As the boards have been going through a list of potential candidates, there is a lot of angst over who was missed in the past so I thought I'd do a review of the 2 big hires last year - Charlie Strong & James Franklin to see how they'd compare to current candidates. In that spirit I will review them as if we had an opening after the 2013 season and do a similar format as other coaching candidate reviews. The other big hire of 2013 was Steve Sarkisian but he was sort of a USC or bust candidate and his Pac 12 record is not much different than say what a Dan Mullen is performing.
We also took a look back to Sumlin (in relation to Todd Graham) in this piece if interested. Sumlin and Strong actually have some parallels in that both only had 4 years of HC experience before a big name came calling and before their HC experience they were at a major university for a good amount of time. Sumlin was at A&M in 01-02, and then Oklahoma from 03-07. Strong was at Florida from 02-09.
(again this is written as if he has just completed his last year at Louisville, and we have an opening)
"2014" candidate.... Charlie Strong, age: 53
Summary: Charlie Strong is a highly touted coach at Louisville and should be a candidate for a few of the top jobs opening up this year. Strong has been a long time coordinator at Florida, first with Zook and then with Urban Meyer. For 3 years he was co-coordinator with our very own (former) DC Greg Mattison. As always when you are with a highly successful HC such as Meyer, Saban, et al the question is do the coordinators get too much credit. Luckily we have some data points of his experience on his own once he moved to HC at Louisville, that seem to show he is not just a product of Urban Meyer.... at least on the defensive end. Strong struggled his first 2 years at Louisville on the offensive side but landed heralded 4 star QB recruit Teddy Bridgewater (who ironically had a Florida offer), and the rest is history. Combining a star QB with Strong's steady defenses - and Louisville surged in Strong's last 2 years.
Recent (10 years) coaching background
- 2003-2004: DC at Florida
- 2005-2007: Co-DC at Florida with Greg Mattison
- 2008-2009: DC at Florida
- 2010-2013: HC at Louisville
Analysis: Very stable; originally was a DC for the Ron Zook Gators. When Meyer showed up Charlie Strong was the only assistant Meyer retained (sort of the Fred Jackson of Florida football). Meyer did bring Mattison and he and Strong co-coordinated for 3 years. After Mattison's departure, Strong continued for 2 years until Louisville came calling.
Before arriving at Florida, Strong was a DC for 3 years at South Carolina, and a DL coach at Notre Dame in the late 90s.
In terms of Big 10 footprint, we can say Louisville is close enough as you have a nice radius of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana close by... he also has 4 years at Notre Dame. Combined with a long term history in the South - to me this is a perfect candidate for the Michigan job as the Midwest talent pool shrinks. You still have a guy who can legitimetely speak to experience recruiting OH/PA/IL kids but also have a guy who knows the Southeast very well.
Caveat for results ----> (a) nothing exists in a vacuum (b) as a coordinator you can benefit or be penalized if your HC is good or bad or average (c) injuries or graduation can change your results dramatically in any 1 year. This is the type of stuff you'd research as an AD staff on every potential candidate.
I will break down his results at 2 time frames - DC at Florida, HC at Louisville
(1) DC at Florida
Strong was at Florida for 7 years thru 2 head coaches. He also was a co-coordinator for 3 years which I have placed an asterisk next to. Let's see how the total defense rankings stood for the Charlie Strong era, along with the year prior to Strong's arrival (2002).
|W/L||Tot Off||Tot Def|
Before Strong arrived at Florida they had a quite solid 25th rank defense under John Thompson (NTJT). Truth be told, Strong struggled in Zook's fnal 2 years as you'd never think a Florida team with access to that level of talent post Spurrier era would be anywhere near 50. But it was. You could blame it all on Zook but his prior DC did pretty well. So up to that point some question on Strong.
(please note just as I penalize all Big 10 defensive rankings due to their lack of pro level QBs and quite bad offense in general up in the Midwest, you have to allow the SEC defenses some leeway as there are some high powered offenses down there)
In came Urban Meyer and gosh darnit, as usually happens when Urban shows up, total offense and total defense rankings magically improve. The Strong and Mattison combo had 2 great top 10 years. The 3rd year was back to average but without looking at that year closely (major graduations of key seniors, injuries, etc) we will consider that a blip when we see what happened in 2008-2009 which was a return to excellent defenses. The Meyer/Strong combination was excellent for 4/5 years - give kudos.
This was enough for Louisville to come calling with an offer.
(2) HC at Louisville
Louisville came calling at this time and 49 year old Strong got his first chance to be a head coach. While technically a "Big 6" conference the Big East was dying off in tis period with West Virgnia being the "power" team. Other members were the Rutgers, Syracuse, Cincy, Louisville cabal. By Strong's last year in the conference the Big East had died and had been replaced with the American Athletic Conference. West Virginia was long gone and had been replaced by teams like SMU and Temple. So SOS was not super high bu a lot of coaches get their first chance in conferences like this, the Mountain West, and Conference USA.
