The Cardinals landed in New Orleans on Thursday to continue their preparations for the 2013 edition of the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the Crescent City. When head coach Charlie Strong leads his No. 18-ranked Louisville team onto the field inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 2 (8:30 p.m., ET, ESPN), he will do so against a familiar foe in No. 4 Florida.
Strong established himself as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches while leading the Gators’ defense from 2003 to 2009. That stint in Gainesville took him to 27 seasons as an assistant coach and was highlighted by two BCS national titles. Carried by his dominant stint in Florida, the Arkansas native was awarded his first head coaching opportunity at Louisville following the 2009 season and that turned out to be the perfect timing for Strong and the Cardinals.
“When you talk about being a head coach, it’s all about it being the right job,” said Strong during Thursday’s press conference in New Orleans. “A lot of times, we want it to happen right away and it didn’t happen for me right away. But I’m so glad when it did happen because I’m at the right place right now. It happened at the right school. I’m so happy Tom Jurich and Dr. (James) Ramsey gave me that opportunity at the University of Louisville.”
Strong Influenced by Previous Gator Coaches
When reviewing his ascent as one of brightest defensive minds in the nation, Strong pointed to his time in Gainesville as the key point to that rise. And more specifically, he placed much of the credit to his success on the experience he gained while working for an impressive collection of highly successful head coaches at Florida.
“I look at the University of Florida and that’s where my success really started at,” said Strong. “I was a part of two national championships, but even more than that, I look at the coaches I had an opportunity to go work for. I started with Galen Hall and then I had a chance to go work for Coach (Steve) Spurrier. Then I was able to work for Ron Zook and then from there to Urban (Meyer).”
Loyalty to Players Pivotal to Strong
Strong continues to be asked about his decision earlier this month to remain at Louisville despite an offer to be the head coach at the University of Tennessee. With an impressive coaching resume highlighted by dominance as an assistant in the SEC’s Eastern Division, the opportunity to coach the Volunteers appeared to be a perfect fit for the Cardinals’ third year head coach. However, his loyalty to the players he recruited and the goals he has for Louisville outweighed any upside offered by the historically successful Tennessee program.
“The reason I had the opportunity was because of the players I have,” explained Strong. “When you start thinking about leaving, you think number one about the players. The position I’m in right now is because of the way our players play. I talk to them all of the time about trust and I talk to them about commitment. I talk to them about making a commitment to the program and a commitment to us as a coaching staff. When I went to recruit these young men, I said to them ‘this is going to be a process. It’s going to take us a while to go get that program turned.’ I said ‘you just got to stay with me.’ Now, I had an opportunity to leave and I just couldn’t walk out.”
Curfew in Place for Cardinals in NOLA
The city of New Orleans is well-known for its nightlife and entertainment value. And that reputation can serve as a major distraction for players if not managed properly. Having made multiple Sugar Bowl appearances as an assistant at Florida, Strong plans to use a curfew to help curtail any temptations the Louisville players may have in the days leading up to kickoff.
“We’ll have a curfew every night,” Strong said. “I haven’t really talked to (the players) about it yet, but there will be a curfew. I told them to enjoy the experience right now because they deserve it as a team with the way they’ve worked so hard. It’s also all about business too. We’re not trying to see how many hurricanes we can consume or how late at night we can stay out. It’s still a business trip for us.”