduction on Thursday, either. When asked how to navigate being a defensive head coach in the hurry-up era, Strong said he’d instruct his offense to slow down enough to “let us drink some Gatorade.” Clued in by the nervous laughter in the room he’d stepped into a verbal bear trap — USF is a Powerade school and the other drink originated at a school USF would love to consider a rival — Strong smiled and backtracked. “Water. Let us drink some water,” he said before allowing himself to laugh.
Safe to say, none of this happened during his introduction at Texas.
Strong was visibly nervous during his January 2014 introduction in Texas, awkwardly shoehorning in a “Put the ‘T’ back in Texas” slogan that never stuck.
Charlie was a nervous wreck during his introductory presser at Texas. Today, USF is seeing the confident, let-it-all-hang-out Charlie.
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) December 15, 2016
The jobs at Texas and South Florida were different, but so were the circumstances of those jobs. Strong inherited a Texas team that played for a Big 12 championship but had stagnated in recruiting. (The Longhorns didn’t have a player selected in that spring’s NFL Draft for the first time in three quarters of a century.) Strong hollowed out the UT roster in attempt to build it back up again. “I learned a lot, I coached outstanding players, I met many, many great people, and I grew as a coach,” Strong said of his three years in Austin. “I’m thankful for the opportunity for me and my family.”
There’s none of that at South Florida.
A win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl later this month gives South Florida a school-record 11 wins. Most of the 2-deep returns next season. As Strong himself likes to say, Willie Taggart baked this cake, and Strong’s job will simply to apply the green and gold icing.
Coach Taggart built an unbelievable program, a program that has a solid foundation,” Strong said. “Now it’s up to me to build on this foundation. There is no reason we shouldn’t compete to win championships year in and year out.”
Beyond the immediate, though, Strong is a long-term fit in Tampa because Florida is his natural home as a coach. It’s where he started his career, before later depositing two more separate stints as a Florida assistant, culminating in helping the Gators win national titles in 2006 and 2008 as Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator. “I feel like I’m coming home and I’m excited to be back in the state where my coaching roots began,” he said. “I was part of two national championships just up the road, I’ve been in the state a long time and built up a lot of friendships in this state.”
“We are all eager in anticipation of what USF football will become,” added South Florida AD Mark Harlan, “and we believe our future is in excellent hands.”
Strong finished his introduction at South Florida exactly as he closed his introduction at Texas: with his middle and index fingers curled under his thumb, and his pointer and pinky fingers extended straight into the air. Everything else about the two introductions was different, and so, too, should be everything that comes after.