Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reports Charlie Strong is staying at Louisville despite interest from Tennessee. Keeping Strong in the fold is another positive in a week that suggests Louisville is building to become a football power.
The Cardinals worked into the top tier of the new postseason system with its move into the ACC, then capitalized on its existing place in the Big East by winning its conference championship. Louisville is headed to the Sugar Bowl, the conference’s second BCS appearance in six years. The last time the Cardinals reached the BCS, they lost head coach Bobby Petrino to more lucrative possibilities.
Tom Jurich was steadfast in not allowing that particular lightning to strike twice. An earlier Courier-Journal report said Jurich was prepared to make the third-year Cardinal head coach the most handsomely paid sideline general in all college football. That’s quite a promise — and, if Strong is indeed turning down the opportunity to coach one of the game’s most storied programs in the most celebrated conference, it would appear Jurich backs up his talk.
Top tier money demands top tier results. A great example is former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, who had just two losing seasons in his decade as Golden Bears’ head coach. He was the program’s all-time wins leader, but he was also the state of California’s highest paid employee. As Cal languished in mediocrity, that title became as prominently attached to him as “coach.”
A Sugar Bowl appearance cannot be the laurel on which Strong rests, lest his hypothetical contract similarly linger at the forefront. The bar is set, but Strong has shown the makeup of a leader ready to take that next step.
Strong proved his Xs and Os acumen as defensive coordinator at Florida, overseeing some of the most aggressive and productive units in the nation. He’s also exhibited his ability to handle the CEO-like role that is being a head coach. When Louisville was struggling offensively early in the 2011 campaign, he was decisive in replacing coordinator Mike Sanford with Shawn Watson. The move powered the Cardinals to a second bowl game, and was integral in this year’s team winning the Big East.
Watson’s guidance allowed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to thrive. He passed for 25 touchdowns and completed 69 percent of his attempts in his sophomore season, and looks very much like a player worthy of 2013 Heisman talk this offseason. Bridgewater’s very presence on the roster is further testament to Strong’s potential; the coach scored a major recruiting coup in luring out of the Sunshine State.
Continuing to establish a pipeline into Florida is a key to Louisville’s future success. The move to the ACC can’t hurt on that front, giving the Cardinals games against two of the state’s three most prominent programs.
Louisville may not yet be a college football power, but the commitment to reaching that status is very much there.