Florida seniors respect Strong

Louisville head coach Charlie Strong was always a favorite in Gainesville. Whether it was his players or fellow assistant coaches that raved about him, Strong always had multiple people in his corner during his tenure as Florida's defensive coordinator. The players respected his honesty and openness, and his success at Louisville hasn't been a surprise to the Florida seniors that played under him.

"I said that. Some of the players that played for him, we all agreed on that," Florida senior safety Josh Evans said about Strong being a winner as a head coach. "When he was here, he was winning. We know the way he coaches and the way he get after it with his players that he was going to push them and motivate them to be the best they can be."

During his three years at Louisville, that's exactly what Charlie Strong has done. He went 7-6 in each of his first two seasons as the head coach of the Cardinals before the team put it all together this year, riding a 10-2 record to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl.

When Strong left Gainesville after the 2009 season, the Florida defense lost plenty of experience on that side of the ball. The ones that remained on the defense that were recruited by Strong were sad to see him leave. His knowledge as a coach played a part in that, but his persona off the field is what players were drawn to.

"He was just a real honest guy," Florida senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "He liked to have fun and liked to work at the same time. Just one of those type of guys that likes to have fun, laugh and joke while you work hard. I miss Coach Strong. He's a great guy, first and foremost, and a good coach."?

Some Florida players have remained in contact with Strong during the last three years. Senior linebacker Jon Bostic was recruited by Strong and has kept in contact with him, as has fellow senior linebacker Lerentee McCray.

Strong's ability to recruit is one of his strong suits, and the relationships established with those players didn't end when they got to campus or when he became the head coach of the Cardinals.

"He was a high-energy guy," Evans said. "He was a funny coach, but he knew when to take it serious and push us to the next level. I'd say that the best thing about him is knowing when you're lacking, he can push you to be the best player you can be. That was the type of coach he was."

The matchup with Strong was expected on the day of the BCS announcements. Even while the hours ticked away and the announcement show became closer, there was an excitement around the Florida seniors about the chance to play against a team coached by Strong.

He's a big reason many of the seniors on the Florida defense are on the roster for the Gators today. And in their last collegiate game, it will be Strong on the other side of the field.

"I actually was laughing because I remember playing with him a couple of years ago," Evans said of the players' reactions to playing against Strong. "Man, he's a great coach, man. It's a guy who knows his stuff, so it was fun. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a great game. He's a great coach. He's got a good defense coming into this game and a good offense, so it'll be very competitive."

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