Strong focused on rebuilding the Cardinals

Charlie Strong has a big job on his hands trying to rebuild the Louisville football program back into a winner. In fact, that work caused an unexpected delay to the start of UofL's 2010 Media Day Tuesday morning as the first-year Louisville coach kept his team on the practice field longer than expected.

Charlie Strong ‘upset' a few media types Tuesday at Louisville's annual Media Day at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. And that should excite Cardinals fans eager for wins after a disappointing three seasons under former coach Steve Kragthorpe.

You see, the photo portion of Media Day was scheduled to start at 11:45 Tuesday morning. But 11:45 came and went with no sign of Charlie Strong, his coaching staff or the UofL football players. That's because they were all still on the practice field working hard in the oppressive August heat trying to ‘build' a football team, as Strong said Tuesday afternoon.

If one thing has become clear about Louisville's first-year head coach since he took over the program last December, it's that Charlie Strong has one primary focus - to rebuild the UofL football program into a winner on the field.

Strong's tough-minded, no-nonsense approach was on full display on Media Day, typically a relaxing, fun-filled day where players and coaches gather to take team pictures and talk to the media about the upcoming season. But Tuesday, there was no team picture. Instead, Strong kept the media waiting while his team finished conducting business on the practice field, which took longer than expected when the day started.

"I'm really excited what our team has done so far," Strong said. "At the end of spring [practice] we really felt we were a team when we came back to fall camp. What we really like is the way our veterans have stepped up."

According to several players, Strong's camp is tough, very tough. Adam Froman joked at Media Day that the good news was that "nobody died out there today."

"It's all about teaching fundamentals right now," Strong said. "We still have a long way to go. We're still searching for an identity. We just need to find out who we are and we need practice time to find that out."

What Strong and his coaching staff are trying to do is forge a tough-minded team capable of finishing games in the second half. That was a problem the past couple seasons for the Cardinals. It's something Strong has worked relentlessly to change since taking over for Kragthorpe.

"The identity I'm looking for is an aggressive football team," Strong said. "That's the way we practice, and that's the way we coach. I want to be aggressive on offense, defense and the kicking game. We really haven't reached that tempo yet. Once guys understand and go at that tempo all the time [in practice] that aggressive behavior that we're talking about will come about."

Strong is concerned about his team's on-field leadership. The UofL coach said the majority of his team's leadership comes from his coaching staff and he's explained to his players that it needs to start coming more from them.

"Right now what we're missing is leadership," Strong said. "That's got to come coaches then [eventually] the team members will be able to carry on that leadership."

Strong said Tuesday that he still hasn't decided who will start at quarterback this season. Froman is believed to be the frontrunner and Strong said the person he'll choose will be the one who provides the best on-field leadership. Justin Burke and Will Stein are battling Froman for the starting job.

"It's going to be about who is going to lead this football team," Strong said. "All of those guys have started at some point in their career and it's critical we pick the guy that is a leader and the guys truly respect. I told them I didn't need them to go out and make a bunch of great plays I just need them to play within the system."

Strong said few starting spots have been nailed down. He wants to maintain strong competition for jobs throughout camp and he hopes that competition will foster improvement for his players.

"We have two goals here," Strong said. "We're going to graduate our players and we're going to win some Big East titles. That‘s going to happen. How soon? We're working to make it happen."

A defensive-minded coach, Strong clearly explained his philosophy for producing a winner at Louisville. It's no shocker that his approach begins with playing strong defense.

"I believe this, you win because you play great defense, don‘t turn the ball over, play great in the kicking game, and score touchdowns when you do get in the redzone," Strong said. "That's how you win football games. That‘s what we have to do."

Nobody at Louisville's Media Day wanted to put a firm number on expectations this season. There's good reason for that, the Cardinals haven't posted a winning season since 2006 and have won just two Big East games the past two years.

"[My goal this year] is mainly to build us a football team," Strong said. "I told our seniors that as a coaching staff we owe it to them to get them to a bowl game because they've been in the program for four years and they haven't been to a bowl game."

But it's a two-way street, and Strong expects significant help from a senior class that went just 15-21 their first three seasons at UofL.

"Our seniors need to go play their best football," Strong said. "Johnny Patrick needs to go have a big year. Rodney Gnat needs to step up. And [Troy] Pascley needs to step up and have a big season. We have some guys in this program that haven't played up to their expectations."

Strong knows that he has the support of the UofL administration, and the fans as he attempts to rebuild a once-great football program.

"This is a great community with a lot of passion and enthusiasm," Strong said. "People want to win and they want this program to get back where it was. It's going to happen. How soon? I can't say, but it's going to happen."

Media Day Notebook

- Strong has the football team living in close quarters at a local hotel during fall camp. The idea, according to the coach, is "team building." "We're trying to get these guys to become a football team," said Strong. "This is something started at Notre Dame with Coach [Lou] Holtz and that's what we're going to continue here."

- Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford are keeping things competitive on defense. Both coaches said Tuesday there are only two iron-clad starters on that side of the football - DT Greg Scruggs and LB Brandon Heath. "Those are the two guys that are really having outstanding camps," Strong said. "When guys compete that's how you really find out who guys are."

- Strong said he's had total support from AD Tom Jurich. "He's never told me ‘No' for anything I asked for," Strong said.

- What true freshmen might play this season? OC Mike Sanford pointed to WR's Josh Bellamy and Michaelee Harris, while DC Vance Bedford singled out linemen Brandon Dunn and Jamaine Brooks. "What we've got to find out is who really can help us," Strong said. "It is critical that we can find some guys that can help us right now."

- Sanford said he believed Strong has assembled an outstanding coaching staff and Strong indicated his new coaches are working well together. "There are no egos on our staff and guys understand that we're here to help the players get better," Strong said. "We're here for one reason - to get this program headed in the right direction."

- One of the big problems defensively is an undersized defensive line that the coaching staff worries will get worn down by the bigger, more physical Oline's in the Big East. "When you're undersized you have to move a lot," Strong said. "We have to use our speed and quickness and that's what we have right now."

- Louisville will conduct their first scrimmage since camp began this Saturday. "Saturday's scrimmage is going to be critical for us because there's going to be some guys that really need to make a move," Strong said. "Everything is about team work right now and building a football team."

- Brandon Heath said the cast he's been wearing in practice is precautionary in nature after off-season surgery on his wrist.

- Safety Terence Simien, who has been cleared for contact after a lacerated kidney sidelined him last season, says he's back to 100 percent.

- The biggest challenge for converted tight end Josh Chichester? Blocking. The former wide out says he's working extra in the film room and after practice learning his new position.

- Mike Sanford said senior tight end Pete Nochta strained his knee Monday in practice and will miss time during fall camp. Sanford also said third-string RB Jeremy Wright is slowed with a bruised knee.

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