LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It took eight years to get from that quote to the moment when Charlie Strong stood on a stage, smiling as an athletic director introduced him as a head coach. Why on earth did it take so long? Because Strong never wanted to be a cause. He only wanted to be a head coach.
That's why Strong rarely complained publicly after being passed over for job after job despite success as a defensive coordinator and recruiter. That's why, when
So even when Strong suspected several schools called him to be the token minority interview, he remained quiet and simply chose more carefully the jobs he pursued. Even when he was tempted to vent his frustration, he held back. After one speech to a Florida alumni association chapter last year, Strong, at that moment the architect of the reigning national champion's defense, gave a revealing interview to
Finally, he is.
After years spent proving himself at Notre Dame, South Carolina and Florida, Strong, 49, has been charged with reviving a Louisville program that was in the Orange Bowl a little more than three years ago, but hasn't been back to a bowl since. So what did Strong do the first time he met his new players? He gave them the oral equivalent of a zap from a set of defibrillator paddles.
"The last coaching staff was calm, mellow, easygoing," Cardinals quarterback
Reports from the Cardinals' early spring practices mentioned the push-ups Strong ordered to punish undisciplined play. "It was really up-downs," Strong said with a smile. Anyone who has endured a football practice understands the distinction. Up-downs -- or grass drills or belly busters or whatever your particular sadist-with-a-whistle called them -- are the secret weapon of every junior varsity high school coach who wants to separate the wheat from the chaff. Players run in place until a coach's command, upon which they hurl themselves into the ground and bounce back up, still running in place. Sound easy? Try 25. Then try not to jump offsides, because that'll cost you 25 more.
"More than anything, you want them to understand that this is who we are," Strong said. "We're not going to change."
Who will change? The Cardinals. As Strong and his staff instill discipline, they'll also work on the players' attitudes, which morphed from fearless under
Dungy probably didn't need to make the call to convince Jurich, who almost hired Strong away from South Carolina in December 2002. "When I hired Petrino, it was him and Charlie," Jurich said. "I went with Petrino because Bobby had been here and I was familiar with him and knew him. That was the only distinction."
When Petrino bolted for the Atlanta Falcons in January 2007, Jurich had little time to deliberate. He decided he wanted an experienced head coach, and few back then found anything to criticize about the hiring of Kragthorpe. After all, the man had worked wonders at Tulsa.
Strong, meanwhile, continued to get passed over. Aside from Louisville, he also interviewed at Cal, East Carolina, Kansas, Minnesota and Vanderbilt, and he was rumored to be a candidate at Kentucky when
There were rumors Strong was a bad interview. "He was a terrific interview for me," Jurich said.
There was also the issue of his marriage. Strong's wife,
Fortunately, Jurich has more faith in his boosters. "It never crossed my mind. The only thing that shocked me was how did he land her?" Jurich joked. "She's a beautiful lady, inside and out. How he put the hook in that one, I don't know."
Louisville's donors have embraced Strong, his wife and their two beautiful daughters. One such donor is renowned thoroughbred breeder
Strong's path to Louisville began in the mid-'90s when Holtz, then the head coach at Notre Dame, realized one of his best position coaches would make a fine head coach someday. So Holtz gave Strong a three-ring binder and told him to fill it with all the ideas he thought would make a football program successful. Then, when the time came to interview for a head-coaching job, Strong could pull out that binder and show an athletic director his blueprint for success.
The binder worked on Jurich. It's still packed away in a box after the Gainesville-to-Louisville move, but that's just as well. After all those years hunting a head-coaching job, Strong knows it by heart.
Somewhere in there is a section about hiring a staff that can coach and recruit. From Florida's staff, Strong cherry-picked
Until they can get their pipeline pumping, Strong and his staff will have to make do with a roster that went 4-8 last season with just one win in Big East play. The Cardinals finished last in the Big East last season in sacks and tackles for loss, and they return only two defenders (defensive tackle
Though the Cardinals' résumés are light, they do want to win. They all signed with Louisville expecting to play in BCS bowls, so they welcome Strong's attitude, even if it has caused a few more sore muscles. "There's no doubt in our minds that we're going to a bowl game," Froman said. "It's just which one."
Of course, Froman said, it's easy for a player to follow a coach when he sees him running in the pre-dawn hours or tossing up weights on the bench press. "He'll get in there in the weight room," Froman said, "and just put 315 [pounds] on the bar and start repping it out."
Strong's physical strength is surpassed only by the mental strength required to stay the course even when he couldn't get a fair shake in the interview process. Strong could have quit trying, or he could have started complaining. He did neither, because he didn't want to be a quitter or a complainer. He only wanted to be a head coach, and now that he is one, he's about to make a lot of people regret passing on him.
"It's probably just as well that he didn't get some of those others that came along," Hancock said. "This is the one that probably had his name on it from the beginning."