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Mark Coomes: Cardinals football coach emits Strong odor of ingratitude

by Mark Coomes

Laughing all the way to the bank.

A long time ago, before the advent of such modern wonders as indoor plumbing and million-dollar football coaches, excretory functions were conducted in the coarse, fragrant confines of an outhouse.

The daily constitutional, as granddaddy used to say, was concluded with a swipe of an old corncob. He’d tell these charming anecdotes when we whined about the horrors of unrefrigerated soda and dysfunctional TVs.

Children’s complaints were tolerated; we didn’t know any better. But woe betide the geezer who cursed a broken air conditioner or a dead light bulb.

“That boy has forgotten his cob days,” granddaddy would declare.

This brings us to Charlie Strong, whose fine bald head is chock full of amnesia.

Just 36 months ago, Strong literally wept with joy when Tom Jurich tossed him the keys to the University of Louisville football program.

After 27 years as an assistant, Strong was finally a head coach.

Barely 13 months ago, in the midst of a three-game losing streak that had dropped Strong’s record at U of L to an underwhelming 9-10, Jurich gave Strong a seven-year contract extension and a $700,000 raise.

Only two days ago, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, that contract paid Strong a $291,667 bonus for guiding the Cardinals to the Sugar Bowl.

Yesterday?

Yesterday Strong said he can’t even promise that he’ll accompany the team to New Orleans.

Yesterday Strong refused to convincingly confirm or deny that he has in the past, or will in the future, interview for a better job.

Yesterday Strong was “annoyed.” He should have been grateful.

The only reason Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State might want Strong as their head coach is because Louisville wanted him first, when he was unproven and undesired.

According to an AOL FanHouse story from 2010, Kansas, Minnesota and Vanderbilt interviewed Strong and found him lacking. So did East Carolina.

According to a 2009 Orlando Sentinel story, Strong believed he wasn’t getting a fair shake because he has black skin and a white wife.

But he got a fair shake from U of L, that’s for sure.

Jurich hired Strong two minutes after he met him. There was no interview. There was no need. Jurich had done his homework. He knew he’d found the right guy.

Did he ever.

Strong’s brief tenure at U of L has been a spectacular success. Three bowl games in three years. A top 25 ranking. A Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.

Strong took Steve Kragthorpe’s wet ashes and built a roaring fire. People noticed. U of L is now a member of the ACC, and its football coach is coveted by the SEC.

But don’t ask him about that. He’ll get annoyed.

In a press conference oozing with non-denial denials – “I have a great job here so why do I even have to answer questions?” – Strong bobbed and weaved like Cassius Clay. To Jurich, however, he probably resembled Cassius and Brutus.

Aka, John L. and Bobby P.

Et tu, Charlie?

Asked to pledge allegiance to U of L, Strong floated like a butterfly – “I will say that at the right time,” he said – and stung like a bee, unfavorably comparing Cardinal fans to Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation.

“We should have that same passion here,” Strong said.

Strong was coy, combative and unwittingly ironic yesterday, preaching from the saddle of his new high horse.

“This is what’s got to happen here,” Strong proclaimed. “People have to start respecting this program.”

Ain’t no doubt about that.

But guess what, Charlie? Respecting the program starts with you.

Did you respect the program yesterday by insulting its loyal fans?

By refusing to give straight answers to simple questions?

By implying with every breath that better jobs exist – and might, in fact, await?

By doing nothing to contradict reports that you’ve already interviewed with Auburn and Tennessee except to say, in essence, “Take me at my word.”

OK then, Charlie, we will. Here’s what you told Jim Rome on Oct. 3:

“I’m fine where I’m at. I have a lot of backing here. …

“You don’t walk away when you’re building a program. I look at the players I recruited here. I told them to come here for me and this university, and then all of a sudden I get a shot to go somewhere else and I walk away from them? I’m just not cut like that.”

We’ll see.

Coaches hate it when players talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Takes one to know one, I guess.

The sports pages are full of coaches talking the talk – “I love it here, my family loves it here; I’m here to stay” – then walking the walk right out the door.

“A lot of times,” Strong told Rome, “we think the grass is greener on the other side.”

Sometimes it is. All too often it’s not. Ask John L. Smith, Bobby Petrino, Rich Rodriguez and the like.

Still, you can’t blame a guy for taking a peek across the fence. Overlooked and underappreciated for the better part of three decades, Strong is now in high demand. In keeping with the mercenary ethics of major college sports, he is entitled to explore his options. No reasonable soul begrudges him that.

But does he have to be such a jerk about it?

Yesterday Strong complained that too few fans showed up for the final home game against Connecticut. But those who live in glass fieldhouses should not throw stones.

You know who else didn’t show up that day? Strong’s defense. It allowed a rushing attack ranked 117th in the nation to run for 149 yards and a touchdown en route to a shocking 23-20 win.

Strong also lamented the meager turnout for the “Card Walk” over to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Come on, man.

The men’s basketball team owns two national championships and nine Final Fours. There’s no human tunnel welcoming them to the Yum! Center – and they aren’t crying about it, either.

There’s nothing wrong with a little extra adulation, but in the final analysis, it’s got squat to do with winning games.

The greatest dynasty of college football’s modern era was famously light on fans and bereft of hokey rituals. It didn’t stop the University of Miami from cleaning everyone’s clock.

Strong’s speechifying bottomed out when he exalted the BBN.

“Not to throw any salt in an open wound,” Strong said, flinging fists full of sodium chloride, “(but) Kentucky can travel with the Big Blue Nation and go take over.”

The remark was as ignorant as it was impolitic. Kentucky fans don’t “take over” opposing football stadiums. They rarely even fill their own.

The Big Blue Mist only follows the Kentucky basketball team. As it well it should. The Wildcats own a tradition of excellence that spans some 70 years.

Packed houses and pregame traditions aren’t created overnight. You can’t blame Strong for wanting those things, but let’s face it: If those things were already in place, Louisville wouldn’t have hired Charlie Strong. It would have hired his old boss, Urban Meyer (or someone of that ilk).

Strong apparently doesn’t realize that Louisville hired him to build, not preside. It takes time and wins and more than one Sugar Bowl to amass the infrastructure that Strong’s impatient ego craves.

He’s only been here three years. Is that really long enough to turn Louisville into Alabama? Or even Kansas State?

Charlie Strong went to the 2010 Sugar Bowl the same way he went to every other bowl in his career – as an assistant coach. In three short years as head man, his britches have grown so big that the 2013 Sugar Bowl might be beneath his station.

Imagine that.

Strong hasn’t just forgotten his cob days. He’s forgotten his manners.

The man just put an extra $292,000 in his pocket – on top of his $2.3 million salary – and instead of saying thank you, he said (bleep) you. He took the podium yesterday, hot on the heels of the best five days in U of L football history, and criticized fans, sparred with the media and surely embarrassed his boss.

I bet Tom Jurich wonders what the hell happened to the humble, grateful guy he hired three years ago.

Not so long ago, Charlie Strong saw U of L as a penthouse. He’s starting to treat it like an outhouse.

And that stinks.

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