The Featured Columnists of the Tennessee Volunteers would like to announce their official endorsement of Charlie Strong as head coach of the Big Orange. He's one of many candidates, but we believe he is the best.
Since then, names like Jon Gruden, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy, Jimbo Fisher, Butch Davis, Butch Jones, David Cutcliffe, Doug Marrone, Al Golden and many, many more came into the conversation.
But it became clear Thursday night that Charlie Strong is the right man for the job. With Louisville's 20-17 win over Rutgers, Strong will be taking the Cardinals to their second-ever BCS Bowl with a 10-2 record. Just three years ago, the team was 4-8, reeling from a pitiful 15-21 three-year stretch.
There are three main reasons Strong has received the endorsement of the Vols Featured Columnists: First, his experience in the SEC is highly impressive. Second, he has proven himself to be a talented head coach in a short period of time. Third, no one in college football can outdo his passion for the game.
Charlie Strong has been coaching football since 1983, a span of three decades. In those 30 years, he has spent 20 of them in SEC (21 if you count Texas A&M, who wasn't in the SEC when he coached there in 1985).
He understands better than any candidate the rigors that the nation's best conference demands.
If you're going to coach in the SEC, the most important side of the ball is defense. Strong is unquestionably the best defensive mind of the candidates. From 1999 to 2010, he served as defensive coordinator for South Carolina and Florida, winning two national titles with the latter.
His ability to build terrific defenses and reputation for focused intensity became well known around the SEC. In fact, when Ron Zook was fired from Florida, the only assistant coach that Urban Meyer kept was Charlie Strong.
Recruiting in the SEC is perhaps the toughest coaching challenge in football. Strong was a vital piece of the recruiting strategy for Florida and has established relationships in the talent-rich state.
Even those who endorse someone else have to admit that Strong offers the best SEC experience of any serious candidate.
Proven Record as a Head Coach
Check this out:
Bobby Petrino—a polarizing personality, to say the least—left in the middle of a January night for the Atlanta Falcons. Louisville had to hire Steve Kragthorpe to hold the recruiting class together mere weeks before National Signing Day. He limped to a 15-21 record as Louisville's head coach before being fired.
Charlie Strong came in and rescued the program.
Lane Kiffin—a polarizing personality, to say the least—left in the middle of a January night for the USC Trojans. Tennessee had to hire Derek Dooley to hold the recruiting class together mere weeks before National Signing Day. He limped to a 15-21 record as Tennessee's head coach before being fired.
The only remaining piece this sequence of events needs to mirror the first is to hire Strong.
Aside from the fact that the stories are eerily similar, it's obvious that Strong has the ability to turn around programs in a short period of time. Contending with Big East-type recruits at a basketball school, Strong has dominated the conference.
We believe if you give Strong the recruiting assets of Tennessee, the prestige of the Volunteer tradition and the intangible quality of the Power T, he'll bring in SEC-type recruits to a football school and will soon contend for conference championships.
Strong has taken Louisville to three consecutive winning seasons and three consecutive bowl games. Every year, his teams have improved because his players are developing and maturing under his tutelage.
Other candidates have solid head coaching track records, too, but no one can match Strong's experience in rebuilding a program in a short period of time.
I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Great coaches only need three years.
Passion for Coaching
I was looking for video clips of Charlie Strong getting fired up a few days ago. I just wanted to see his intensity for coaching young men.
The video to the right is what I found instead (drag to 0:58).
It may seem elementary, but after studying Strong's resume and examining his coaching talents, that short video clip was all that I needed to see to know he was the man for Tennessee. That level of dedication to a job, a program and a school is exactly what the Volunteers need.
Before the Volunteers leave the locker room, they hit a sign that says, "I will give my all for Tennessee today!"
You know his SEC credentials and have heard of his head coaching prowess. Is there any question that Strong wouldn't give his all for Tennessee everyday?
Charlie Strong, you have the endorsement of the Tennessee Featured Columnists.