ORLANDO — There’s no reason to write a game story about USF’s latest embarrassment.
You either saw it — whether in person or on TV — or you knew better and stayed as far away as possible.
The most damning visual in Friday’s 34-7 loss to UCF at Spectrum Stadium was late in the second quarter, when a brawl broke out.
ESPN’s cameras caught coach Charlie Strong telling his players, who were spilling off the sidelines, to get back where they belonged.
His efforts did not work.
That seems appropriate for what should be Strong’s final game in charge at USF.
There’s no rational reason to bring him back next season, regardless what the rumored buyout number leads you to believe.
His tenure has become toxic — and understandably so.
— lauren pickel (@laurpicks) November 30, 2019
After last season, four assistant coaches — including much-maligned offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert — were let go. Strong and his staff went deep into the transfer portal to reload in effort to replace 11 dismissed players.
After several early-season losses, Strong even mentioned how this wasn’t the same team that ended 2018 on a six-game losing streak.
But the losing — including several very embarrassing conference losses — continued.
It’s time to look at the key consistent between 2018 and 2019. That’s Strong.
The program has regressed every year since Strong took over in advance of the 2017 season, starting with the Week 0 matchup against San Jose State, where the Bulls found themselves down several scores before the end of the first quarter.
USF went 10-2 that year, though that included a loss to Houston that was ripe for the taking, and won the Birmingham Bowl.
Last year, the Bulls jumped out to a shaky 7-0 start before utterly collapsing, finishing 7-6.
This year, the 4-8 record speaks for itself.
Things aren’t as simple as firing Strong, paying his standard 20-week base pay buyout and moving on, though.
Thanks to a deal with now-former athletic director Mark Harlan, Strong also has a contract with the USF Foundation that accounts for the bulk of his pay. His buyout in that deal is unknown, but by all reports, it’s in the range of $5 million.
That’s a huge chunk of change for a program that’s scraping every penny out of the sofa to put toward a football center.
But here’s the thing: If USF wants more money to come in for the football center, it can’t afford to alienate its comparatively (at least compared with UF and FSU) small fanbase. And right now, even the most passionate USF fans have seen enough.
I dare @USFAthletics to send season ticket renewals if changes aren’t made.
Hey @stevencurrall: this isn’t your fault, but it’s your responsibility. Infuse the athletic department with cash so the front porch of the university isn’t an embarrassment. There is no higher priority.
— USF Propaganda Feed (@CollinSherwin) November 30, 2019
Even former players have seen enough.
Really So Y’all Didn’t Know That Was Going To Happen???? SMH
— YoungKing9 (@SpotTheBall_9) November 30, 2019
The worst thing that ever happen to USF program was the day coach T left
— Mayes_Jr (@_mayes55) November 30, 2019
At a certain point, USF runs the risk of losing the faith of big-pocketed donors if they don’t feel like they’re getting their moneys worth.
And why would they? The Bulls are 4-14 since that weak 7-0 start last season. Overall, USF has only beaten three teams that finished the season with a winning record during Strong’s watch.
When asked why Strong should see a fourth season at USF, he pointed to his track record — the same track record that got him the USF job in the first place.
“I know how to win,” Strong said. “I’ve been part of two championships, I’ve won championships, and I’ve got a good coaching staff, they know how to win.”
The two championships Strong referred to were Florida’s 2006 and 2008 national championships, when he served as an assistant under Urban Meyer. The championships Strong mentioned he won himself were Big East championships in 2011 and 2012, during his tenure at Louisville.
Since leaving Louisville for Texas, though, Strong’s record as coach is exactly .500 at 37-37 and his combined conference record is 23-28. At USF, his conference record is 11-13.
As the calendar nears 2020 and the poor seasons in the Lone Star and Sunshine states have accumulated, Strong’s track record at Louisville has become incredibly less important, and his championships as an assistant with the Gators are ancient memory.
All that matters is the here and now: Strong’s teams have performed poorly the last three seasons. So poorly it’s to the point that moving on from him makes the most sense from a football perspective.
From a financial perspective, USF, who is relying on donors to fund a football center, can’t afford to alienate those donors. Taking the hit may be the only way to move forward.
It’s time to move on.