One-on-One with Charlie Strong – Part One

As most of you know I do a lot of work for Sun Sports TV/Fox Sports Florida. In that role I sometimes get access to Gator players and coaches that others do not. Normally that access is for special programs on those networks and cannot be shared with other audiences.

However Sun Sports TV and Fox Sports Florida have graciously allowed me to share with you the interviews I did for their Florida Gator Bowl Special program. The show will continue to air on the networks and I hope everyone will try to find a time that they can watch and enjoy it.

With that we offer up a two-part one-on-one interview with Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.


LV: Charlie, the Gator defense is giving up about 80 fewer yards and 13 fewer points than it did a year ago. Why has the defense improved so much?

CS: When you look at this defense a year ago we weren't very good. We needed to improve on fundamentals. We needed to improve on technique. Plus we needed someone to step up and be a leader. The same guys are still playing right now, but now (Brandon) Spikes have taken it on to be a leader of this defense. Ryan Stamper is a leader of this defense and our secondary is much better than it was last year. Vance Bedford and Chuck Heater have done a great job with those guys back there. We're getting more turnovers (13 more than last year) and we're getting off the field. Guys have taken pride in this defense and last year we had no pride. It was almost like the guy who got to third base without hitting the ball.

LV: Has this been your most satisfying season as coach to go from co-coordinator to having that title completely and have the unit improve that much?

CS: It has been, but even if Greg (Mattison) was still here it would still have been a much better defense. To watch the way the guys have worked, improved and developed has been tremendous. You look at a guy like Ahmad Black who was basically a special teams player last year. Now he's a starting safety and leading us in interceptions (6). Carlos Dunlap was a freshman last year and now he's leading us in sacks (9). I could keep going on down the line and name a number of players who have really improved.

LV: Which unit is the most improved?

CS: If I had to pick a unit it would have to be the secondary. Janoris Jenkins coming in as a true freshman has really improved our secondary. Then you look at the other corner and Joe Haden is much better as a sophomore because he started a lot of games as a freshman. We lose Dorian Munroe in the summer and Ahmad Black steps right in and has really had a great season for us and Major Wright has had a great year. We are much better in our secondary and that helps us get off the field on third down, which is critical.

LV: Does Brandon Spikes now belong in the conversation about who are the best linebackers to ever play for the Gators?

CS: Without a doubt. Spikes is a really outstanding football player. He belongs in that conversation because if you look at it some of the great ones have only been here three years anyway. He is very coachable. The thing I really like about Spikes is that I can get on him and he does not take it as personal. He listens and takes coaching very well.


Spikes is Florida's leading tackler with 87 including eight for losses. He has intercepted four passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. Only one team (Ole Miss) has scored more than 21 points on this group. Last year's defense saw eight opponents top that mark.

The improvement in the pass defense is the most remarkable. The Gators have allowed 74 fewer yards per game through the air and have intercepted 24 passes after snagging just 11 a year ago.

Tomorrow Coach Strong shares some of his thoughts about Oklahoma.

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