It’s not even December, but the “coaching rumor carousel” has already cranked up and it applies to the new opening at the University of Maryland and the USF Bulls head coach, Charlie Strong.
First you’re probably aware of the “dumpster fire” type controversy for the Maryland athletic department that has led to this week coach DJ Durkin being reinstated and then fired the following day.
This came after Durkin was placed on paid leave, while in almost 90 day investigation was going on into the death during conditioning in the offseason of defensive lineman Jordan McNair.
Maryland’s decision to put Durkin back on the sidelines for practice this week and potentially start coaching games again, was met with an uproar from the campus and the college football world.
Again, the governor of Maryland and the Board of Regents quickly reversed course and fired Durkin Wednesday afternoon.
So now the Big Ten school has an opening and there will be all kinds of names linked to it.
One of those names is the second-year coach of the Bulls, Who currently has them sitting at 7 and 1 this season and Charlie Strong comes off a 10-win season a year ago.
Two prominent college football writers already engaged in this speculation, including Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, who listed Strong as the top candidate for the Terps job.
Who will replace D.J. Durkin at Maryland? A look at 10 top candidates to potentially dare enter the biggest mess in college athletics. https://t.co/ahntCZq9zX
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) November 1, 2018
CBSsports.com national college football writer and columnist Dennis Dodd put out a lengthy list of names but also had Strong as one of his top candidates saying:
Strong is 17-3 in his second season at USF. All he needs is the perfect entree back to Power Five after being fired at Texas. Strong would be that calming influence. A master recruiter, Strong could activate D.C.-area talent that has long avoided Maryland. If I’m Evans, Strong is one of my first calls.
Strong obviously was on a fast track to the big time of college coaching after leading the Louisville Cardinals to a great season and upset of the Gators in the Sugar Bowl in 2012.
Strong eventually took the job at the University of Texas, but was fired in 2016 after three sub-par seasons in Austin going 16-21.
We have repeatedly written that Strong is a candidate to jump to a Power 5 school, in part because he has been privately frustrated and complaining about USF’s lack of an indoor practice facility and other upgrades. That includes a grand plan to have an on-campus football stadium for the Bulls, which is currently in the early fundraising stage.
One critical component is that USF is unable to pay Strong what he has been making previously at the University of Texas and would potentially make at a program like Maryland enticing. Strong’s contract has been structured the last couple of years so the Texas was paying more than 90% of it in the form of the over $8 million dollars that they still owed him.
That goes away after this year and USF would be on the hook for his full salary starting in 2019, and it’s not likely that the Bulls can start paying Strong even in a new contract $3 – 4 million per year.
One more factor is the daunting end to the Bulls schedule. That includes a road game at Temple, a home game with Cincinnati and then, the critical matchup hosting UCF in the regular season finale.
If Strong is not successful in most of those games, then, some of the luster will come off of his coaching star.
Still, it is interesting that the national media is bringing up his name for the Maryland opening.
Meanwhile, the Bulls will try to get back on the winning track when they host Tulane on Saturday night.
New Bulls coach Scott eagerly embracing new challenge
Fresh off a runner-up finish in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game loss to LSU, former Clemson co-offensive coordinator, and new USF head coach, Jeff Scott is now going full throttle in his first few days back in Tampa with his new program.
— Coach Jeff Scott (@coach_jeffscott) January 17, 2020
This is not unfamiliar for the first-time head coach, as this was part of his role was procuring players for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers out of West Central Florida.
Scott also gave access to the Tampa Bay Times and beat writer Joey Knight on his inaugural meeting with his new team Thursday at the USF facility.
And, Scott began by prioritizing his team in the meeting room having the seniors sit in the front with the juniors behind and then, the underclassmen behind them.
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) January 16, 2020
It will be a challenge over the next season or two for Scott to revitalize a program that essentially went “off the cliff in the middle of the 2018 season.” That’s when the Bulls under Charlie Strong lost their remaining six games, including their bowl game and then, were blown out twice early in the 2019 season to drop to 1-3.
USF regained their footing in the middle of the year wining against lesser American Athletic Conference competition in a couple of games, but promptly lost out, including their final 4 games to finish 4-8. That resulted in Strong’s firing.
The 39 year old Scott had Clemson through and through, as he played for the Tigers in the early 2000s for three years and returned to become an assistant coach for the Tigers in 2008. Since then, he has been a receiver’s coach, recruiting coordinator, and then, co-offensive coordinator for the last three years.
