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A 10-2 start in 2017, his first season as head coach, had University of South Florida football fans thinking that Charlie Strong was the answer. But a 7-6 second season followed by a 4-8 record this year led athletic director Michael Kelly to fire Strong Sunday afternoon.
The formal announcement came in a news release from USF Athletics on Sunday afternoon.
“I would like to thank Coach Strong and his staff for their hard work and contributions to our program,” Kelly said. “I have tremendous respect for Coach Strong and his dedication to recruiting and developing young men of talent and character and leading them with integrity. He has represented USF with dignity and class and we wish Coach and his family the very best.
“I met with our student-athletes and staff today to inform them of my decision and to make clear USF’s commitment to a championship-caliber football program that recruits and develops student-athletes and provides the resources and support for them to achieve great success in competition, in the classroom and in the community.”
Kelly is scheduled to speak about the firing in a news con Monday morning.
Strong’s firing came after USF lost its third straight game to in-state rival – the University of Central Florida – on Friday. The 34-7 loss was the Bulls’ fourth straight loss to end the season.
It also means USF will also miss a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
The Bulls started the 2018 season 7-0 before going 4-14 in Strong’s last 18 games. He was 0-6 versus ranked teams in his three years at USF.
Storng received $5 million this season – a $2.5 million salary and $2.5 million retention bonus. That made him the 16th-highest-paid coach in Division I-A and the highest-paid coach in the Group of Five conferences, according to USA Today.
Terms of Strong’s contract buyout aren’t known, as he’s paid by the university’s fundraising arm, the USF Foundation. The direct-support organization is exempt from disclosing salaries under Florida law.
However, he was set to make $2.6 million in the fourth year of the contract and $2.7 million in the fifth year.
Strong signed a five-year, $9.8 million deal with USF in Dec. 2016, shortly after he was fired after three lackluster years at the University of Texas (16-21 record).
“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 at his introductory press conference. “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, who also posted a 37-15 record as the head coach at Louisville from 2010-2013, had served as an assistant coach at the University of Florida four different times.
The announcement did not address what will happen to the rest of USF’s coaching staff, but a national search for a new head coach will begin immediately.
“I fully support the decision to reorient our football program in a new direction,” USF System President Steven C. Currall said in Sunday’s announcement. “We are committed to excellence across all aspects of the University, including USF Athletics. I am confident that our search will result in a new head coach who will lead our student-athletes to great achievements on and off the field.”