As sure as the colder weather, the smell of Thanksgiving turkey and the re-appearance of Dick Vitale, college football fans know the offseason is almost here when the Charlie Strong job rumors begin to circulate.
Strong, the former South Carolina and current Florida defensive coordinator, seems to be linked to at least one job every year.
The next step is for an athletics director to hire him.
Days before the Gators won their second national championship in a three-year span in January, Strong, a 49-year-old black man, finally said what long has been whispered: He believes his interracial marriage has factored in getting passed over for jobs, including one in the Southeast a few years ago.
"Everybody always said I didn't get that job because my wife is white," Strong told The Orlando Sentinel. "If you think about it, a coach is standing up there representing the university. If you're not strong enough to look through that (interracial marriage), then you have an issue."
Strong, a 27-year coaching veteran who has worked for Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz and Urban Meyer, has interviewed for six head-coaching vacancies, including three after the 2001 season when he was at USC.
Those schools - Vanderbilt, California and Kansas - hired Bobby Johnson, Jeff Tedford and Mark Mangino, all of whom are still at the schools. Meanwhile, Strong has grown accustomed to always being a candidate, never the (head) coach.
He was linked this week to Memphis after Tommy West was fired. Spurrier, who had Strong on his Florida staff from 1991-94, said Strong deserves a head-coaching position.
"That's great," Strong told The Sentinel when asked about the public support. "But we just have to wait for it to happen."
Meyer, who worked with Strong on Holtz's Notre Dame staff in the mid-1990s, said he would "hate to think" race has kept Strong from getting hired as a head coach.
"Obviously, he's one of my closest friends. I would hope not. But I don't live that," Meyer said. "I know it certainly plays no part at the University of Florida."
Strong has further strengthened his reputation as one of the country's top defensive coaches since returning to Florida in 2003.
In last season's BCS championship game victory against Oklahoma, Strong's defense held the highest-scoring offense in college football history to 14 points (40 below the Sooners' season average) and 363 total yards (nearly 200 below their average).
The Gators have held opponents to a touchdown or less eight times during their 19-game win streak, and they lead the nation this year in scoring defense (allowing 10.1 points per game) and pass efficiency defense.
Florida is second nationally in total defense with 232.4 yards allowed - a half-yard behind Texas - and pass defense (134.4 yards).
"Charlie's developed into an excellent defensive coordinator, one of the best in the country," Spurrier said this week. "They do the zone blitzes and they disguise well, play a little man-to-man. ... Charlie Strong deserves one of those head coaching jobs coming open."
When he was at USC, Strong spent one Saturday during an offseason going through a mock interview process with Holtz and former athletics director Mike McGee.
In many respects, McGee said Strong is better positioned in his current role than he would be as the coach of a rebuilding program.
"I think he may have a better job than a head coach," McGee said. "Where he is, I think folks would be hard-pressed to separate him from Florida. He's had a wonderful experience there."
But Strong would like to join the small fraternity of black men coaching at college football's highest level. This year there are just nine black coaches among the 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A).
There have been rumblings that Strong, who has never been outgoing with the media and declined to be interviewed for this story, might not interview well. But that notion seems to contradict his reputation as a gifted and engaging recruiter.
USC tailback Brian Maddox said Strong was a "cool guy" when he recruited him for the Gators.
"Intense, tough - but a nice guy, too," Maddox said. "I enjoyed him recruiting me. We talked a lot. I was actually thinking about going to Florida down to the closing days of my decision."
It might be a simple matter of opportunity for Strong, who told ESPN.com in January that he did not receive a call about any of the coaching vacancies last offseason.
"I just have to work and continue to do this job right now," Strong told The Sentinel this week. "That's my whole focus is making sure the defense goes out and plays well and performs."
And hope someday an athletics director will call with a head-coaching offer.