Charlie Strong has University of Louisville football off to the first 9-0 start in school history. The Cards have climbed to No. 9 in the Bowl Championship Series standings this week and are poised to play in a lucrative BCS Bowl game for just the second time in school history. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw five touchdown passes in their 45-17 win over Temple last Saturday. UofL visits Syracuse this Saturday at noon. The defection of West Virginia to the Big XII has given the national pundits the impression that a watered down Big East is not deserving of consideration to play for the national title. UofL is one of just six unbeaten teams remaining in major college football. I sat down with Coach Strong to talk about the latest developments.
KENT TAYLOR: You moved up to No. 9 in the BCS standings this week but are behind two SEC teams with two losses – what is your reaction?
CHARLIE STRONG: The way I look at it is that we don’t control that. I have nothing to do with it. The only thing our team can do for the rest of this year is continue to play well and just play it out.
TAYLOR: Do you deserve to be in the national championship conversation?
STRONG: At the end of the season, you’ll see where you’re going to end up. We cannot worry about that; our focus right now has to be Syracuse.
TAYLOR: How many times have you tried to schedule an SEC school?
STRONG: Georgia got out of it the time that we had them on our schedule.
TAYLOR: Why is that so difficult?
STRONG: I think that what happens with a lot of conference teams is that they don’t want to play a tough team out of conference because they feel like that within their conference they’re playing enough teams that they have to go each week to get ready for. They don’t want to say hey, let’s go step out of conference and go play this team here.
TAYLOR: There have been some pretty good quarterbacks here: Johnny Unitas, Chris Redman, Dave Ragone, Stefan Lefors, Brian Brohm. Does Teddy (Bridgewater) already deserve to be in that conversation?
STRONG: He’s in that conversation, but I think that with him, he doesn’t want to be placed on a pedestal. He’d rather continue to get better and let me go earn this position that they want to go put me in. He is a special player and he’s fun to watch.
TAYLOR: What is different about him?
STRONG: What’s great is just the respect he has from his teammates. That’s what’s amazing about him. What you really like about him is that from the offensive side to the defensive side, you have a quarterback who can swing both sides, and players feel comfortable with him. Not many places are like that, because the quarterback is usually held to a higher standard. We are with Teddy, but a lot of them don’t want to become a teammate with the whole team. A lot of them want to think that it’s all about them. It’s fun to just watch how he just mixes with the other players.
TAYLOR: Are you excited that you don’t have to worry about the weather this week, playing in a dome (at Syracuse)?
STRONG: I think I want a rain game, I think we play better. To be indoors, it will be a good test for us. That’s why we’ll practice all week in the Trager Center to get used to that type of surface.
TAYLOR: What does it mean to you to be 9-0, to do something that has never been done before at this program?
STRONG: I guess we really have not even talked about our record. Each week our focus has just been on the team that we’re playing. We were sitting there at 8-0 and I never once said, “Hey we’re 8-0, we’re No. 10 in the country.” I just said, listen guys, you have a good Temple football team coming in here and if you don’t lock in. I just look at it with our program, we’re sitting here 9-0 and we’re still not where we should be. You don’t want guys to get full of themselves.
TAYLOR: What is your reaction to Joker Phillips getting fired?
STRONG: Joker and I are good friends and you hate within this profession for that to happen to anyone. There’s a young man who put in 22 years at a university, was a player there and also, he coached there. You have to look at it as a business and the decisions that were made, their athletic director and president made that decision. I know this, Joker will fall on his feet because he’s an outstanding coach and an outstanding person.
TAYLOR: Have you talked to him since the announcement?
STRONG: No I have not spoken with him. What you like to do is just let him get through this. He’s probably getting a ton of phone calls, and then when this happens, I’ve been fired before, not as a head coach, not yet, but I’ve been fired before. You don’t feel like talking to anyone. More than anything you just let those phone calls come and then you just don’t even answer the phone.