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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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  • http://www.facebook.com/richgimmel Rich Gimmel

    The best piece I’ve seen written on this subject. Great writing Mark. (“Non-denial denial?” Haven’t heard that one since the Ron Ziegler/Watergate days)

  • RichGimmel

    The best piece I’ve seen written on this subject. Great writing Mark. (“Non-denial denial?” Haven’t heard that one since the Ron Ziegler/Watergate days)

  • http://twitter.com/freelancehack Steve Bittenbender

    I think there’s enough ingratituide on both sides of the fence.

    Coach Strong’s point was extremely valid, but by flubbing on the UK line, it lost a lot of its punch. And it made him look impulsive and petulant.

    At the same time, though, a significant portion of the U of L fan base needs to step up. There are way too many empty seats for a program the fans claim is one of the top in the country. And please don’t blame ticket prices. For the USF game, tickets were being sold for $15 dollars. The upper-level seats around my son and me were about 70 percent empty.

    Which leads to another point, Louisville fans need to show support for the program. If not by coming to the Card March, then how about by staying for the entire game? Is there that much going on in Louisville that fans have to leave en masse in the third quarter?

    Coaching changes happen throughout college football. It doesn’t happen just at programs like Louisville. Right now. there are some Alabama fans worried that Nick Saban may retire or find another challenge if the Tide win the BCS title game. If Texas can get rid of Mack Brown, do they go after Florida’s Will Muschamp? If so, what does that mean for Charlie Strong, and if he commits to UofL now, how would he look if another door opens in January? This is the circle of life in the sport. The only guarantee isn’t the contract the coaches sign, but that the process will continue up until the signing period.

    Coach Strong is also in a bit of a Catch-22 here. If he admits he’s looking, he’s just allowed every other coach to come in to get his recruits. If he doesn’t, he looks bad when he actually leaves.

    UofL is an emerging program, but it’s also a dysfunctional one right now. We have a coach who is upset that he’s being taken for granted and (probably) doesn’t want to admit he’s looking. And we have a fan base that wants an elite program but not willing to do what it takes to truly be recognized nationally.

    It’s good, in a sense, that this is made public now. The only way conflict can be resolved is if it’s brought out in the open and discussed. I just hope it works out well for everyone.

  • Steve Bittenbender

    I think there’s enough ingratituide on both sides of the fence.

    Coach Strong’s point was extremely valid, but by flubbing on the UK line, it lost a lot of its punch. And it made him look impulsive and petulant.

    At the same time, though, a significant portion of the U of L fan base needs to step up. There are way too many empty seats for a program the fans claim is one of the top in the country. And please don’t blame ticket prices. For the USF game, tickets were being sold for $15 dollars. The upper-level seats around my son and me were about 70 percent empty.

    Which leads to another point, Louisville fans need to show support for the program. If not by coming to the Card March, then how about by staying for the entire game? Is there that much going on in Louisville that fans have to leave en masse in the third quarter?

    Coaching changes happen throughout college football. It doesn’t happen just at programs like Louisville. Right now. there are some Alabama fans worried that Nick Saban may retire or find another challenge if the Tide win the BCS title game. If Texas can get rid of Mack Brown, do they go after Florida’s Will Muschamp? If so, what does that mean for Charlie Strong, and if he commits to UofL now, how would he look if another door opens in January? This is the circle of life in the sport. The only guarantee isn’t the contract the coaches sign, but that the process will continue up until the signing period.

    Coach Strong is also in a bit of a Catch-22 here. If he admits he’s looking, he’s just allowed every other coach to come in to get his recruits. If he doesn’t, he looks bad when he actually leaves.

    UofL is an emerging program, but it’s also a dysfunctional one right now. We have a coach who is upset that he’s being taken for granted and (probably) doesn’t want to admit he’s looking. And we have a fan base that wants an elite program but not willing to do what it takes to truly be recognized nationally.