The Tigers, behind All-American QB Trevor Lawrence, rolled through a second straight unbeaten season and then, a 62-17 blowout win over Virginia in the ACC Title Game. In a bid to repeat as National Champs, the Tigers defeated Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on December 28th in one of the College Football playoff semi-finals.
Alas, the “fairy tale” did end well, as LSU behind Heisman winning QB Joe Burrow, defeated them 42-25 Monday night in New Orleans.
There’s some more that USF fans can be excited about and Scott’s successes with wide receivers. He has helped develop some great NFL prospects like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams. His current Clemson group likely has at least two more NFL wideouts, too.
After years of the inconsistent offense, it appears that the Bulls leaders felt a change in philosphy was needed.
And Scott, the son of former FSU and Clemson offensive coordinator Brad Scott, appears to be the guy to change it all.
Coordinator musical chairs all related to Willie Taggart
Now that head coaching hires have been made at the prominent jobs in the state and around college football, the musical chairs of assistants and specifically coordinators is also fascinating. And in the case of FSU, USF and FAU they are all interrelated to former USF and FSU-now FAU, boss, Willie Taggart.
In Boca Raton, the new FAU coach has announced his first coordinator hire and it’s none other than his former defensive consultant at Florida State, his former defensive coordinator at Oregon and the former USF head coach, Jim Leavitt:
WELCOME to the newest resident of "Paradise." https://t.co/sQDMrJ6gld
— FAU Football (@FAU_Football) December 22, 2019
Taggart had brought Leavitt on board, as the season began to unfold in Tallahassee, initially, to consult, but eventually as a defensive coach on the field.
The tandem came together in Eugene, Oregon three years ago, when Taggart left USF and was hired by the Ducks. He then brought Leavitt with him from being the defensive coordinator at Colorado.
However, Leavitt did not follow Taggart to Florida State in 2018, as had been reported that he would. He stayed behind for one more season, in Eugene.
Meanwhile, Taggart had a disastrous 5-7 first season with FSU after having hired former Michigan State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett to run his defense. Meanwhile, Leavitt was fired after the 2018 season by Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and then, was available to come join Taggart this year.
However it was to no avail , as Taggart was fired himself, on November 3rd after just nine games into his second season.
Continuing, Taggart had hired Kendal Briles to run his offense in 2019 from Houston, but Briles had previously been at, wait for it… Florida Atlantic as the OC. And now, there’s word of where Briles is headed, and, that’s to the University of Arkansas, as their new offensive coordinator.
The Hogs made a surprising coaching hire of former Georgia offensive line coach, Stan Pittman, who has never been a head coach at the college level before. Desperate to improve in the SEC West, Briles up tempo offense did help the Florida State in terms of increases of yardage per game and points per game output this past season.
Meanwhile, back at USF, new coach Jeff Scott had already announced on Sunday that former FAU defensive coordinator and head coach for their bowl game, Glenn Spencer, is his new defensive coordinator in Tampa.
Spencer has extensive experience, especially as a defensive assistant and coordinator for over a decade at Oklahoma State.
Staying with the “musical chairs” connected to his current and former jobs:
On Monday evening Scott also announced that Charlie Weis Jr., the son of the former Notre Dame coach and Patriots offensive coordinator, would be joining his staff with the Bulls.
Welcome to the Bay, Charlie Weis Jr. ! 🌴
Named Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach.
✅Led FAU offense that ranked 14th in FBS in scoring (36.4 ppg) and posted 6,280 yards & 65 TD.
➡️https://t.co/cqjC1ROYcW#United #Bullieve #HornsUp 🤘 pic.twitter.com/9dbeXxTnav
— USF Football (@USFFootball) December 23, 2019
Weis had most recently been the offensive coordinator for…..you guessed it again, the last two years at Florida Atlantic taking over for Briles with Lane Kiffin. But, Kiffin did not take Weis with him, when he left FAU for Ole Miss two weeks ago. And, Taggart did not retain Weis.
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So, to recap: Taggart and Leavitt are back together for the third time in four seasons in the third different location.
Spencer and Weis, who were the coordinators at Florida Atlantic for Kiffin, weren’t kept by Taggart, but are now are now both at USF, where Taggart and Leavitt used to be head coaches.
And Briles, who coached for Taggart and for part of the year with Leavitt in Tallahassee is now on his way to the SEC with the Hogs.
It’s never dull with a coaching carousel.
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