South Florida is interviewing former assistant coaches to see if former Bulls head coach Charlie Strong knowingly permitted any analysts or quality control personnel to conduct impermissible hands-on coaching, multiple sources told FootballScoop.
Sources said NCAA representatives joined USF compliance staffers in the interviews with former Bulls coaches.
The sources felt South Florida is engaging in an after-the-fact attempt to get out from under Strong's contractually-obligated buyout in order to help with a coronavirus-induced budget crunch.
Strong was fired without cause in December after posting a 4-8 record in the 2019 season. He has since taken a defensive analyst position at Alabama.
The sources said South Florida has spoken with former assistants on both sides of the ball in an attempt to acquire damning testimony against the Bulls' former head coach. What is peculiar is that multiple sources said South Florida AD Michael Kelly and USF compliance staffers regularly attended multiple practices per week, meaning any possible violations would have been clearly visible to all at the time.
However, with the knowledge Kelly and USF leadership had in December they did not seek to claim "cause" when firing Strong.
Strong's buyout, split between the athletics department and the private USF Foundation, called for the school to pay him $2.988 million and change.
As with all coaching contracts, the terms of Strong's deal gave USF the ability to terminate his contract "for cause" in the event of any NCAA violations. Here is the exact verbiage, from Strong's original contract signed Dec. 9, 2016.
The NCAA defines the head coach, his 10 assistants and four graduate assistants as the only coaches permitted to engage in on-field instruction, as laid out in Bylaw 11.7.3:
Bylaw 18.104.22.168 also places responsibility upon a head coach for the actions of everyone under his direction.
22.214.171.124 Responsibility of Head Coach. An institution's head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all institutional staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach. An institution's head coach shall promote an atmosphere of compliance within his or her program and shall monitor the activities of all institutional staff members involved with the program who report, directly or indirectly, to the coach. (Adopted: 4/28/05, Revised: 10/30/12, 7/16/14)
Violation of Bylaw 126.96.36.199 is classified as a Level I violation by the NCAA, the most severe in the NCAA's rulebook.
Although South Florida made no attempt to claim cause at the time of Strong's firing, attempting to retroactively classify a firing as "for cause" has become an increasingly common tactic for schools attempting to shed their contractually-obligated buyout payments.
Kansas claimed in a court filing, more than a year after his firing, that David Beaty "allowed and encouraged" NCAA violations. KU eventually settled with Beaty for $2.55 million, 85 percent of his total buyout.
Additionally, recent precedent shows the NCAA finds a violation of Bylaw 11.7.3 to be a relatively minor one, by its standards.
In February, the NCAA announced Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi allowed three quality control coaches to conduct hands-on coaching. He was forced to remain home for one week of the off-campus recruiting period from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1, and will have to miss two days of preseason practice in August.
Even after being found guilty of violating Bylaw 11.7.3, Narduzzi remains employed as Pitt's head coach.
FootballScoop has left multiple messages with South Florida officials seeking comment that have yet to be returned.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.
Update: After the publication of this article, USF released the following statement.
The University of South Florida acknowledges that the NCAA enforcement staff is currently conducting an inquiry to determine whether violations of NCAA legislation occurred within the University's athletics program. The University is working cooperatively with the enforcement staff and will continue to do so. In order to protect the integrity of the investigation, the University will provide no details or make further comment at this time.
USF provided this statement to FootballScoop:
"The university continues to abide by the terms of its agreement with Mr. Strong."