January 5th, 2014

Reed: Fans shouldn't knock Strong for leaving

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Reed: Fans shouldn't knock Strong for leaving
Charlie Strong paid off handsomely for U of L / photo from universityherald.com

Some of the local natives are restless, not to mention angry, over the notion that Mr. Charlie Strong has decided to end his working relationship at the University of Louisville in order to move to Austin, Texas, where various oil and cattle barons are prepared to make him filthy rich as football coach at the University of Texas.

Over the radio airwaves and on the Internet blogs, Mr. Strong has been charged, among other things, with being an ingrate. Their thinking is that since Mr. Tom Jurich was the first to offer him a head-coaching job, Mr. Strong should be beholden to U of L forever — or at least until he has a losing season.

There is ingratitude involved here, all right, but it’s not on Mr. Strong’s part.

Four years ago he and Mr. Jurich made a rather simple business arrangement. If Mr. Strong would leave his job as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at the University of Florida, Mr. Jurich would compensate him at a level much greater than the university president or the Governor of the commonwealth.

It turned out to be a good deal for both sides. Mr. Strong did his job surpassingly well, producing four consecutive bowl teams and two consecutive double-digit-victory seasons. And Mr. Jurich’s checks not only did not bounce, they grew in proportion to Mr. Strong’s success and, of course, the interest shown in him by other employers.

So the ingrates are those who are attacking Mr. Strong for daring to leave U of L, a relative newcomer to the ranks of high-level college football, to take the job at Texas, where football has been important long before George W. Bush’s ancestors struck oil for the first time. No college program has a larger following or greater resources.

No doubt the ranks of the whiners include some who had something better to do when the Cardinals played their final home game of the 2013 season. It was Senior Day and the team had a 9-1 record. Besides that, it figured to be the last home appearance for Mr. Teddy Bridgewater, who is only the best leader the commonwealth has seen since Bo McMillin led Centre to a 6-0 victory over Harvard in 1921.

The game may have been listed as a sellout, but many tickets went unused.

There were gaping holes in the stands where, had this been Austin or Tuscaloosa or another football citadel, there should have been warm bodies roaring their appreciation for Mr. Bridgewater, Mr. Strong and the rest of the organization. This town has not yet reached the point in the college hierarchy where it’s justifiable to shrug at a 9-1 record.

Every coach, and Mr. Strong is no exception, wants to work at a place where his sport is No. 1. That is not the case in Louisville, nor will it be anytime in the immediate future. On Dec. 28, the local newspaper faced the choice of which U of L game to display on the front page — the rousing football bowl victory over Miami or the dispiriting basketball loss to Kentucky. The basketball game won because that sport is every bit as important in Kentucky as football is in Texas.

At times Mr. Strong publicly expressed his frustration about the intensity of the fan support. More than once, he lamented the fact that many fans were having so much fun tailgating that they were tardy getting to their seats. This is not the way it’s done in places where football is important.

At Texas, such matters will not be a problem. The fans will be in their seats, flashing the famed Hook ‘Em Horns sign and singing “The Eyes of Texas” long before kickoff. But as the saying goes, sometimes you had better be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. In other words, Mr. Strong now will face scrutiny unlike anything he has ever experienced.

For all his wonderful qualities, Mr. Strong does not ooze charisma. He does not have the folksy charm or wit of, say, Mr. Darrell Royal, the patron saint of Texas football. Of all the things Strong was required to do, he least liked dealing with the media. His answers usually were terse, at best, and vague, at worst.

At Texas he will understand what Mr. Rick Pitino and Mr. John Calipari face in Kentucky. Every time he turns around, somebody will be there with a question or a request. He will have to spend a lot of time schmoozing with the deep-pockets donors and the big-hat state and national politicians. After meeting U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, he will miss the relatively sane Mitch McConnell.

As Mr. Bob Knight said of Mr. Billy Clyde Gillispie when he took the University of Kentucky basketball job, “He’s OK as a coach; the question is can he handle all the other bull----  that goes with it.” He could not, as it turned out, and was drummed out of Lexington after two tortured seasons.

The city and commonwealth are better for having Mr. Strong and his family as citizens for four years. But bidness is bidness, as they say in Texas, and Mr. Strong is making a simple business decision that almost any other coach in America would make. Any discussion of the top five college football jobs in America must include Texas, where the resources go on forever or at least until you hit the Oklahoma state line.

So let’s have no more whining, complaining and finger-pointing. There is no reason for this parting to be anything other than amicable. Mr. Strong and Mr. Jurich both honored a business agreement that paid off handsomely for both. Anybody who views it otherwise is either hopelessly naïve or shockingly ignorant about the realities of college football.

 

 

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