An Interview With:
COACH CHARLIE STRONG
THE MODERATOR: We’ve been joined by Coach Charlie Strong from the University of Louisville, and we’ll be joined by Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor, and Preston Brown.
We’ll start with brief comment from Coach.
COACH STRONG: I’m so proud of our football team, and I look at this performance tonight, and I sometimes wonder why didn’t we do this the whole season.
But this performance, it’s just attributed to our offense, our defense, kicking game. All three phases played well. We said this at the beginning: We just take care of our job and do what we’re supposed to do, don’t worry about who we’re playing, it’s going to be a 60minute game, win every play, and that’s what we had to do this season.
Our quarterback we’ve seen all season long, what an unbelievable performance he had. We weren’t able to run the ball in them again and couldn’t move them off the line of scrimmage, but some of the throws he made and just how he managed our offense, that’s why I continue to say he’s one of the best in the country.
And our defense, you look at Calvin Pryor and the whole defense, just how well they played and we had to go get key stops. If you look at this game, just look at this game, we physically just matched up and we were just we were able to just overpower a team, the No. 3 team in the country.
We left a lot of points out there on the field. Had a couple of field goals blocked, missed one or two throws. But still, though, our whole team just loved their performance. And you have to love our fans. We traveled so strong to this game.
And I told our players: Why do you want to win this game? You want to win this game for those 25,000 fans that traveled down here, was behind you the whole time. You can’t get in the hotel. You cannot get in the hotel. I haven’t been in that hotel lobby yet because you just get bombarded. But that’s what you want.
And in order to change the culture of a program, our fans are going to have to change it. And this evening they took that step, just like we took a step where we go and beat the No. 3 team in the country and go and win it and make a statement for next season.
I know this: We have a lot of seniors that are leaving this program, but we need to enjoy this moment right now. Our players really need to cherish and enjoy this moment.
I don’t know if it’s one of the biggest wins ever in the history. I had to look at that Fiesta bowl where we beat Alabama as one of the biggest.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Charlie, before the game you kind of talked about this being a measuring stick and you’d be able to see where you are. Where is the program now?
COACH STRONG: We know we still have a long ways to go. You look at the team that we beat this season. We played well, but we had to play well like that all season. We were not a consistent team this season. We struggled, had to come from behind seven games.
But we played had played the way we played this evening for four quarters, then we would never have been in a position, because now we’d probably be looking who knows, I don’t want to say where we would be, but we could continue to get better.
Q. Can you just talk about how much this means for you personally, considering everything that’s happened in the last month with you and other jobs and staying at Louisville and all that?
COACH STRONG: It’s not so much me, I just know I told our players I love them so much and I respect them so much and the reason why I did not go take that job, because I know I have a football team that is behind me 100 percent.
A football team that I really love and I cherish. And I liked how hard they worked. I’m in the position I’m in right now because of what they did. And I told them that. I said: Guys, people are calling me just because of what you’ve done. Nothing I’ve done.
And it means a lot. It just means a lot for me for this to see it happen for them.
Q. Coach, could you just talk about the very first play of the game, that pick six, how did that set the momentum for the rest of the night?
COACH STRONG: What happened, they threw a curl route and the ball was tipped and T. Floyd made an unbelievable play on the ball and he goes and scores, and then right the momentum we felt like if we could get a lead that we could maintain that lead, because they weren’t a team to produce a lot of points. We felt like that, hey, the points they do produce is going to be when they get into their wildcat formation or razzledazzle, which they got us on the goal line play where we thought they were going to kick a field goal and they handed the ball off on the dive play and then the kickoff return.
We knew we had to make them drive the ball down the field. If we had our opportunities to go score, which we did, we’ll be able to score.
Q. Calvin, you in that force fumble or later in the game, just talk about the mindset of the defense all night and how you guys were so confident against Florida?
CALVIN PRYOR: I mean, we had more than a week to prepare for this team, man. We know they did everything based on formation. And Coach got one of the best coaching staffs in the nation. Prepared us well.
