Charlie Strong checked into Nick Saban's halfway house for coaches. It worked. | D'Angelo

Tom D'Angelo
Palm Beach Post

CORAL GABLES — It was 2020, and time for an intervention. Time for Charlie Strong to check into Nick Saban's Alabama halfway house for wandering coaches.

Strong was not your typical candidate, checking in after a solid 74-53 record as a head coach. A decade that included leading Louisville to 23 wins and two top 15 finishes in his final two years, three sub-.500 seasons at Texas and three years at South Florida in which he was 21-16.

A rising star in the coaching ranks suddenly a defensive analyst and on the couch in Tuscaloosa where he was sharing an office with another coach looking to rehabilitate his career, Mike Stoops.

"Your role was to learn, reaffirm, listen, offer advice," he said.

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Spending a year observing the greatest ever to walk a college football sideline reaffirmed Strong's belief that a man whose coaching career is entering his fourth decade still has a clue as to what it takes to develop and teach young men the game of football.

Charlie Strong was not ready to draw up his final game plan.

And Mario Cristobal stepped in to double-down on that epiphany.

Charlie Strong, then the head coach at Texas, speaks during a news conference in August 2015 in Austin, Texas.

"After being a head coach you go to a place like that and you see the success coach Saban has had, it kind of opened my eyes because I did some of the same things," Strong said. "I just didn't get the results he got."

Strong, 61, then remembered something a friend once told him:

Don't you ever think you were not a good head coach. Things didn't work out for you like it has for other people. But if you look at what you have accomplished it's nothing (to be ashamed of). 

Strong's 40 years include three head coaching stops plus one game as the interim head coach at Florida, a loss in the 2004 Peach Bowl after Ron Zook was fired. Strong had four different stints at Florida totaling 15 years.

The Arkansas native's strength is defense, which is where Cristobal believes he can help as UM's co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

Charlie Strong calls out a play from the sideline during his time as South Florida's head coach during the 2018 season.

Strong has coached every position on defense except the secondary, and was the DC at Florida for five years. He was the Jacksonville Jaguars' assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach last season.

"He's invaluable," Cristobal said last week. "His ability to communicate, to relate, establish relationships. He's just a great teacher and connector. ... And he holds guys to high standards. He's done it as a head coach, as a coordinator."

Now he's part of a high-profile staff Cristobal has assembled ("It's a little surreal to have guys like that on our staff," Cristobal says) with Miami going all in, especially financially, to put an end to nearly two decades of mediocrity. Strong is comfortable in his role and not looking at this job as a way to wriggle his way back to the top.

"When you know this is what I have accepted and this is what I am going to do then it's a job," he said. "And you just go do your job. I don't have an ego and it's not like I walk and in and say, 'I got to be in charge.'

"I know my role and I've accepted that role. So now you have a chance to help someone else ... I'm someone he can lean on if he comes to me and I can help him."

Strong was hired after longtime respected defensive coach Kevin Steele joined the staff, giving Miami two high-powered coordinators. Manny Diaz held the position last year, along with being head coach, and the results were disappointing. Although the yards allowed (389.6) improved by about 19 per game, Miami fell from 67th nationally in 2020 to 75th last year.

Now, players are talking about more demanding practices that are more physical and players being held to a higher standard when it comes to accountability. Some of that will be tested Saturday at noon when Miami concludes spring practice with its Spring Game in Fort Lauderdale.

"Anything he says our ears are open," linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. said about Strong. "We're all dialed in. He stays in our ear about going to class, just being the same guy on and off the field. Just practice how you carry yourself all the time."