'Strong' Choice for Louisville

Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, a Broyles Award finalist for the second consecutive year, is set to become Louisville's new football coach.

Charlie Strong is finally going to get his chance to be a head coach at Louisville.

After 26 years as an assistant, including the past five as the defensive coordinator for Florida coach Urban Meyer, Strong will take over a major rebuilding job at Louisville.

"It's a great opportunity for me," Strong told Florida Today Wednesday morning. "I think I'm going into a situation where I have great support and great resources to win. And it's also a good chance to build a program."

Tuesday, Strong lost out to Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart for the Frank Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant. Strong is one of only two coaches that has been a finalist for the prestigious honor three times.

Strong met with Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich on Sunday for several hours in Gainesville to discuss the job. Jurich and Strong continued their discussion about Louisville's job on Monday and Tuesday and Jurich is flying to Gainesville Wednesday morning to finalize the deal with Strong, according to a report in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Strong will be introduced as UofL's new coach Wednesday afternoon at PJCS after the ULAA approves the contract.

"He's a tremendous fit for us," Jurich told the Orlando Sentinel. "He commands instant respect with what he has done on and off the field. All of his leadership skills are terrific. This is a guy who stands with high integrity."

Strong, prepared for his first head coaching job, faces a big task trying to rebuild a Louisville football program that hasn't had a winning season in three years.

The Cardinals went 15-21 the past three seasons under Steve Kragthorpe and won only 5 of 21 Big East games. Kragthorpe was fired November 28 after Louisville finished the 2009 season with a 4-8 record.

Strong's two immediate tasks: Putting together a quality coaching staff and improving the talent on Louisville's roster.

Strong, a popular guy in coaching circles, is well-respected in the coaching fraternity and isn't expected to have problems piecing together an outstanding staff.

While it's unclear who Strong will choose as offensive coordinator, most expect Louisville's new coach will favor the spread offense that Florida currently employs.

Strong also has outstanding recruiting contacts in Florida and is expected to give the Cardinals a strong presence in the Sunshine state. Florida is a vital recruiting area for Louisville, and Strong has been named one of the nation's Top 25 recruiters.

Considered one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, Strong helped Florida win two of the past three BCS national titles. This season, Florida had the top-ranked defense in the nation and didn't lose until the SEC Championship game against Alabama.

One of the biggest mysteries in college football in recent years has been why Strong isn't already a head coach considering his outstanding coaching resume and recruiting ability.

Before last year's BCS national championship game against Oklahoma, Strong told reporters he believed race, specifically his interracial marriage, was a reason he had been passed over for jobs, including one at a major southern university.

"Everybody always said I didn't get that job because my wife is white," Strong said. "If you think about it, a coach is standing up there representing the university. If you're not strong enough to look through that [interracial marriage], then you have an issue."

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich made clear before hiring Strong that race isn't an issue for Louisville. Strong is the second African-American football coach in Louisville history. Ron Cooper was the first and coached the Cardinals from 1995-97.

"[It] doesn't bother me one bit," Jurich told the Orlando Sentinel. "We want someone with class and integrity, and I'm a real big guy when it comes to passion."

Before surrendering 490 yards and 32 points in the SEC Championship game loss to Alabama, Strong's defense had allowed just 118 points in 12 games. The Gators ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring defense and pass defense; No. 4 in total defense and No. 13 in rush defense this season.

Over the past two years, Florida only allowed two opponents to score more than 21 points, while holding 18 foes to 14 or fewer points.

Strong also was the mastermind of a defense that held Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and Oklahoma's top-ranked offense to 14 points in the 2008 BCS national title game. The Sooners had scored at least 58 points in six games prior to being shut down by Strong's defense.

A finalist for the Broyles Award the past two seasons, Strong started his coaching career at Southern Illinois in 1986. A position coach at both Florida and Notre Dame in the 1990's, Strong got his first big break when he was named South Carolina's defensive coordinator in 1999, becoming the first African-American coordinator in SEC history.

Strong became Florida's defensive coordinator in 2002 under Ron Zook, and served as the Gators interim head coach in the 2004 Peach Bowl after Zook was fired. Florida lost to Miami in that contest. Strong was retained as the Gators defensive coordinator when Urban Meyer replaced Zook in 2005.

Throughout his career, Strong has coached in 20 bowl games, including BCS national championship contests in 2007 and 2009.

"There's two kinds of coaches: ones you want and ones you don't want," Urban Meyer said. "Charlie is not only a great coach, he is one of my great friends."

Strong plans to help coach the Gators in the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.

Coaching Experience:

2008-Present Florida (Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers)
2005-2007 Florida (Assistant Head Coach; Co-Defensive Coordinator; Linebackers)
Dec. 2004 Florida (Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator)
2003-2004 Florida (Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Ends)
1999-2002 South Carolina (Defensive Coordinator)
1995-1998 Notre Dame (Defensive Line)
1994 Florida (Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Tackles)
1990 Ole Miss (Wide Receivers)
1988-89 Florida (Outside Linebackers)
1986-87 Southern Illinois (Wide Receivers)
1985 Texas A&M (Graduate Assistant)
1983-84 Florida (Graduate Assistant)

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