Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Emotional Strong grateful for Louisville chance
By Brian Bennett
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The moment that will be remembered from Charlie Strong's introductory news conference as the new Louisville head coach came when he was asked if he thought this day would ever come.
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeFormer Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong was very emotional at his first news conference as the new Louisville head coach.
Strong has been a highly respected assistant for years, spending the last six years as the defensive coordinator at Florida. Yet despite several interviews for jobs, the 49-year-old had never gotten an opportunity before now. He had described the moment when Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich offered him the job as "so emotional" for both him and his wife, Victoria.
Strong paused. He tapped his right hand on the podium as camera shutters clicked away. His voice broke. And he cried.
"You just never knew if it would happen," he said.
It's clear that this is a guy grateful to finally get a chance. The only question is why it took so long.
"Makes no sense," athletic director Tom Jurich said when asked why Strong hadn't been hired before.
Louisville is happy he was still available. Jurich said several players had come by his office in the past week or so after Steve Kragthorpe had been fired. The only candidate they wanted to talk about was Strong. That's understandable. Strong has been a part of two national championship teams and led a Gators defense this year that finished in the top five nationally in most statistical categories. He's coached under Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz and Urban Meyer.
"Just knowing we have a coach from a winning program, someone who's going to come in and win games, makes everything a lot better," receiver Doug Beaumont said.
Strong -- who agreed to a five-year deal worth $1.6 million annually -- has never been a head coach but brings instant credibility. Jurich said he followed Strong closely for the past three years. He talked to many people about his main candidate -- everyone from Meyer and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to Tony Dungy, Bill Polian and Mike Shanahan -- and couldn't find anyone to say a negative word.
"I've always felt this was a blue-collar job," Jurich said. "And I think he is the perfect, perfect individual to not only coach this team but lead this team."
Of course, Strong was announced in the same room where Kragthorpe was introduced less than three years ago. The mood that day was celebratory, as the Cardinals were coming off an Orange Bowl victory and Kragthorpe spoke about wanting to coach his entire career in Louisville. Things were a little more subdued on Wednesday, as Jurich admitted the Cardinals -- who went 15-23 under Kragthorpe --have "a lot of obstacles and a lot of work to do."
But Louisville believes it has found its man to undertake this rebuilding project. And Strong is incredibly happy for the chance.