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Run, Charlie, Run: Why Charlie Strong Should Have Left Louisville

Category: College Football Coaching News, Editorial

Mario Cristobal was fired from Florida International today. Yes, you read that correctly. Mario Cristobal, the same coach who turned the FIU program around, who just last year turned down the Rutgers job (the same school whose coach, Greg Schiano, left for an NFL position, and the school that is now headed to the Big Ten), who was nearly offerred the Pitt job, the man from Miami who is the first Cuban-American Division 1 head coach was fired by the Miami school.

Cristobal took over a struggling FIU program in 2007 and finished his first season as head coach 1-11. He improved with 5 and 3 wins the next two seasons before going 7-6 in 2010 and taking his team to it’s first ever bowl game. A year later, he improved to 8-5 with another bowl game. And after a setback this past season, he was fired.

The moral to the story: If you are a head coach, do not, and I mean do not ever pass on a job opening that would be an improvement to your resume and your wallet. You are a certified moron if you dare to hold out for something better or even worse, enjoy your current job and have pride in the school where you work.

Since there is no loyalty by the universities, so there is no need for any loyalty from the coaches.

Fans often complain about coaches who move from one job to another. They cry about the lack of loyalty. Even the media will get involved, like so many did about with Todd Graham, who left Pittsburgh after 1 year to take the Arizona St. job. But if after 1 year, a factory worker in Topeka gets an opportunity to almost double his salary by moving to Omaha for a job, it’s considered a positive.

In college sports, specifically college football and college basketball, it’s a fine line. If you leave too early, you’re a flight risk. If you stay longer than you should and get fired, you are branded as a “retread”.

This “retread” stigma leaves a coach have only 2 options:
1) Take a head coaching job at a lower recognized program, perform well, and get another head coaching shot years down the road
2) Take an assistant coach position at a high recognized program and hope that you get a second chance in the future

In the first scenario, it’s easy to point out some instances when it has worked well. But it’s rare. Most of the time, if a coach takes a step down in a conference or program stature, say, from being a Big Ten head coach to a MAC head coach, he does not have the type of resources to take his new program anywhere near the levels of the higher budget school. Do you think Frank Solich planned to still be at Ohio after being fired at Nebraska in 2003. Of course not. He’d much rather be at the helm of Big Ten or Big 12 caliber program contending for a national title.

When a fired coach instead takes a job as an assistant at another top school, even that path isn’t a sure one to regain your stature. Joker Phillips was fired at Kentucky and has now moved on to Florida as an assistant. Do you think a program like Nebraska would ever come after him? Or course not. Would South Alabama? Sure. So all the demotion path does is help to give a once fired coach some cache to get a head coaching job at a lower statured program. So the second scenario actually is just a precursor for the first.


All this leads to one thing: if you are a college football coach, leave while you can. 

When you take a new job, you usually will buy yourself 3 years to prove your worth, unless your name is Ellis Johnson, who was fired this year at Southern Mississippi after 1 season as coach.

Leave while you can, as you will only increase your value. You will get paid more money giving you and your family more security. But most of all, you will raise your Q score, keeping you as a buzz name in the coaching world. Best of all, when you leave to take a new job, you’ll have those first 2 years to give the impression of being a “Rebuilder” since you had to take the job over from someone else who wasn’t performing at a high enough level. Then in year 3, you can move on to yet another new job saying that you were getting too comfortable in working with what you had built and miss the blue collar mentality of building something from scratch.


The only survival these days for a college coach is in moving when the iron is hot.

For this reason, we can say that Charlie Strong is making a mistake is he doesn’t leverage his success at Louisville to turn it into a higher paying job with more exposure elsewhere. Sure, Louisville is headed for the ACC, an improvement over the Big East. But it’s still the ACC…not exactly at the football stature of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 or even the Pac-12. But with all the risk thanks to some stronger annual opponents.

It’s easy to look at Florida International’s dismissal of Mario Cristobal and blame it just on a university that has a record of doing some strange things. Remember, this is the same school that hired Isiah Thomas as their basketball coach. But Cristobal, a Miami native, had an 8-5 record at FIU just last year…and he was fired. Ellis Johnson got only 1 season to try to keep Southern Miss afloat after Larry Fedora left of North Carolina. That’s the trend now, the whole “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

And for Charlie Strong, who is to say his future would be any better. Louisville finished with only 2 losses in the Big East…a weak Big East this year. In moving to the ACC, the level of competition will be much higher…if not for the top ACC football programs like Florida St., Clemson and Georgia Tech, but also because, well, the ACC will now have 6 of it’s members being former Big East members…and it’s not like the ACC invited the worst of the Big East, they have selected the best.

Things can only go downhill for Charlie Strong if he stays at Louisville. The optimists can look at his 2-loss season and say “he might have 1 or 0 loss seasons in the future”. Sure. Could happen. But odds are, it won’t. And fast forward a few years from now and Charlie Strong will be back at Florida as an assistant, waiting for his chance to get another head coaching job…likely as the replacement at FIU for whomever the next fired coach is there.


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  • Problem is that the industry has changed. Coaches used to have 5+ years to coach and turn things around. Then it was 3 years in the 2000’s. Now it’s 1 BAD year and you are out: see Auburn, USM, FIU, etc

  • Mack Brown started as a HC at Tulane. He left after three years with a bowl team and a 6-6 record (6-7) if you count the bowl loss. He went to UNC and stayed 10 years before going to Texas. He’s just an example of a guy who stayed long enough for a better gig then built something comfortable until a real cushy job came around. Perhaps the same thing is at work here? Stay at Louisville (not a bad job, the school is committed to athletics and spends money on sports) until a primo job comes up (like Florida).


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