After fielding an offer from Tennessee, Charlie Strong decided to stay at UofL. The Cards’ head football coach has compiled a 24-14 record in three seasons.
He will coach UofL in just the second Bowl Championship Series game in school history when the Cardinals take on No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
Strong dodged questions about his future, refusing to commit on Monday of last week, but by Thursday had made up his mind. He and his representative are negotiating a contract extension that will make him one of the top 10 highest-paid coaches in college football.
KENT TAYLOR: How can we be sure that this is not something that will come up every year, that this is more of a long-term decision?
CHARLIE STRONG: I hope it’s not something that will come up every year. The thing has really grown bigger than I ever imagined that it would be. I think the national news took it and then everyone else took it, but I just hate what I took our players through. We’re trying to get ready to go play a bowl game and I did not want that much attention on me.
TAYLOR: Who did you talk to as you were weighing the decision?
STRONG: What I did is I just turned that phone off because you get so many phone calls and most of the time those guys are asking you to hire them. They’re not concerned about your decision, they’re worried about, if you go take that job, will you take me with you? We just sat down as a family and my wife and daughters, and it was just a family decision. You take so much into account, you talk about your coaching staff, you talk about your administrative staff, you talk about everyone in this building and how you affect their lives also.
A lot of times you let your ego get in the way, you kind of sit there and think, you know what I could go into that conference and I probably could go beat this team, I could go beat this team, but you kind of let your ego get in the way. Then you start thinking about, you know, it’s not about that, it’s about people and it’s about how you affect their lives.
TAYLOR: When you made the decision, what changes were made in your contract – were years added, how much more money?
STRONG: You know what, Kent, I haven’t even discussed it. I know some people say, he got a contract extension, Tom and I really haven’t sat down and talked about that contract. I really don’t even know yet, more important for me, I just want to make sure my assistant coaches are taken care of. How much is enough? I’m fine, I just want to make sure that they are well compensated for the job that they do.
TAYLOR: You were emotional at your introductory news conference. You had waited so long for that opportunity, and then you said on the “Jim Rome Show” that you weren’t “cut like that,” when he asked you about leaving for the Arkansas job. Then you kind of got emotional when you announced you were staying. What draws out that emotion – a sense of loyalty?
STRONG: It’s about being loyal and it’s about when you make a statement, who you really are and your character and your integrity. When you make those statements, you have to be true to those statements.
TAYLOR: You guys have talked a lot about how next year was the year you thought would be the big one. Is the Sugar Bowl kind of like the first game of next year, setting the stage for that run?
STRONG: This kind of kicks it off because you are into a new year. You get this game and you’re playing against a really good football team. It’s just going to show just how far, let us know, just gauge who we are right now, just how far away we are from being one of those elite programs.
TAYLOR: How important was it to get the ACC invitation before signing day in February?
STRONG: It’s big for the recruits because the recruits can look at it now and see you’re in the ACC. It’s so funny how things are, how young people are and the way they look at things and what’s really said. Now they say, “Oh now you’re in a real conference.” It’s good that we can push that out of the way, so recruiting-wise we have a conference that you can really talk about and this is who your competition is and this is who you are going to be competing against.
TAYLOR: When you were at Florida, your final game there, you guys played the Big East champ, Cincinnati, in the Sugar Bowl. Were you all worried about the Florida players overlooking Cincinnati since they were a Big East school?
STRONG: I tell you what happened with that game because it’s different the situation that Florida is in. When we were going in to play Cincinnati, we had just lost to Alabama. It was so different, not that I’m knocking Cincinnati, but it was the seniors’ last game, you’re looking at (Tim) Tebow, you’re looking at (Takeo) Spikes. It was a group of seniors, probably like 16, that it was their last day, so you knew they were going to perform well. What’s different is that players do, they do, they look at your schedule and they look at who you played, probably the only team that we played that they are going to be familiar with is Kentucky, because that’s the only opponent that the two of us have played.
TAYLOR: When I asked you last year, when you were in the running for a BCS game, you kind of laughed a little bit – now can you believe that you are in a BCS bowl with this team, this year?
STRONG: Well with this team this year you look at the way we started off, you’re 9-0, you felt like you had a really good football team. That was our whole goal, to have a winning season and get to a big bowl game, and our players all talked about it, we need to get in a BCS bowl, and now they’re here, they’re getting ready to go play a really good opponent.
TAYLOR: What improvements would you like to see?
STRONG: At the end of the season, I can sit down with our A.D., and I think Tom will do anything I ask and it’s going to be some things that we need to get done and get this program where it needs to (be).
TAYLOR: What would you like to see from fans – you have been at SEC schools with the huge crowds, you guys played Connecticut with the Big East title on the line, you’re 9-1 and the announced crowd was just shy of 46,000?
STRONG: You want the passion from the fans and you want the support. I tell you this and this frustrated me more than anything, and we have great fans here, but when we came here on “Senior Day,” for the Connecticut game, we get off the bus and I don’t care what time “Card March” is, I mean, heck, if it’s 8 o’clock in the morning, it’s 8 o’clock in the morning, but no one came out, and for that to be the seniors, we had a few people, we had the real fans out there, I’m not saying we didn’t have anyone, but you would like to just see more fans come out. I know I heard, it’s new, it’s not new, if you support your program, you support your program. We have fans here that do support the program.