Days after he signed a five year, $9.8 million contract, Charlie Strong was formally introduced as the new head coach of the University of South Florida football team Thursday.
"Wow, if I knew I was going to get this reception, I would have came earlier," Strong told a cheering standing-room-only crowd of USF faculty, staff, boosters and students who returned to campus during their winter break.
Strong, who was fired last month after three lackluster years at the University of Texas (16-21 record), said he comes to USF with three goals, which he shares with the family of every player he recruits.
"We're going to graduate our players, we're going to win championships and we're going to make him a better person," Strong said. "I tell a family, just give me your son and when I give him back to you four or five years later, I want him to be an unbelievable young man that can handle adversity, overcome obstacles, and pick himself up when he gets knocked down."
Strong said he had met briefly with USF players, who have won a program record ten games this season and are preparing to play the University of South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl Dec. 29.
He praised the team, as well as USF Athletics staff, for players' recent 82 percent graduation rate.
"I always say this, show me a good football team and I'm going to show you great academics. Show me a bad football team and I'm going to show you bad academics," Strong said. "And we have a good football team here with great academics and they're young men who want to do something with their lives."
Strong said he spoke to former USF head coach Willie Taggart multiple times after Taggart took the same position at the University of Oregon last week.
While Taggart wanted to hire Strong as his defensive coordinator at Oregon - a job USF's first coach Jim Leavitt ended up taking - Strong had other ideas.
“I told him I want to be the head coach at South Florida,” Strong said. “Coach Taggart built an unbelievable program, a program that has a solid foundation. Now it’s up to me to build on this foundation, continue to keep the program in the spotlight."
Speaking to fans' anxieties that he's taking the job with the goal of eventually getting hired again at a school in a Power-Five conference, Strong added he thinks the pieces are there for him to make USF a great program, no matter what conference they're in.
"We're in an unbelievable city with unbelievable facilities, so why can't we go out, year in and year out, go compete for a championship and go be the best?" he said.
Strong also received cheers from the crowd when he spoke of something many USF fans have desired for a long time: an on-campus football stadium. Strong said such a place gives players additional motivation.
"Cause I feel like once you get a stadium on campus, it's their home, it's what they defend, it's their house and that's going to be critical," he said.
After Strong spoke, Athletic Director Mark Harlan told reporters that USF is conducting a feasibility study to look at an on-campus stadium.
Harlan added that Strong will not coach the Bulls in the Birmingham Bowl later this month, but they will watch the game together in Alabama. Co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist will serve as interim head coach.
Strong's contract with USF pays him $1 million (half base salary, half promotional appearance fees and other supplemental compensation) each of the first two years, but is back-loaded for the final three years of his deal.
The University of Texas still owes Strong $10.4 million for the final two years of his contract there. However, because he was hired by USF, the amount UT owes him drops by $1 million, or 50 percent of his salary at USF over the two years.
Strong's USF deal then climbs to $2.5 million in 2019, $2.6 million in 2020 and $2.7 million in 2021. Harlan said Strong would also receive an additional $2.5 million from the USF Foundation if he coaches the 2019 season.
As Strong's assistant coaches at Texas had similar buyouts, the pay for his assistants at USF also works on the same back-end loaded concept: $1.66 million in 2017, $2.25 million in 2018 and $3.4 million for each year between 2019-2021. Strong has not indicated what assistants he wants to bring from Texas or retain at USF yet.
If Strong leaves USF for another university before the end of 2017, he would owe the school a payout of $2.5 million. That number gradually decreases annually to $1.7 million by the end of 2020.
Strong had previously served as head coach at Louisville from 2010-2013 (37-15) and served as an assistant coach at the University of Florida on four different occasions, acting as interim head coach for the 2004 Peach Bowl. He worked at Florida for a total of 11 seasons, including the national championship teams in 2006 and 2008.
He also was an assistant at South Carolina, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Southern Illinois.