Just as Louisville’s Cinderella transformation from football mid-major to powerhouse was reaching completion, the clock has struck midnight. Charlie Strong’s golden carriage has once again become a pumpkin, and Cardinal fans are left to pick up the pieces of what has been a soaring program.
Strong was supposed to be different. When he arrived he shed tears, thankful for the opportunity that no one had yet given him. He was eternally grateful to Tom Jurich and Louisville; he promised that he wouldn’t let us down. Charlie Strong just felt different. Perhaps he was the kind of coach that would create a long-term culture at Louisville.
“My enthusiasm and heart is with the University of Louisville,” Strong told the Media in December of 2012. “How do you walk away from someone who believes in you?”
Well he can, and Charlie Strong has.
It was wrong for us to even imagine that Charlie Strong was never going to leave Louisville. It was wrong for us to believe that Strong was different. If it wasn’t Texas it was going to be Florida or another job.
However, what hurts the most is the realization that Strong’s words weren’t bond, and that Louisville continues remain a “stepping stone” job.
Who cares who Tom Jurich gets to replace Strong, the song remains the same: coach comes, coach succeeds, coach is poached. Jurich has done everything he possibly could to turn this school into a powerhouse. He put Louisville into the national spotlight. He gave the job an incredibly competitive salary. He brought the program into the promised land of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Not to mention that Jurich has specifically done everything he could for Charlie Strong. He grew Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. He gave Strong multiple extensions and raises. Most of all he kept Clint Hurtt a part of this program, despite his implication in the Miami scandals. Jurich knew that Strong was a golden goose, and he never did wrong by him.
But it wasn’t enough. Is it ever enough?
In the end Strong’s departure wasn’t too different from Bobby Petrino’s or even John L. Smith’s. He has remained incredibly silent throughout this entire process. Media members were told that Strong was “in bed” while he was involved in meetings. Strong even reportedly ignored text messages from his own players. He simply didn’t handle this situation as well as it should have been. The trust that he built from this university was violated.
Strong had all the makings of a long-term Louisville coach, but it wasn’t to be so. However, “long-term” isn’t the norm at Louisville, and it isn’t just a recent issue. Since 1968, Louisville has only had one coach stay longer than five years. That coach was Howard Schnellenberger.
The funny thing is about coaches who leave Louisville for “greener pastures,” they haven’t been incredibly successful after departing. John L. Smith was an absolute wash at Michigan State. While Petrino had some success at Arkansas, let’s be real and say he’s since failed. While Strong isn’t either of those guys, it’s still an interesting point.
Meanwhile, the group that is hurt the most is the fans. There were several reports that fan support was an issue for Strong. A half empty PJCS apparently really bothered him. While Louisville’s fan support certainly isn’t Texas’, the Cardinal faithful are improving. They brought 30,000 fans to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl they weren’t supposed to win, and a had great showing in Orlando last week. Sure there are issues with Louisville fans, but the fans who do support the team do so just as well as those from any other school.
So where do we go from here?
Is there a candidate out there that can make a long-term living as the head coach of Louisville? Or will every coach continue to treat Louisville the same. Perhaps in this day and age we can’t expect that from our coaches.
Don’t get me wrong, Tom Jurich will find his man. He’ll likely be a tremendous hire. Yes, the recruiting will likely be harmed somehow. But Jurich will find a coach that will perform admirably at this job. After all, Charlie Strong is replaceable but Tom Jurich is not.
However, we must enter this next chapter with fewer expectations. We have to be more cautious. It is clear that any winter we could go through this mess all over again.
Congratulations to Charlie Strong, seriously. The man just parlayed his recent success into an elite coaching position. While we may have always believed he wasn’t spending his entire career at UofL, he just seemed like the best chance we had at a long-term option.
Meanwhile, Louisville will remain a stepping stone for a foreseeable future. Perhaps the next time around, we won’t fool ourselves by the “loyalty” a coach has for our team. Comedian Chris Rock has famously said: “a man is only as good as his options.” As much as we’d love to believe it is otherwise, Charlie Strong has made it clear Louisville isn’t the best option for anyone.