Let's look at Strong's data along with Steve Kragthorpe led 2009 squad:
|W/L||Tot Off||Tot Def|
Strong came to a pretty bad team - it was 4-8, and bad at offense and middle of the pack in America (there are ~120 teams in FBS) in defense. Forgetting the record what you can see is excellence in defense all 4 years of Strong's tenure. This would be the open question for a coordinator who is attached to a very strong HC such as Meyer .. is he a product of Meyer or was he indeed talented on his own? (This is the type of question Narduzzi will have to answer once he spins out to his first HC job). In this case Strong answered the call.
The offense? Not a good start. So bad in fact, in year 2 of his regime Strong replaced his OC. 2012 saw a large improvement - but it sure helps when a talent of Teddy Bridgewater arrives to the scene. 2012 was ok and 2013 was quite good, especially for a pro style set. Which of course would be an easy transition (in theory) for the type of players UM has recruited in the Hoke era.
The overall record obviously improved as well in the last 2 years so let's look at some key results:
Analysis of wins and losses
The 2010 Cardinal was 3-4 in conf, and 7-6 overall. Losses were to Kentucky, Oregon State, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, South Florida, and West Virgina. West Virginia was a 9-4 team (ok loss) and Cincinnati was a 4-8 team (not a good loss). The other 4 teams were basically at Louisville's level. Key point - other than a 20-3 loss to Pittsburgh all losses were by 7 pts or less. That's the benefit of having a good defense. On the flip side a few baby seals were beat but Louisville did beat co-conference champion 8-5 UConn and and ok 8-5 Southern Miss in a bowl.
2011 was the year of very bad offense. That said Louisville did finish 5-2 in the conference which was good enough for co-championship with #17 West VA and #25 Cincy. Both those teams had better overall records though and by a wide margin. Again just as in 2010 all losses except 1 (25-16) were by a touchdown or less. So even as the offense flailed away, the defense kept Louisville in every game - something you like to see, a coach with an expertise on 1 side of the ball. CIncy was a 9 pt loss and West VA was a 3 pt win. So in year 2 despite struggling, Louisville did beat the highest ranked team it played - you want to see that early in a tenure IMO. The overall record may not be great but you are beating some of the top teams you play.
2012 Louisville again was co-champion of the league with Cincy, Rutgers, and Syracuse - all at 5-2. The only losses were a beatdown by Syracuse (19 pts) and a strange 3 OT loss to mediocre UConn. Cincy (a good 10-3 Butch Jones team) was beaten 34-31 in OT and 9-4 Rutgers was like wise beaten by 3. Out of conference Louisville beat a very bad Kentucky and a solid North Carolina squad.... along with 2 baby seals. The big win of the year was versus (at the time) #4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl: 33-23. I think that was the game to announce the arrival of Charlie Strong nationally.
2013 was a great year with a revved up Teddy Bridgewater combined with a high quality defense. The only loss was to a very good 12-1 Bortles led UCF, 38-35. Baby seals + Kentucky provided 4 wins. In conference, Cincy and Houston were really the only 2 decent teams outside of UCF. So one can question strength of schedule but it was a good year. A 9-4 Miami FL team was decimated in the bowl to the tune of 36-9.
There are not too many "perfect" candidates that come around. For UM there was probably Brian Kelly who parlayed a long successful run at GVSU to decent success at CMU to great success at Cincinnati. And probably Urban Meyer pre Florida when he declared UM, OSU, and ND his 3 dream jobs after romping at Bowling Green and Utah. Strong is not quite that perfect but right behind those type of guys. Worst case scenario he looks like he will bring a bad a$$ defense up here - we have the players to help! and he seems to have groomed a nice defensive guru in Vance Bedford. Yes THAT Vance Bedford! With our very young offense it may be a case like early at Louisville where we struggle until he gets his players in, but at least we have a 5th year SR QB poised to make a big jump and super weapon Funchess.
I like Charlie's hard nosed approach as well - since we can't get Jim Harbaugh this is the next best thing. I don't want the players to have a friend as their HC when they are here, I want them to have a friend after they graduate when they can understand what their HC was doing to and for them - see Bo, see Lloyd, see Harbaugh, see Saban. His age is great, his footprint is perfect for the shifts in US population, and even early at Louisville he won versus some superior opponents ala Harbaugh.
In summary - I don't see a better candidate out there to help fix the situation after Hoke. That said, I assume USC and Texas and PSU will all have interest. And Florida might fire Will Muschamp after that 4-8 disaster to go get Strong. So after firing 2 coaches after 3 years each we are at risk of turning into Notre Dame for 15 years. This next hire has to be the one or Brandon goes bye bye and we're in a friggin 20 year abyss. Brandon better bring the big boy bucks - we're talking Urban Meyer money circa $5M. Go get it done Dave!