LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Charlie Strong’s decision to stay at Louisville is the second major coup for the Cardinals in eight days.
After reports linking Strong to several openings in the Southeastern Conference, he said Thursday that he wasn’t going anywhere. Keeping the coach had become a priority for Louisville after announcing last week it will join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
“I knew this would be a big opportunity,” Strong said during a press conference at the Cardinals’ football stadium. “It was the best decision to stay here, continue to build a program and fulfill our dreams on the football field and in the classroom.”
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Strong turned down an offer from Tennessee on Tuesday night to replace Derek Dooley, who was fired on Nov. 18. Strong had been in discussions with the Volunteers since last Thursday but did not provide any details of their offer.
Now that Louisville knows Strong is staying, athletic director Tom Jurich said they will begin re-negotiating the seven-year contract Strong received last year that currently pays him $2.3 million per season.
Jurich said Strong didn’t use the Tennessee offer as leverage for a new deal and that they only began taking about it an hour before Thursday’s press conference. Nonetheless, Jurich wants to work out a deal that will keep Strong at Louisville eight more years beyond this season and increase the salary of his assistant coaches.
Jurich admitted he has been a bit nervous these last few days. After Louisville announced its ACC plans, Jurich vowed to beat any offer made to his coach. But he didn’t know for sure what Strong would do.
The AD said Strong’s choice to remain with the Cardinals “says that we’re committed. But we’ve always been committed. Everybody always looks at us as a longshot, but we’re not an underdog. I’m probably biased, but I truly believe that as of 7:40 last Wednesday morning when (ACC President) John Swofford called, this is a top-10 job in the country in football.”
At Louisville Strong became a coveted asset and his stock rose with the Cardinals’ success.
Under Strong, the No. 22 Cardinals (10-2) won a share of the Big East Conference championship again this season and a BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl, where they’ll face Florida. On Thursday he was named as the conference’s coach of the year.
With his services in high demand, Louisville wanted to ensure he would stay — especially after announcing it is leaving the Big East, which is struggling to remain relevant in the constantly changing college football landscape.
“The stability of this program is always going to be solid and they’re going to do everything to make this one of the best programs in the country,” Strong said.
Strong’s decision to stay with the Cardinals ends the flirtation with the SEC, where he spent much of his 29-year coaching career. He was defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida when the Gators won national championships in 2006 and 2008, the last of four stints in Gainesville beginning in 1983.
The Arkansas native was also considered a solid candidate to coach the Razorbacks before Strong’s name came up in recent weeks for jobs at Auburn and eventually Tennessee, which made a hard push for the 52-year-old.
The lure of returning to the SEC was something Strong couldn’t just dismiss.
He talked with the Volunteers for several days and appeared to be leaning toward heading to Knoxville.
“They made an offer (Tuesday) and I said I’d think about it and talk about it with my family,” Strong said.
But in an environment when coaches are fired with winning records, Louisville’s commitment to Strong last year played a major role in his decision to turn the Vols down. The Cardinals gave him his deal last year when the team was 2-4.
Thursday culminated what has been a whirlwind few days for Strong.
There were reports that linked him to the Auburn job and raised questions about Strong’s future. The Tigers ended up hiring their former offensive coordinator and Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn on Tuesday, a day after Strong was mentioned as Tennessee’s top target.
On Monday, Strong held a bizarre news conference in which he managed to stir up more questions about his future when he didn’t definitively say he would be staying at Louisville. He also criticized the Cardinals’ fan base for their attendance at football games.
But when the dust settled Thursday, Strong decided to stay at the school that gave him his first head coaching job. He is 24-14 in three seasons at Louisville.
“You look at those jobs, but I have a great job here,” Strong said. “I have a great person that I work for, and I think that’s what it comes down to. When you talk to an athletic director it’s more about not only your job, but it’s about your family and caring about your family. When they ask about your daughters, that’s when you know they care more about you as a person.
“It became clear to me that it was best to stay in Louisville,” Strong said. “We haven’t finished the job yet.”