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So... Could USF Football Fire Charlie Strong If They Wanted To?

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We don’t know if this option is on the table. But if Michael Kelly gets to the point where he feels like it has to be done, it’s certainly justified.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

DISCLAIMER: This post is not really aimed at USF fans. You all know what’s going on here. We’re writing it to break down the situation for everyone who doesn’t follow USF very closely, because this idea looks bad if you don’t look into the details.

Among USF fans, the sentiment towards head coach Charlie Strong has swung dramatically in just a few weeks. There are a whole lot of Bulls fans (like almost all of them) who are ready to be rid of Strong.

To an outsider, the idea of firing Strong probably seems insane. How has a fan base turned on a coach who has a 17-7 record at USF? Like, how entitled can you get? And surely firing him would be both hasty and very expensive, right?

If you look closely enough, though, this is a very unique situation. There are a lot of reasons why USF could justify letting Charlie Strong go if they decided to do it.

USF owes Strong a lot more money starting January 1

The first two years of Strong’s contract took advantage of the fact that there were still two years left on his contract with Texas when he was fired in Austin. USF is only paying Strong a total salary of $1 million per year until his Texas buyout expires. In 2019, USF’s compensation of Strong jumps to $2.5 million. Then it’s $2.6 million in 2020 and $2.7 million in 2021. Even if Strong was winning championships here, that’s a lot of money for a Group of Five school like USF to be paying a football coach. If he’s not winning championships, it’s just plain foolish.

Think about it like this. You put down a $500 deposit for a two-week tour of Europe that costs $2500. The deposit is non-refundable and the rest of the money is due a month before the trip. Right before the due date, you break your ankle. The doctor says it will take two months to fully recover. You’re out the $500 no matter what and that sucks, but would you want to pay another $2000 to hobble around Europe on crutches and probably have a terrible time?

USF owes Strong’s assistants a lot more money starting January 1

In 2018, the assistant coach salary pool jumped from $1.66 million to $2.25 million. On January 1, it goes up to $3.4 million. Many of his assistants have been dragged by the fan base at one time or another, including whipping boy Sterlin Gilbert, Justin Burke, and Matt Mattox. Why give any of them raises?

Two other points. Even if there are new assistants, the budget still goes up if Charlie is still the head coach. Also, Charlie doesn’t seem to be very good at hiring assistant coaches. Aside from Gilbert, Burke, and Mattox, any longtime Bucs fan could have told you that Charlie Williams wouldn’t be a good receivers coach based on his years in Tampa when the Bucs had the lamest receiving group in the NFL. Not surprisingly, the USF receivers have regressed badly this year, dropping lots of passes and not blocking as well as they once did.

Strong’s buyout is fairly low

It may not go down as the best hire of his four years here, but former USF athletic director Mark Harlan helped the school out with the terms of Strong’s buyout:

“In the event that the University terminates this Agreement or otherwise relieves Coach of his duties hereunder for any reason other than ‘for cause’ the sole obligation of the University under this Agreement shall be to continue to provide the Base Salary to Coach... for a period of 20 (twenty) weeks only.”

We’ve heard some differing opinions on what the Base Salary is. If you read the pre-agreement Charlie signed in December 2016, his Base Salary as defined by the contract is only $500,000, because that’s the highest salary a public employee in Florida is allowed to be paid. However, that’s not his formal contract, and there may be some different language in there that makes the Base Salary his current salary, or even higher than that. If the buyout is based on $500K, then USF would have to pay $192,000 or so to move him on. If it’s based on his current USF salary of $1 million, it’s $384,000. If it’s based on next year’s salary of $2.5 million, the buyout comes to a little under a million.

However, USF may not end up owing him that much. The contract goes on to say that if Strong gets another coaching job before the 20 weeks are up, USF only owes him the difference between whatever the contract amount is and whatever his new salary is for the rest of the 20 weeks. If he gets a new job that pays over that amount, USF no longer owes him anything.

Bottom line: If Michael Kelly feels like this situation can’t be salvaged and he needs to make a move, it could be a lot worse. (Remember USF had to pay $2.5 million for Skip Holtz to go away.) And based on the vitriol in our Twitter mentions, you might be able to cover Strong’s buyout with a GoFundMe.

I mean... you’ve seen USF play this year, right?

Even when the Bulls were winning, they weren’t impressing anyone. They needed three comebacks from down double digits in the fourth quarter to win games. Their only conference wins were against Tulsa, ECU, and UConn, who won a combined two league games this season (because that’s how many games they played against each other). The Bulls got out to a totally bogus 7-0 record against one of the worst schedules in the country. Then they got exposed by Houston, the first team they met who could match them on raw talent. Then they lost badly to Tulane and Cincinnati, blew a 17-0 lead to Temple, and... whatever the hell that was today against C. There’s absolutely no way this team wins a bowl game in its current state, so that’ll be a 7-6 finish with a six-game losing streak.

Charlie Strong’s teams have a long history of trying to coast by on talent

Give Charlie a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback and a disintegrating Big East, and he can win a league title like in 2012 with Louisville. (Even then, Louisville messed around a lot. They struggled to beat FIU and Southern Miss, needed Skip Holtz to give them a win over a 3-9 USF team, almost blew a massive lead to North Carolina, and lost at home to Paul Pasqualoni.) When Strong went to Texas, and suddenly most of the teams on the schedule could hang with the Longhorns on talent, he went 16-21 in three years. It’s been more of the same at USF. His teams feast on feeble opponents (sometimes), but even up the talent level or put him up against a well-coached underdog and the losses start flying in.

USF fans know bad coaching when they see it

There are very few upsides to living through three seasons of Skip Holtz, but one is that we have a really good idea what bad coaching looks like, and we have absolutely no tolerance for it. Charlie is ticking all the boxes that Skip ticked in 2011. His teams look unprepared and undisciplined. They make the same mistakes over and over again. He makes terrible in-game decisions. Players are visibly frustrated and they’re showing signs of giving up and looking to transfer. There’s a shocking lack of energy and passion in the team. Charlie is saying idiotic things in the press after games and making excuses for problems he created. And don’t look now, but the recruiting is trailing off. The warning lights of a program quickly heading downhill are all flashing.

USF fans are sick and tired of being just pretty good

The football program’s been “pretty good” almost the entire time it’s existed. Well, “pretty good” is not good enough anymore. We have no championships and it’s pissing us off. I think USF fans have reached the point where as soon as we think a coach can’t win this league, then we’re done with him.

I remember we laughed at Houston firing Tony Levine a few years ago for only going 8-4. It seemed really cutthroat at the time... but two years later Tom Herman won them a New Year’s Six bowl. Now I know exactly what Houston was thinking, because USF could and maybe should do the same thing.