Strong, according to multiple sources, has emerged as the clear frontrunner to replace Steve Kragthorpe as Louisville's next coach. The 49-year old Strong is expected to meet with Louisville AD Tom Jurich shortly after top-ranked Florida's SEC championship game against second-ranked Alabama this Saturday and an announcement could be made early next week.
"I think it would be a great hire," said Scott Kennedy, Director of Scouting for Scout.com. "I'm surprised he hasn't gotten a head coaching job before this. But by holding out if he's able to get something as good as the Louisville job for his first job he's done the right thing for his career."
"He could have gone to a smaller school or a taken one of those dead-end jobs," Kennedy said. "But Louisville's a very good job and he could stay there and build a legacy. Louisville is a place you can go in and win."
One of Strong's most important first tasks at UofL would be to put together an outstanding coaching staff. That's not expected to be a problem for Strong, who has developed a wide array of coaching contacts during his 26 years in the business. ESPN.com's Chris Low reported this week that "assistants around the country are already lining up to try and get onboard with Strong at Louisville."
"Being that he's been in the south so long he's got a lot of relationships with other coaches," Kennedy said. "He's worked with everybody in the south at one point or another."
What Louisville fans want to know is who Strong will hire as offensive coordinator. Cardinal fans like offense and it's perhaps the most important decision the defensive-minded Strong will make, especially considering Louisville's offensive struggles in 2009. The Cardinals ranked last in the Big East in scoring offense at only 18 points per game.
"Bob Stoops was taken as a defensive guy at Oklahoma and they've been known for offense ever since he's been there," said Kennedy. "It's all about your [assistant] hires and personnel."
Strong has built an outstanding resume as an assistant the past 26 years, including the last eight as defensive coordinator at South Carolina and Florida. He's a finalist for the second straight year for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach. He's also won two national championships as a defensive coordinator at Florida in the past three years and he could get another this season.
But there are questions a first-time head coach like Strong must answer. It looks like he'll get a chance to prove he's ready to oversee his own program, stepping out of the shadows of national championship coaches like Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz.
"You're only concern with being a head coach are the demands of being a general manager rather than just an x's and o's guy," Kennedy said. "The alumni circuit, overseeing recruiting – that's the type of stuff you worry about."
One of Strong's major allures is his ability to recruit in the south, particularly in Florida. Traditionally, Louisville's best teams have featured stars from the Sunshine state. That pipeline largely went untapped during Steve Kragthorpe's tenure. The Cardinals hope Strong can open it once again.
"The thing about coordinators is that they don't recruit a ton," Kennedy said. "They're not the ones generally that go out on the road and build relationships because they're usually one step from being out the door.
"Where his recruiting prowess comes into play is having been a very good defensive coordinator that kids want to play for. His best recruiting ability has been the fact that he's been so successful through the years and people want to play for him."
Strong has particularly strong ties in central Florida, especially the Orlando area. Kennedy said Strong may be able to pull off a recruiting surprise or two this year, but his biggest impact will come in the future.
"I think he's going to be able to get in the door anywhere in Florida," Kennedy said. "Does that happen in his first eight weeks on the job? No, it doesn't. 99 percent of the kids out there know where they want to go right now. The dividends that his hire will pay in Florida, or around the south, in recruiting will be in the Class of 2011."