With Tennessee’s search for a new head coach ongoing, Nooga.com will take a closer look at some of the potential candidates.
Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville
Overview: Louisville head coach Charlie Strong fits the mold of what Tennessee vice-chancellor and athletics director Dave Hart said he was looking for after the dismissal of former head coach Derek Dooley on Nov. 18.
Strong has SEC ties after serving as the defensive coordinator at South Carolina from 1999-2001 and then for Florida from 2002-09.
He oversaw one of the best defenses in the nation at Florida in 2009. It was a unit that finished in the top five in virtually every major statistical category nationally. He helped develop seven first-round draft picks at Florida, won two national championships and was twice a finalist for the Broyles Award (top assistant).
He is now building a contender at Louisville. The Cardinals were 4-8 in 2009, the year before he arrived. He led them to consecutive 7-6 campaigns in 2010 and 2011. After their win over Rutgers on Thursday, the Cardinals finished 2012 with a 10-2 record and are in position to land in a BCS bowl.
Recruiting: Strong, 53, was chosen as one of Rivals.com’s Top-25 recruiters in 2007 after he helped the Gators land the top class nationally.
He’s seen moderate success on the recruiting trail at Louisville. His three signing classes have had an average national ranking of 39.6 (Rivals.com), but the Cardinals’ current class is ranked 73rd nationally.
He has deep ties in Florida and South Carolina, two areas Tennessee likes to target.
Why he’d come: Though he’s got Louisville heading in the right direction, it’s hard to imagine him seeing it as his true dream job. With his SEC background, it’s not too much of a stretch to envision him wanting to take on the challenge at Tennessee. The Cardinals have a solid administration and good fan support, but Kentucky is still a basketball state and head basketball coach Rick Pitino will always be the bigger star at Louisville. The Vols could also give his $2.3 million annual salary a hefty bump.
Why he wouldn’t: Louisville is currently in the Big East, a struggling football conference, but it will make the jump to the ACC in 2014. The ACC doesn’t have the overall football prestige of the SEC, but in the age of constant conference re-alignment, getting out of the crumbling Big East should help revenue and give Strong something to sell to recruits. Athletics director Tom Jurich has repeatedly vowed to match any offer for Strong and even told CBSSports.com in October that he is prepared to make Strong the highest-paid coach in the nation if he must. Then there’s the bidding war with others. Arkansas and Auburn might have Strong on their lists as well.
What they’ve said:
. “He likes it here, and he has a boss who values him. I gave him his first chance. He was kicked in the teeth for 26 years … We’ll make him No. 1 (in salary) if we have to.” — Jurich to CBSSports.com.
. “I didn’t interview with Auburn. I have a job,” — Strong to Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde on recent reports that he interviewed for Auburn’s head-coaching job.
. “No, I have not heard from Tennessee. We have two games left, I have to finish out here. We have to take care of business.” — Strong’s response on Nov. 12 to the Louisville affiliate of Scout.com when asked if he had been contacted by the Vols.
Grading the potential hire: Hiring Strong probably wouldn’t draw a huge uproar from Tennessee fans in a positive or negative sense. He might not be the home run some were hoping for, but he brings much better credentials than did Dooley and is widely regarded as one of the best potential candidates for the upper-tier vacant jobs. As a defensive-minded coach, he would instantly upgrade that side of the ball for Tennessee. If he hires a capable offensive staff, there’s no question Strong has the potential to turn the Vols around. Most Tennessee fans would probably grade the hire somewhere in the “B” range. We’d give it a B+.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.