December can be a crazy month for college football coaches. Charlie Strong knows that as well as anyone.
He's a successful coach. He's also black.
The combination of success and race once made him one of the most sought-after interviews in the country at this time of year. His dilemma: How real was the interest?
Interviewing a black candidate isn't just a matter of political correctness. Schools are actually graded by the Black Coaches Association, whose reason for being is to improve job opportunities for minority coaches.
But the BCA's good intentions actually can work to the disadvantage of a black coach as successful as Strong, whose name has been mentioned prominently with the coaching vacancy at Tennessee. When he was a defensive coordinator at Florida, he was an obvious coach for a school to interview — just to cover itself with the BCA.
Now, after just winning a Big East Conference championship at Louisville, Strong is more than an appropriate interview. He's a viable candidate for more prestigious jobs.
When his name first came up in conjunction with Tennessee, I dismissed it — mainly because Strong has only three years of head-coaching experience. But after examining his resume more closely and speaking with people who know him, I can understand why Tennessee's interest would extend beyond the interview stage.
Strong has had three consecutive winning seasons at Louisville, no small feat given the state of the program when he took charge. He didn't have the advantage of picking up where Bobby Petrino left off — in a BCS bowl. He followed Steve Kragthorpe, who went 6-6, 5-7 and 4-8 in his three seasons.
Don't judge Strong based solely on what he did at Louisville, though. Consider his accomplishments at Florida, where he was a defensive coordinator under both Ron Zook and Urban Meyer.
People familiar with his work there tout him as a great recruiter and motivator, as well as having a strong locker room presence. Those same people believe Tim Tebow wasn't Florida's only huge loss after the 2009 season. That's also when Strong left for Louisville. The Gators then plummeted from 13-1 to 8-5.
Strong's supposed strengths stack up neatly alongside UT's deficiencies.
He's a defensive coach. UT just fielded the worst defense in school history.
His ability to recruit talent-rich Florida hasn't been impaired by his move to Louisville, which has 33 Florida players on its roster. A paucity of in-state major-college prospects has long forced UT to rely on regional and national recruiting.
He has a reputation for setting high standards and enforcing them. UT has a recent track record of coddling star players.
One more thing: After three consecutive losing seasons and with the daunting schedules to come, UT offers a huge challenge. That might appeal to a coach who had to wait so long for a head-coaching job and who wants to show more than one school what they missed.
Louisville's football prominence has been enhanced by its decision to leave the Big East for the ACC. But it's still a basketball school in a basketball conference.
You want to prove yourself as a college football coach? Go to the SEC.
Better yet, go to a program as down as Tennessee's.