    It’s good, in a sense, that this is made public now. The only way conflict can be resolved is if it’s brought out in the open and discussed. I just hope it works out well for everyone.

  • RyderCup1

    This is well written and right on point!

  • RyderCup1

    This is well written and right on point!

  • http://www.facebook.com/richgimmel Rich Gimmel

    Good points all Steve. But if he expects fans to be loyal, then shouldn’t he return the favor, especially since Jurich has indicated he’ll match anybody’s offer? Charlie has a chance here to stand out as a positive, and rather notable, exception in his much-maligned industry.

  • RichGimmel

    Good points all Steve. But if he expects fans to be loyal, then shouldn’t he return the favor, especially since Jurich has indicated he’ll match anybody’s offer? Charlie has a chance here to stand out as a positive, and rather notable, exception in his much-maligned industry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1288715933 Vaughn-Debbie Payne

    The only possible explanation for Strong’s demeanor and discussion at the presser is that Jurich tutored him on what to say. Nothing else makes any sense, unless….unless….you don’t really think Strong was this arrogant and ungrateful…do you?

  • Vaughn-Debbie Payne

    The only possible explanation for Strong’s demeanor and discussion at the presser is that Jurich tutored him on what to say. Nothing else makes any sense, unless….unless….you don’t really think Strong was this arrogant and ungrateful…do you?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1288715933 Vaughn-Debbie Payne

    UL football coaches, let’s be pragmatic here. Lots of recent turmoil over whether Charlie Strong bolts or not. It’s been said by many that UL is a way station for coaches looking for bigger & better things. But in fact let’s look at the record of prior UL coaches. Howard? Bless his heart, but after he left for OU, what a disaster. At least he was able to develop a program at FIU. But he ended up with losing records at OU & FIU. Ron Cooper? Arguably the most successful of ex-UL coaches, but that’s saying very little. At least he is employed. John L & Bobby? I lump them in the same conversation. Neither currently employed, and pretty much losers in one way or another. Kragthorpe? Barely a footnote in this post and otherwise. So, Coach Strong…do you want to stay at UL and be a winner…or do you want to follow your predecessors and pretty much suck. ( Coop…at least you found a place that fits you).

  • Vaughn-Debbie Payne

    UL football coaches, let’s be pragmatic here. Lots of recent turmoil over whether Charlie Strong bolts or not. It’s been said by many that UL is a way station for coaches looking for bigger & better things. But in fact let’s look at the record of prior UL coaches. Howard? Bless his heart, but after he left for OU, what a disaster. At least he was able to develop a program at FIU. But he ended up with losing records at OU & FIU. Ron Cooper? Arguably the most successful of ex-UL coaches, but that’s saying very little. At least he is employed. John L & Bobby? I lump them in the same conversation. Neither currently employed, and pretty much losers in one way or another. Kragthorpe? Barely a footnote in this post and otherwise. So, Coach Strong…do you want to stay at UL and be a winner…or do you want to follow your predecessors and pretty much suck. ( Coop…at least you found a place that fits you).

  • anon

    The guy isn’t even gone yet and fans are already bashing him and saying good riddance? If I was him and read this article, even if I wasn’t interviewing I sure as hell would be now.

  • anon

    The guy isn’t even gone yet and fans are already bashing him and saying good riddance? If I was him and read this article, even if I wasn’t interviewing I sure as hell would be now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/memphis.prestigiacomo Memphis Prestigiacomo

    I think this article should have been shelved until he actually leaves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/memphis.prestigiacomo Memphis Prestigiacomo

    I think this article should have been shelved until he actually leaves.

  • http://twitter.com/freelancehack Steve Bittenbender

    I don’t know. Would it be nice if he were an outlier? Yes, it would. But at the same time, is it fair for us to set an artificial standard then get upset when he fails to meet it? I think so.

