The anticipation, or more so the fear, has subsided. Coach Charlie Strong, the man who’s returned a program to its prime, has committed to the university that gave him his long-awaited, first opportunity at a head coaching job.
Not since LeBron’s infamous “Decision“ has a choice to stay or leave a team seemed so overplayed, dramatic and stressful. But, unlike King James, Strong chose loyalty in the end, over salary, the allure of the SEC conference or whatever other precious amenities the University of Tennessee was willing to offer.
In a press conference Thursday morning, Strong announced his “Decision“ before a room packed with the media – the same media who sang every speculative tune reported via the internet, TV and radio about Strong’s status last night, until finally Pete Thamel of “Sports Illustrated” unofficially put the rumors to rest, running with an unnamed Louisville source’s testament that Strong would remain a Card.
As Strong approached the podium today, everyone knew the answer to the one looming question hanging over Strong’s – and every Card fan’s – head. Addressing the crowd, his voice seemed to carry an air of increased confidence and poise, yet, at the same time, demonstrated a humble, reflective tone.
“This was a decision that was made with a few minutes of deliberation, as you know,” Strong said. “It was the toughest decision I ever had to make in my 29 years of coaching. It was a life decision for myself, my family and for my school.”
It was a life decision based on Strong’s personal values. Unlike a previous coach at the university who left for the NFL, then suffered a blow to his career at the University of Arkansas, Strong didn’t see a greener field on the other side of the fence.
I can’t entirely blame Petrino for his decision to try his hand in the National Football League after Louisville’s victory in the Orange Bowl in 2006. It was a choice I’m sure he grappled with, and one I’d probably make as a coach myself. What person wouldn’t dream of coaching at the top level if given the opportunity? You can’t blame someone for doing what makes him or her happy – or believes will make him or her happy at the time.
But enough about Petrino. Ultimately, Strong’s decision was based upon the very same principle: What would make him happy and his family happy?
Yet, Strong, being the man he is, wasn’t looking out solely for himself, his wife and his children. He considered the staff he’d assembled at Louisville, the players such as Teddy Bridgewater, who’d left Florida to follow Coach to the Bluegrass State. Strong also looked to the task at hand and how close UofL was to claiming uncharted territory for the program.
In three years, he’s taken a team from a losing record to a BCS Bowl game and a 10-2 record. There’s not much room for improvement with a resume like that. But, there is something the Cards have yet to accomplish: A National Championship.
Strong addressed the idea Thursday: “Leading to me isn’t about telling people what to do, its all about serving others. It’s about watching players come to college as grown boys and developing into men. When I thought about leaving, I kept going back (to) – we haven’t finished the job yet. We’re still growing together. We have a lot of work to do.”
By joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next year, Strong’s chance is even better now that ESPN and the BCS committee won’t be able to downplay the competition UofL faced in the Big East.
Next year certainly carries promise – even more so after Strong’s announcement today. For now, the Cards can refocus on the upcoming matchup against Strong’s former team, Florida, on Jan. 2 in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. Then, they can work toward an even brighter future the following season.
But, before all this attention surrounding Strong shifts back to the team and the Sugar Bowl, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge the individual behind the powerful Louisville squad’s athletic and academic success. (Let’s not forget the massive credit belonging to Athletic Director Tom Jurich, either. He’s the best in his business, absolutely no question about it.)
According to Strong’s bio on the university’s official athletic site, www.gocards.com, he’s brought energy and enthusiasm back to the Cardinals’ football program with his ability to motivate, teach and recruit at the highest level.
As an assistant coach for 27 years, winning two national titles, Strong has a clear vision of rebuilding the Cardinals’ football program based on character, hard work and honor. Since coming to Louisville, Strong has also emphasized the importance of succeeding in the classroom. His teams have earned over a 2.5 GPA in every semester that he has been the head coach.
Strong’s also, in general, known as an overall good guy, which makes it that much easier to root for him. Even had he chosen to leave, I’d have remained on the “Strong side.” You can’t hate on a man who demonstrates qualities you’d hope most any other football coach would not only adopt but foster in his own team.
Strong’s closing statement during the press conference may best reflect his admirable character. Standing at the podium Thursday morning, he slowed his speech a bit to emphasize the sincerity and profoundness of his message:
“I close with this paraphrase by Steve McCovey. ‘You can buy a person a lot, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm is,’” his voice overcome with emotion, “‘where his loyalty is,’” he continued. “My enthusiasm and heart are with the University of Louisville.”
There you have it CardNation – Strong is here to stay. Thrown into a wave of speculation and hounding by the press, he stood firm in his faith in the Cards, Jurich’s faith in him and the people of Louisville’s faith in the entire UofL program. All Strong desires now is an extra show of support, not necessarily to him, but to his team, if you wouldn’t mind.
I think after today he’s proven he and the Cards deserve every bit of it.