Louisville gets dose of Strong medicine
As first impressions go, Charlie Strong's lived up to his name.
Strong made an immediate impact at Louisville, where the Cardinals were ready to welcome the former Florida defensive coordinator with open arms after going from 12 wins in 2006 to 15 victories over the past three seasons.
Instead of a group hug, they got a tongue-lashing.
"The guys wanted to give him a standing ovation when he walked into the room, and he just let them have it," Louisville spokesman Rocco Gasparro said. "He let them know that what happened the last three years was unacceptable. From that point on, they bought in."
Strong, 50, has quickly changed the culture at Louisville (4-3, 1-1), which plays Pitt (4-3, 2-0) in a Big East Conference game at noon Saturday at Heinz Field. The Cardinals, coming off a 26-0 victory over Connecticut, already have matched last season's win total.
What has helped Strong is that he inherited a team with 27 seniors. Among the 13 returning starters are quarterback Adam Froman, running back Bilal Powell, receiver Doug Beaumont and four offensive linemen.
"They're a completely different team - looking at them on tape - than what they were a year ago," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "They've all bought into what Charlie's trying to do, both offense and defense, and he's getting the most out of 'em. They're excited about having a chance to win."
Strong is rebuilding Louisville based on the foundation of the values of trust and respect, which has created accountability. Louisville fifth-year senior right guard Josh Byrom, a Montour graduate, said there is "a big difference" between Strong and his predecessor, Steve Kragthorpe.
"With Coach Strong coming in, we knew right away it was a whole different mentality," said Louisville right guard Josh Byrom, a fifth-year senior from Montour. "Guys on the team, you learn to trust and respect each other because, with Coach Strong, it's his way or the highway.
"When you have a coach like that, who's enforcing the rules, who, if he makes a threat to you, he follows through if you don't go to class, or if you're late to a meeting or miss a lift, you're going to get punished and that's how it is. Right off the bat, it starts with Coach Strong. When you start trusting your head coach, it follows to the team."
It's a strategy that has suited Strong, who came highly recommended to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich by former NFL coach Tony Dungy and won two national championships while working for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame and South Carolina, and Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer at Florida.
"I've been very fortunate to work at some outstanding universities and with some very outstanding head coaches, but Lou Holtz is probably the coach that impacted me the most," Strong said. "Anytime I need some advice, I know I have someone I can call on."
Louisville coach Charlie Strong is trying to turn around a program that was the best in the Big East under Bobby Petrino but struggled the past three seasons under Steve Kragthorpe:
2003 : 9-4
2004 : 11-1
2005 : 9-3
2006 : 12-1
Total : 41-9
2007 : 6-6
2008 : 5-7
2009 : 4-8
Total : 15-21