    What I do know is this: the SEC is the Gold Standard of college football. If you’re the sixth best team in the conference, you’re not mediocre, you’re at worst a top 20 BCS program (heck, you’re top 10 this year). If at UT Coach Strong replicates the same level of success he had here, then he’ll likely be in the new Playoff by his third year. That’s hard to turn down, especially after having as many doors closed to him as he had for the last 10-15 years. I know it would be hard for me.

  • Steve Bittenbender

    I don’t know. Would it be nice if he were an outlier? Yes, it would. But at the same time, is it fair for us to set an artificial standard then get upset when he fails to meet it? I think so.

    What I do know is this: the SEC is the Gold Standard of college football. If you’re the sixth best team in the conference, you’re not mediocre, you’re at worst a top 20 BCS program (heck, you’re top 10 this year). If at UT Coach Strong replicates the same level of success he had here, then he’ll likely be in the new Playoff by his third year. That’s hard to turn down, especially after having as many doors closed to him as he had for the last 10-15 years. I know it would be hard for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/danny.carlton.982 Danny Carlton

    thats why he said those things about uk so the fans would start hating and he wouldnt look like an a**hole for leaving

  • http://www.facebook.com/danny.carlton.982 Danny Carlton

    thats why he said those things about uk so the fans would start hating and he wouldnt look like an a**hole for leaving

  • realitychecked

    Congratulations on writing one of the most inane and ridiculous commentaries I’ve read in quite some time. Coaches come and go. Strong put Louisville back on the map. He owes Louisville nothing. He did the job he was paid to do. But now that you know he’s leaving you turn on him like a pack of pathetic jackals. Stop your whining and wish him well and try growing up. And, oh, by the way, until very recent history, Kentucky fans did travel in droves to support the football program. But you clearly aren’t interested in facts but rather foolishness and falderol. .

  • realitychecked

    Congratulations on writing one of the most inane and ridiculous commentaries I’ve read in quite some time. Coaches come and go. Strong put Louisville back on the map. He owes Louisville nothing. He did the job he was paid to do. But now that you know he’s leaving you turn on him like a pack of pathetic jackals. Stop your whining and wish him well and try growing up. And, oh, by the way, until very recent history, Kentucky fans did travel in droves to support the football program. But you clearly aren’t interested in facts but rather foolishness and falderol. .

  • http://twitter.com/mark_coomes Mark Coomes

    Oh by the way, I went to school at UK in the ’80s and covered them for most of the ’90s. I’ve been to dozens of UK road games and never once witnessed a “drove.” It’s because they didn’t (and don’t) exist. Insisting otherwise, that’s REAL foolishness and folderol.

  • Guest

    Oh by the way, I went to school at UK in the ’80s and covered them for most of the ’90s. I’ve been to dozens of UK road games and never once witnessed a “drove.” It’s because they didn’t (and don’t) exist. Insisting otherwise, that’s REAL foolishness and folderol.

  • Stephen Coomes

    Really? Jurich would say, “Go out and criticize the fans and look like a grump before the press”? What, prey tell, is to be gained by that?

  • Stephen Coomes

    Really? Jurich would say, “Go out and criticize the fans and look like a grump before the press”? What, prey tell, is to be gained by that?

  • Joey Saylor

    This article made me aware of a few things but I also thought it was over the top. I hope everyone who bashed Coach Strong here has the courage to apologize when he announces he is staying here. I know U of L has been burned by promises other coaches made, which has made this community skeptical. The media here have been ridiculous however and the only reason I had a sliver of doubt was because the media appeared to be doing a good job of running him out of town. You could tell he was sick of it. People here need to get a grip or eventually he will get tired of all the cynicism and will leave!

  • Joey Saylor

    This article made me aware of a few things but I also thought it was over the top. I hope everyone who bashed Coach Strong here has the courage to apologize when he announces he is staying here. I know U of L has been burned by promises other coaches made, which has made this community skeptical. The media here have been ridiculous however and the only reason I had a sliver of doubt was because the media appeared to be doing a good job of running him out of town. You could tell he was sick of it. People here need to get a grip or eventually he will get tired of all the cynicism and will leave!

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