If you have lost faith in the state of college football, with coaches on the go from one place to another in search of more money,Charlie Strong is here to calm your nerves.
Strong held what can probably be best described as an emotional press conference Thursday morning to confirm his loyalty to Louisville, explaining why he decided to stay with the Cardinals instead of moving on to Tennessee. Reports yesterday suggested Strong was mulling the decision to stick with Louisville, fresh off a Big East championship and BCS berth or take over Tennessee, a program willing to shell out some significant money to have Strong lead a revitalization project for a once-proud football program.
When it came time to make a decision on his coaching future, Strong reflected on the support and faith many had in him. That support spanned from his boss, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich to the city of Louisville.
“The city of Louisville has believed in me from Day One,” Strong said. But it was the support he received from Jurich from the start that seemed to mean the most to Strong in his decision-making process. Jurich believed in Strong’s plans for the program, one that suffered back-to-back losing seasons following a 6-6 year under Steve Kragthorpe, who replaced Bobby Petrino. Nobody expected Louisville to turn things around as quickly as they did. Louisville was picked to finish last in the Big East in Strong’s first season on the job, and I can recall vividly Strong’s reaction at his first Big East media day as Louisville’s head coach.
“I’ve never been picked last in anything,” Strong said that summer of 2010. “I don’t like it.”
That statement alone was all I needed to hear to believe Louisville hired the right guy. As it turned out, Louisville put together a surprising 7-6 season in his first season, capped by a win in the Beef ‘O Brady’s Bowl. Louisville finished 7-6 again last season and this season captured the first Big East crown since Petrino led them to the Orange Bowl in the 2006 season.
“The Big East championship trophy we got back last week is as much Tom’s as it is the team’s and players,” Strong said of last week’s Big East BCS berth-clinching game against Rutgers. Strong mentioned Jurich had an “unwavering loyalty in me and my vision.” That relationship seems to have been a driving force in Strong staying committed to the program moving forward.
“I was 9-10, and (Jurich) hands me an extension. … How do you walk away from someone who trusts and believes in you?” Strong asked rhetorically.
“When I thought about leaving, I kept going back,” Strong said. “We haven’t finished the job yet.”
Louisville recently announced they will be moving in to the ACC in 2014 and funding and support for the football program has never been better for what is commonly referred to as a basketball school. An upgrade in facilities has helped Louisville continue to compete at a higher level, and if it is able to find a stable conference environment in the ACC that should continue to be the case for the Cardinals.
“I knew this was a big opportunity. But when I thought about all those people across Louisville I’d come across the past few years, as I talked with my family, it became crystal clear that I needed to stay,” Strong said as his voice cracked throughout his morning speech.
The coach also shared some of what he said to his players when he made the decision to stay put.
“I told them we would be a family,” Strong said. “We would grow together.”
“A lot of you guys grew up without a father figure and a lot of people have walked out of your life… I just couldn’t do that.”
Strong restored my faith in humanity among college football coaches. I only imagine that is how many following the sport, regardless of whether or not they care about Louisville football, feel the same way.