We knew going into this game we just have to play lights out as a defense, because you know we have to get the ball back to our quarterback because Teddy’s going to do what he do.
But just coming up to this point, we had the right attitude, had the right mindset that we would go out and beat this team. That’s what we did tonight.
Q. You went through so many adversities this season. Are there commonalities to what happened through that season? And during this game when you began to do so well, was this sort of a surreal moment for you, for all the different things, including having coached at Florida, seeing the way these guys grew up and all the adversities you faced?
COACH STRONG: I just know this: This is a team that can handle adversity. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been able to grow, and once you grow from adversity, it just makes you stronger. That’s what this football team has done. It’s grown so much.
You know, you look at us last year, Fred was 2 and 4 and we were able to come back, win 5 out of 6. And we hit a streak this year we were 90 and no one gave us respect. And it’s funny to watch, people get to the Big East, they say don’t talk about the Big East, they don’t play anybody.
I hope tonight they opened up their eyes, because on any given night, if you prepare well, if you focus in and if the preparation’s there for your team, you can go beat anybody.
That just shows tonight it doesn’t matter. There’s so much parity in college football right now, who is to say who is the best team out there.
Q. Coach, I know you’re the consummate team guy, Teddy’s the consummate team quarterback, but how much will you embrace a Heisman campaign with this kid now?
COACH STRONG: Well, I’ve said it. And he is one of the best quarterbacks. He’s one of the best players in the country. If you look out there on that field tonight, you look at what Florida has, you look at what we have, he’s the best probably. Not probably, he was the best player on the field.
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER: I wouldn’t be in this situation right now and this predicament without my teammates. Right now I’m just enjoying this moment. The Heisman campaign may start, but right now I’m just enjoying this moment.
CALVIN PRYOR: I’ve been saying it all year: He’s one of the best quarterbacks and best player in the nation. They look at Louisville, don’t give us any credit, but he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. I think he deserve that.
PRESTON BROWN: I’m going along with Calvin: Teddy’s the best quarterback I’ve ever seen personally and played with. I think he should be in the Heisman race.
Q. Teddy, what was it going into the week that you thought that you might be able to do well against Florida? Was there corners playing up kind of tight on you, did you think you could exploit that? What worked for you, I guess, is the question.
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER: I looked at what did and didn’t work for quarterbacks during the regular season. They faced guys forcing throws and things like that, trying to force plays, trying to play with an S on their chest. And Coach Ross tells me: No capes on your back. No S on your chest. Just take what the defense give you.
That’s what I took. Film study was vital, played a vital role in tonight’s game.
Q. Twopart question. How motivated were you guys to play an SEC team like this? And how important what’s the significance of beating a team, not only SEC team, but a quality of Florida?
COACH STRONG: It was very big for us. We knew we had the stage tonight and the stage was set for us. We had a national audience. Then you have the No. 3 team in the country. We’re very motivated.
Before we even came here to New Orleans, when we were in Louisville practicing, it was all about Florida, and our players are so focused. They were locked in. They knew they had to go play well because you had to be at your best tonight to go win this football game.
We knew we couldn’t make the mistakes because there was a team that could cash in on the mistakes. But if you watch this and they way we took the field, just how we warmed up, at first I thought the stage was too big for us and I kept looking at our team, and I said to Teddy: Listen, take the team. You need to talk to them because I don’t want them to get out there and just get stage fright all of a sudden. Let’s go out there and let’s prepare, let’s go play this game.
We have been on a stage before. We had to go to Rutgers and beat Rutgers. We had North Carolina at our place and we beat them.
So this should not be anything new to us. Let’s just go play. Let’s focus and let’s lock in.
Q. This stage, though, you had been on this stage before. But maybe not one this big. The guys from “Game Day” were on the sidelines. To win in front of those guys, to know that Louisville football earned a lot of respect tonight, what does it mean moving forward moving into next year? Those guys are saying you’re a legitimate top 5 team to start the season next year.
