STORIN: Doors seem set to open for Louisville football coach Charlie Strong

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 2, 2014 

There are 70 teams that made it to 35 college bowl games this year, but none is more intriguing than Louisville and at the center of it all is Charlie Strong.

The Cardinals' 53-year-old coach is not a household name in the college game yet, but he soon will be. And don't be surprised if the NFL comes calling someday.

The mystery to me is what took so long.

Strong's reputation as a defensive coach, recruiter, strategist, and mentor was established as he worked for Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer among others. He coached everywhere from Florida to Texas A-M to Southern Illinois to Mississippi to Notre Dame to South Carolina and back to Florida.

Yet even after his Gators defense shutdown Ohio State (2006) and Oklahoma (2008) in BCS championship games Strong, the first black coordinator in the Southeastern Conference, was passed over for numerous head coaching vacancies.

There was talk that his interracial marriage didn't sit well with the good-old-boy boosters and administrators.

That changed in 2010 when Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich decided to give him the opportunity.

"It was baffling to me that for 20-something years he could be passed over," Jurich said, prior to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando last week.

When Louisville routed Miami, 36-9, it marked the second time in two years that the Cardinals had beaten a Florida team in a bowl game. Last January, Louisville upset third ranked Gators, 33-23, in the Sugar Bowl.

What is so ironic about this is that Strong has out-recruited the Hurricanes and Gators in South Florida, an area with a wealth of talented high school players. The plum, of course, was quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, now projected as a first-round NFL draft pick.

Bridgewater was just one of 23 South Floridians on the Louisville team that went 12-1 this season.

With that kind of recruiting, it is no surprise that last year Tennessee and a couple of other colleges tried to lure Strong away from Louisville.

Strong admitted to SI.com that the fact that the Cardinals are moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year was instrumental in keeping him in Kentucky.

Of course, it probably didn't hurt when Jurich made Strong one of the 10 highest paid college coaches at $3.7 million a year. And he also boosted the salaries of the top assistant coaches.

"We're going to do everything within our power to keep them," Jurich said. "I was prepared to match anyone. Probably the only people I can't compete with are the NFL."

If a Sports Illustrated report is true, Jurich may be tested very soon by Texas, which is looking to replace Mack Brown as head coach. SI claims that Longhorns AD Steve Patterson met with Strong at an undisclosed location on Tuesday to discuss one of the top jobs in college football.

However, Strong is heavily committed to Jurich, the man who finally gave him his chance to be a head coach.

"It's all about, is your AD or your university providing you with every resource possible to be successful?" Strong said last month. "Tom Jurich will."

A relatively weak regular season schedule and an upset loss to Central Florida, 38-35, kept Louisville from being ranked higher in the polls in 2013.

Moving into the ACC next fall will take care of the schedule part.

The question will be: Now that they've handled Florida and Miami, can the Cardinals compete with the reigning giant of the Sunshine State--Florida State?

In the end, the answer may lie deep in the heart of Texas.

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