As FIU's first head football coach, Don Strock brought plenty of first-hand experience as a player, coach and sports enthusiast to the Golden Panthers program.
In 2002, FIU completed its inaugural season with a 5-6 mark, which ranked among the best starts for any new Division I-AA program since 1991. Only Robert Morris, based in Pittsburgh, won more games in its inaugural season among the eight schools to debut in the previous decade. Afterwards, the Internet service Dopke.com named FIU as its Independent I-AA Team of the Year.
Strock then saw six of his Golden Panthers selected to the first-team All-Independent squad, tied for the most of any of the eight schools playing I-AA Independent football. In addition, two of that year’s stars, quarterback Jamie Burke and defensive back Nick Turnbull, were the only two freshmen in the nation nominated for All-America honors by The Sports Network.
Strock painstakingly built a program that he hoped would gain the national stage, and he gained national recognition. In December 2005, ESPN.com named him its Sun Belt Coach of the Year after leading the Golden Panthers to a 5-6 record and a fourth-place league finish.
On December 4, 2003, the university announced that its fledgling football program would begin transition from NCAA Division I-AA to I-A in the Sun Belt Conference—the fastest transformation in the history of the NCAA.
Strock, who was named the university’s director of football operations in 1999 and head coach on Sept. 13, 2000, led the charge before the Florida Board of Regents to obtain approval for the program in May 2000.
A veteran quarterback most remembered for his play with the Miami Dolphins, Strock started only 20 games in Miami, but emerged as the team’s relief specialist. His most memorable moment came on January 2, 1982, when he entered the game with the Dolphins trailing, 24-0, and then rallied the team before falling short, 41-38, in overtime to the San Diego Chargers. That was not only the league’s highest-scoring playoff game, but also the only game in NFL history where two quarterbacks, Strock and San Diego star Dan Fouts, both passed for over 400 yards.
A Dolphin for 14 seasons from 1974 through 1987, Strock connected on 388-of-688 passes for 4,613 yards and 39 touchdowns and received much credit for the development of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, early in his illustrious playing career.
Despite spending almost his entire career as a backup, Strock is in the franchise’s top five in most career passing categories, including yards, touchdown passes, attempts, completions and consecutive completions. He is fourth in Miami Dolphin team history—behind Marino but ahead of Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese—in career completion percentage (56.4).
A fifth-round selection of the Miami Dolphins in 1973, Strock spent one year each with Cleveland (1988) and Indianapolis (1989). His 17-year NFL career places him in the top-10 list of longevity for a quarterback.
Strock’s lifetime statistics include 443 completions on 779 attempts for 5,349 yards, 45 touchdowns and 42 interceptions. He was involved in the NFL postseason 12 times and played in three Super Bowls (1974, 1983 and 1985).
At Cleveland, Strock joined the team in a reserve role, but was called upon to help guide the Browns to the playoffs in an unusual season of quarterback injuries. He started two of four games in 1988 and was one of four starters at quarterback as Bernie Kosar, Mike Pagel and Gary Danielson were all injury casualties. Strock signed with Indianapolis in 1989, but his role was limited.
Strock began his coaching career in 1993 with Miami of the Arena Football League, guiding the team to a 5-7 record and the playoffs. In 1994, he joined the Massachusetts Marauders (AFL), taking them to an 8-4 mark and the playoffs. Strock was offensive coordinator/quarterback coach of the Rhein Fire of the World League in 1995.
He spent the next three seasons (1996-98) as quarterbacks’ coach of the Baltimore Ravens, where, in 1996, he oversaw the second-best passing attack in the NFL and was given much credit in the career turnaround of veteran quarterback Vinnie Testaverde.
Strock's coaching persona does not emulate any one of his former coaches, but he says he has taken something from each one of them in molding his own leadership style.
“They’ve all been such great influences on me,” Strock said. “Don Shula taught me organization and I picked up the analytical end of the game mostly from Ted Marchibroda. Galen Hall in the World Football League taught me patience. Guys were coming and going every day in that league yet he was patient enough to stay with a plan and get the job done. Marty Schottenheimer was a players’ coach who taught me how to relate.
“Every one of these coaches had his own philosophy but the one thing they all preached was to give 100 percent on every play. They were all different people, but they all had the philosophy of surrounding the ball, going 100 miles per hour and if you make a mistake, continue to go all out. Nothing good happens when you go half speed. That philosophy is sound, and that’s the way I believe in doing things.
“My coaching philosophy is simple. Play as hard as you can for 60 minutes, no matter what the score, and good things are bound to happen.”
Strock’s outstanding college career involved a pass-oriented offense at Virginia Tech. There, he completed 628 of 1,174 attempts (53.5%) for 6,009 yards that still stands as Tech’s career best. Strock led the nation in passing as a senior with 3,243 yards (VT’s all-time season record), made an appearance at the Hula Bowl and was voted Outstanding Offensive Player, and later to the Hall of Fame, at the Blue-Gray Classic.
He also held the Virginia Tech single-game passing record of 527 yards accomplished against the University of Houston in 1972. Following his senior season, the Associated Press named Strock to its All-America third team.
Strock earned a bachelor’s degree in distributive education from VT. He attended Owen J. Roberts High School in Pottstown, Pa., where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. Strock and his wife, Debby, reside in Weston, Fla.