Its been four days since Tommy Tuberville stepped down as head coach at Cincinnati and despite flying rumors and hirings around the rest of the country, things have been quiet on the Bearcat front. That means that candidates are still being evaluated. One of those candidates is (or should be) Charlie Strong. Strong rose to fame at Louisville and then took on the unforgiving task of replacing Mack Brown as head coach at Texas only to be let go three years later.
Strong is one of the big names left in the looking-for-work coaching pool, and UC would be smart to take a good long look his way.
Succeeded at UC’s Level Before
As Lamar Jackson makes his way toward the 2016 Heisman Trophy it is worth remembering that the UofL program is where it is in large part because of Strong. Before Jackson there was Teddy Bridgewater and before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Cardinals hung with the likes of Cincinnati, Connecticut and USF. In four years with Louisville, Strong went 37-15, including a mark of 23-3 in his last two seasons during which he pushed the Cardinals to a 33-23 win against then No. 4 Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. In the Big East and AAC, Strong’s Cardinals went 20-9 in league play, including a 7-1 record in his last year on the job. If you’re wondering, that 7-1 mark is the exact opposite of what UC did against its conference in 2016.
He Can Recruit
We’ve discussed how P.J. Fleck and Neal Brown have done well with what they have in terms of recruiting, but Strong has been on another level. Even if that is primarily because he has been at bigger jobs, Strong still deserves credit for the players he brought in at Louisville and even at Texas. His final recruiting class at Louisville was ranked 37th in the country and featured three four-star recruits. He also produced the No. 16, No. 10 and No. 7 recruiting classes in the nation, respectively, during his three years with Texas according to 247 Sports. Obviously having the burnt orange on his shirt helped a lot with that, but go back to that Louisville ranking. UC hasn’t been inside the top 40 in the last 10 years and has only gotten into the top 50 once during that time (No. 47 in 2011). If Strong could get Louisville into that upper echelon of teams, there’s no reason to think he can’t work something similar at UC.
Under Tuberville, especially in 2016, Cincinnati lacked a clear identity. The Bearcats ran the same kind of pass-happy offense and left defense to burn in the first three seasons, but as everything crumbled this past year, it was difficult to tell what exactly UC was putting emphasis on. The offense was abysmal, ranking 104th in the nation in offensive efficiency according to Football Outsiders. The defense was much better (49th in efficiency) but still not as good as it needed to be every time out.
Strong commits to the defense and has a clear vision for how to run a program. He would certainly shift UC away from chasing the highlight-reel offenses of the Butch Jones (and early Tuberville) era and turn it into a more defense oriented team. That might work well considering the year UC just had. In addition, Strong has worked with young quarterbacks before, with Bridgewater being the crown jewel. Well, really the only jewel, but its tough not to be impressed with how well Bridgewater developed. Could Ross Trail or Hayden Moore be the next QB to succeed under Strong?
How likely is it that Strong will be hired?
I’m not very hopeful here. Strong has tasted the waters of a power five program and it seems unlikely that he will take a step backward or, if he does, he will take on a more established job such as the opening at USF or Houston rather than a turnaround project like UC. He may not even coach this season and wait for some other gigs to open up in a year for all we know.
Right now, its clear that Strong would be a good fit for the Bearcats, but the ball is more in his court than that of the brass at UC.
#UC is waiting to see what Charlie Strong does before moving on to next group of candidates, per Dan Wolken of USA Today— Tom Groeschen (@TomGroeschen) December 8, 2016
Being a back-up plan isn’t an ideal way to bring in a coach and instill confidence in your fan base. Sentiments like this make it seem unlikely that Strong is going to sign up for the Bearcat experience, but if he does, it means this process is going to wrap up later rather than sooner.