Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling Big East coaches. Today is a look at Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.
The facts: Considering the graduations and roster defections from Strong’s inaugural seven-win season, the 2011 Cardinals were widely predicted to take a step back. Instead, led by a group of freshmen and sophomores, Louisville duplicated a seven-win campaign. Strong is widely considered one of the best defensive minds in the county, exhibits exemplary character, and demands work ethic. All of these traits can be seen by following him on Twitter or visiting his website. The players’ day-by-day schedule during the school year is particularly refreshing.
The contract: In October of 2011, Louisville and Strong agreed to a seven-year contract extension that will pay him $2.3 million per season through 2018. Under the original deal signed in 2009, Strong was paid $1.6 million per season.
The background: Served graduate assistant stints at Florida and Texas A&M after collegiate career at the University of Central Arkansas. Coached wide receivers at Southern Illinois in 1986. Held various defensive assistant position at Florida, Ole Miss, and Notre Dame. Became the first African-American coordinator in the SEC upon his hiring as South Carolina defensive coordinator in 1999. Hired as Florida defensive coordinator in 2003 and retained from Ron Zook’s staff when Urban Meyer took over in 2004. Hired as the 21st coach in Louisville history in 2009.
The record: 14-13 overall
2004: 0-1, lost Peach Bowl
*Strong coached the program on an interim basis when Ron Zook was fired. The school credits Zook with the regular season — despite being fired mid-year, he coached through the end of the pre-Bowl schedule — and Strong with the bowl game.
2010: 7-6 overall, 3-4 conference, won Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl
2011: 7-6 overall, 5-2 conference, lost Belk Bowl
The players: While Strong hasn’t been a head coach and lead recruiter for long, the following players made the NFL after his Louisville coaching: Greg Scruggs, Johnny Patrick, Bilal Powell, and Byron Stingily. The following defensive players were guided by Strong at Florida: Joe Haden, Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap, Brandon Spikes, Major Wright, Derrick Harvey, Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Ray McDonald, Marcus Thomas, Joe Cohen, Ryan Smith, Brandon Siler, Jeremy Mincey, Dee Webb, Channing Crowder, Reynaldo Hill, Keiwan Ratliff, Max Starks, Gus Scott, and Bobby McCray.
The quote: “When they see what he can do, you’re probably going to have a lot of people disappointed they didn’t hire him sooner.”
–Former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy upon Strong’s hiring at Louisville. While Strong’s credentials seemed to warrant a head coaching position sooner, he was passed over by other candidates. Strong contended that race played a role in this, citing his interracial marriage as uncomfortable with prospective employers.
The future: With only nine seniors on the current roster, it’s going to be imperative for Strong to import his personality on the young leaders. On the field, Strong’s defense should improve as more of his recruits pour in on that side of the ball. Off the field, Louisville should continue to do things the right way. As Strong has been quoted as saying, “Show me a team with bad grades, and I’ll show you a bad football team.”