Will former USF coaches pay attention to Strong?

by Gary Shelton on August 26, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Charlie Strong is the fourth USF coach./STEVEN MUNCIE

Charlie Strong is the fourth USF coach./STEVEN MUNCIE

Saturday, 3 a.m.

They are memories now, scattered by time and fortunes. They have their own players to prepare, their own programs to build. Their time here is now just a line on their resumes.

Yet, you wonder.

Do they remember still? Are they prepared to look over the shoulder of Charlie Strong as he leads his green and gold for the first time against San Jose State? Are they still Bullish over the USF football program?

Twenty years later, and the three former coaches of USF still have fairly prominent jobs in college football. Jim Leavitt has rebuilt most of his career after a fall from grace and

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Quinton Flowers expect to lead Bulls./STEVEN MUNCIE

Quinton Flowers expect to lead Bulls./STEVEN MUNCIE

is now the defensive coordinator for the University of Oregon. Skip Holtz, who was fired for not winning enough, has become solid at Louisiana Tech. Surely, Willie Taggart, who left for a better job at Oregon – where he is Leavitt's boss — remembers. Most of the players here are still his.

Will each of them take time to reflect on their time at the school? Will they tune in? Will they pull for Strong to satisfy the same fan group that once watched them?

The four coaches that USF has had are all distinct men with distinct styles.

Leavitt was stubborn and combative and ambitious. If he had his way, he'd probably still be at USF.

The Bulls gained a lot of their toughness from Leavittt. I still remember him, after a win over UCF, standing defiantly in front of the crowd.

Holtz was lighter. He was a funny guy, the son of a funny coach. But when Holtz came in, the administrators at USF were determined to make it tougher for a player to get into USF, and it showed in the won-loss record. His success at Louisiana Tech still amazes some at USF who thought he was over his head here.

Taggart started slowly, but once he got athletes in the program, his team prospered. He was tough, outwaiting the early doubts. In the end, few could blame him for leaving for Oregon.

It was back in 1997 when Leavitt opened his first season. Give Leavitt credit; he built much of this program with his own hands. But that first night was a salute to great scheduling. The Bulls debuted against Kentucky Wesleyan, a team that had trouble lining up. USF won 80-3, then promptly lost their next three in a row.

Still, Leavitt would win 95 games with the Bulls. He was the guy with ambition, the guy who could envision this team playing with the heavyweights. And while his team's never concluded a season in the top 25 – they did reach No. 2 during the season once – Leavitt had a handful of major upsets.

But Leavitt would leave in scandal — one he consistently denies — and in 2010, the team moved on to the confident Holtz. Holtz won his first game easily, too, bashing Stony Brook 59-14. That first year, Holtz beat Miami, then beat Clemson in a bowl game. But it wouldn't last. The program slid dangerously, and Holtz was canned.

That led the program to Willie Taggart, who showed up and found out he had, pretty much, no players.Taggart's first game was an embarrassment, a 53-14 loss to McNeese State in one those schedule-me-a-win games. The Bulls would lose their first four games, and they would finish that first season 2-10, and it was fashionable to wonder if Taggart would ever get it going.

He did. Taggart finished with 11 wins — the finest finish any USF coach ever had — and jumped to Oregon.

Now, it is Strong's turn, and the good thing is that he has more players in his first year than the three coaches before him had combined in theirs. Quarterback Quinton Flowers, running back D'Earnest Johnson and linebacker Auggie Sanchez should lead this team.

But if Strong has players, he also has expectations. There will be no easing into the season for him. Strong is supposed to have a good team immediately.

That's a tough task for a coach, to come in, to get a team into your offensive and defensive schemes without slowing down. For Strong, every game is supposed to be against Kentucky Wesleyan. The offense is expected to be great; the defense is supposed to be better.

In other words, it's a typical coach's choice: Would you take all of the advantages to get all of expectations?

For Strong, it begins Saturday night.

Let's hope he starts fast.

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