COACH STRONG: We don’t want to go that far. Don’t let them put us there. No, we knew the stage was set. If you look at it, we’re in a Bowl game that has so much tradition. We’re in a Bowl game that if you look at last year the national championship came out of this Bowl game. And then you had a national audience.
And the Sugar Bowl committee was unbelievable in what they did. And they provided that. The matchup that they provided this season gave us a chance, because now they pick a Louisville team against a No. 3 Florida team. So they set the stage for us. That was all about us getting the preparation.
Q. Teddy, your first play of the game. You took a big shot. I’m not sure where your helmet rolled, but how did you feel after that? How much did opening the game with that pick lift everybody up even though that was a rough start?
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER: It was a wakeup call. Whenever you take a shot like that, it wakes you up, lets you know they’re here. And Bostic, he’s a great player, he’s a great athlete, and I take my hat off to that guy for delivering the blow at me.
That interception, it jump started our offense, actually, because they had got the ball first. And on offense I personally would like to get the ball first, but Coach Strong opts to kick.
But for the defense to come out and score right away, it was pretty much like an offensive touchdown for us. It was like Florida giving us seven points.
Q. Coach, what will the party be like tonight, and do you enjoy Hurricanes?
COACH STRONG: I told them they cannot go down on Bourbon Street and consume all those Hurricanes, they have to get up tomorrow, we have to leave. I want them to enjoy this moment, have a heck of a time. We probably won’t be able to get into that hotel tonight. I know they’re packed in there.
Q. Do you have a sense of what this win means both to the program and to the city? And just in your words, what do you think that is?
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER: It means a lot. For one, our fans have been with us since day one. And it’s not just about the University of Louisville, it’s about the city of Louisville.
Coach Strong always talks about giving back, and tonight we felt like we gave the city something back to cheer about.
They were talking about making the L, the Louisville logo, back on the market, pretty much playing for your brand. Tonight we did a great job of doing that.
CALVIN PRYOR: I think it’s a big win for us. And going into next season it will give us a confidence builder we can play with anybody in the nation. Like Teddy said, this is the reason we came here, this is the reason we came to play for Coach Strong, to play in big moments like this.
I think it’s a big win for the program and for the city of Louisville.
PRESTON BROWN: It just shows that we’re 20 in BCS games now, so we showed the country when we get on the big stage we know what to do with it.
Q. Charlie, could you talk about the fans showing up, not only showing up, but just I know Florida got a false start. Seemed like the fans kind of the noise might have affected them. Could you talk about not only the way they showed up, but just as much noise they were making and the impact they had on that game?
COACH STRONG: The fans were unbelievable. And you always talk about and I told them I was telling our players, I said a lot of times people talk about conferences and they talk about teams and conferences. But the fans are really the ones who set the atmosphere, the game day atmosphere.
You go into some of these stadiums, especially the Southeastern Conference, you can be as good as a lot of those teams, but the fans are the ones who disrupt the game like they did this evening.
For them to come down from Louisville where they came from, all across the state of Kentucky to support us the way they did our players felt so good. Each day when you walked out of that hotel going to practice, they were lining up with the Car cheer and you felt it so much, you felt like I told them before, why do you want to win? You want to win because all these fans are here to support you. And they all showed up for you.
And that’s what it’s all about. When you know that you have the back end that we know we have now, it’s unbelievable where this program can go. We keep saying: We’re just scratching the surface. We can take it to another level.
Q. What do you think the feeling is going to be like when you arrive back in Louisville you bring the trophy back to the fans and the city of Louisville and the whole state of Kentucky for that matter?
COACH STRONG: Our fans, I know that city tonight, they probably won’t sleep tonight, they’re like us because they’re so happy. They have supported this program from the day we took this job. They’ve been every fan there in the city, everyone in the city has all been supportive of what we’ve done and what we’ve been trying to accomplish.
And you get so many texts. You get them from friends. I can remember just the last couple of days everyone said: You’re going to do it. Just believe you’re going to do it. You’re going to do it. The Titanic sunk. Nobody gave it a chance.
You look at we’re a 15point underdog, but our players, that was not going to happen this evening.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.