There’s really not much else to say about USF’s abysmal 48-21 loss to SMU, but one thing that did stand out to me sitting at home were the observations the ESPN crew made about Charlie Strong’s team while covering the carnage at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.
I watched the broadcast back this morning and transcribed some of the quotes made by the team of Anish Shroff, Ahmad Brooks, and sideline reporter Kris Budden. Some of these comments were damning indictments of where this program is at right now.
In the first quarter, following Jordan McCloud’s second interception:
“For as much as Coach Strong says this team rallies around McCloud, I thought it was interesting after the second interception he’s just moping around on the sidelines. Not one of his teammates came up to him to offer any kind of encouragement. I talked to McCloud during the week and he was excited about being able to be more vocal with his team, which I saw after the first series. But since then, he’s been silent.” -Budden
“I’m disappointed it took a while for the teammates to come lift him up. It speaks directly to the leadership of the Bulls team because you have a young quarterback. You’ve seen how good he can be and yes he comes down and throws two costly interceptions, but the reality of it is...he’s your guy. And I think Charlie Strong is going to stick with him if they’re going to stick this one out, so you better make sure that he’s motivated.” -Brooks
Let’s move on to the second quarter. USF is down 28-0 and everything is falling apart. Brooks and Shroff are contemplating if a QB change will be made at the half, as McCloud is both struggling and getting banged up:
“Here’s the thing, if you make the move just two weeks after you make the change, it screams panic and the optics of it don’t look good. Again, what was Charlie Strong’s big bugaboo at Texas? The big criticism? The way they handled the quarterback position.” -Schroff
Later in the quarter, freshman linebacker Demaurez Bellamy gets flagged for a facemask penalty:
“They get Bellamy and now you tack on 15 yards at the end of the play. Protecting the quarterback, penalties, errant throws, defensive miscues. It has been just a calamity of errors in the first 30 minutes for the Bulls.” -Schroff
Coming out of halftime down 34-0, Blake Barnett is in at QB as McCloud sits down after hurting his wrist. That’s news to the sideline reporter Budden, who got different information from the head coach himself just moments earlier:
“He told me that we’re going to stick with what we’re doing which was McCloud and that obviously changed within the last 60 seconds. He’s not a man of many words and he said ‘we’re getting our tails kicked’ and walked off.” -Budden
The following exchange between Shroff and Brooks stuck out to me personally. As SMU is driving to go up 41-0, they discuss Strong’s management of his programs:
“Everybody in college football knows just what a great defensive coach he is. That offensive component just has not been consistent in his time as a head coach at Texas and now South Florida.” -Shroff
“Yeah, and I think some of the noise from the outside from both fanbases (USF and Texas), you feel like there’s this management struggle. You don’t know at times whether Charlie Strong is fit to be a coach or not. -Brooks
Brooks continued on as the Mustangs plowed their way down the field.
“We asked him yesterday as a staff how does he manage the team. He said ‘I give full responsibility to my DC, my OC. I handle the players and things that relate (to them).’ There are a lot of different systems and niches that work. At the end of the day, he wants to win championships and they haven’t been able to do that despite having a really good team when he (came) in here in year one. So there’s this outside noise and you begin to question whether he’s a good head coach or not because to your (Shroff’s) point, he’s been an outstanding defensive coordinator in his history as a coach and frankly, I don’t think that conversation stops.”
“They’ve been poor today defensively. Offensively, it looks like they’re struggling to find answers and now you’re back to a quarterback controversy despite him telling our own Kris Budden ‘listen, McCloud’s our guy.’ And I do believe he said to McCloud ‘hey, we’re going to put you on the bench. It hasn’t been your day.’ But now, what is the locker room thinking? What is McCloud thinking? Charlie Strong has some management things that have kind of hung over his head in his last two stops. That’s something that if you’re Charlie Strong, you have to correct in a hurry.”
As the game gets into the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the duo in the booth discuss the Bulls needing to reverse the trend and giving their young players confidence heading into the rest of the season and into the future, when they’ll have matchups with Texas, Alabama, Florida, etc.
Brooks fires off this one final bullet that I’ll leave right here:
“If you’re Charlie Strong, if his players lose confidence, it could be a situation where he and his staff lose a job.”