COACH CHARLIE STRONG
THE MODERATOR: We now welcome Coach Charlie Strong. Brief opening statement.
COACH STRONG: I cannot say enough for Paul and Jack and the Sugar Bowl committee for the warm hospitality they showed our program. And we appreciate it, and I know from our staff and from our players they’ve had a great time, but we know it’s time to lock down and focus playing an outstanding team in University of Florida.
Coach Muschamp has done an outstanding job. You look at that football team, they’re one game away from playing for a national championship, and I think about just the speed and the quickness and just how aggressive that football team is.
They got them on offense, Driskel is an outstanding football player. A lot of those guys, I recruited a lot of them there. Defensively, you look at Elam and at them, up front big and physical, and having to control the line of scrimmage and an outstanding defense, a trademark at University of Florida, always play outstanding defense there.
Our football team, we practice well. You look at this five weeks and we haven’t played a football game. And we just had a team meeting this morning, I was just telling them: You know, it’s all about technique. It’s all about fundamentals now. And it’s all about us right now just focusing on ourselves and making sure that we lock in and we stay focused and our preparation has to be there. We’re one day away from game time now. I’m just excited for our football team. I’m here ‑‑ we’re here at the Sugar Bowl.
Look at it, three years ago we took over this program, our seniors are 24 and 14 the last few years. They’ve been to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl and Belk Bowl and now a chance at the BCS Bowl.
We know this, we expect to have an outstanding showing, and I’m excited for our football team.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Do you see anything in this defense that reminds you at all of the’06 or ’08 defenses you had at Florida?
COACH STRONG: You look at defense, now you think about it, you look at Bostic and you think of Spikes, and you look at Elam, you think of Major Wright. And you look at those guys up front an outstanding football team. And just defensively passing team what they were number one and number two in the country and it’s all categories they led.
They’re just a really good team defensively.
Q. First, your reaction to Boise State announcing that it’s going to stay in the Mountain West, and are you afraid that this is going to cost the Big East its automatic bid for next season, your last one in the league? And I don’t know if it’s been pointed out to you or not, you haven’t realized, you’re the first African‑American head coach in the Sugar Bowl. Do you feel like the success of you, Kevin Summerlin and David Shaw and James Franklin has made race less of an issue in coaching hirings going down the road?
COACH STRONG: Well, if you look at ‑‑ just address the second question ‑‑ if you look at just what has happened over the last number of years, race hasn’t been an issue with the hiring of coaches, because you look at Texas A&M hired Summerlin and the hiring of Franklin and myself at Louisville, the opportunity is there we have a chance to go out and be successful; it opens up more eyes.
The first question, with Boise, I think the Big East is going to be fine. I think there’s teams out there that want to become a member of the Big East. So I think that will happen for them.
Q. What is the state of your run defense at this point, it was an area of some concern going down the stretch and particularly vis‑a‑vis the Florida running game. Is that a worry or have you resolved that?
COACH STRONG: It’s always a worry, Tim, because you look at it. You’d like to play physical. The only way you can play physical, you have to be able to run the football. And Florida does a great job stopping the run. I think the last few games we’ve not done a good job at all running the football.
Since the Nord went down, Jeremy carried most of the load. It’s not just all on Jeremy’s shoulder. We have to do a better job of blocking. That’s not what we’re doing. We have to do a better job blocking, controlling the line of scrimmage. That has to happen.
In order to play football, you’ve got to control the line of scrimmage. That’s not what we’re doing right now.
Q. Versus the run defense?
COACH STRONG: My run defense? We have to do a better job of stopping the run ourselves. But you look at ‑‑ you look at over the last few weeks, I think that now the last few games we’ve done a better job, and we have to continue to be better. You have to stop the run.
Q. Could you talk about Teddy, where he is right now, the last four, five weeks since the injuries, what will he be able to do, how will you manage the situation?
COACH STRONG: Teddy the last few weeks have really been to his advantage, because now he’s been able to get healthy. And you look at it, our game plan is all about Teddy. So Teddy’s healthy now. So we’re going to progress and Stein has to come in and play, we’ll use him. But right now it’s on Teddy.
Q. He’s 100 percent?
COACH STRONG: I’m not saying he’s 100 percent but he’s going to be better than he was in the Rutgers game.
Q. You know as well as anyone how rabid Gator fans have been in the past. Were you surprised that you guys have doubled up Florida as far as tickets sold and how much did Louisville fan support have to do with you wanting to stay there?
COACH STRONG: If you look at University of Florida, I think it’s a program that has so much tradition over the last few years. And now what has happened here, the University of Louisville, it’s our second BCS Bowl game. So our fans are really excited about getting to a BCS Bowl.
And I don’t know if it had anything to do with ‑‑ but I think our fans are going to support it now no matter what because we have a chance to get to a BCS. The last one ever was a Orange Bowl, beat Wake Forest. Now we have a chance for the Sugar Bowl. So our fans are excited.
Q. Is it a motivating factor, you hear about the superiority of the Southeastern Conference and the consensus is the best conference in college football. And do you feel more comfortable in the underdog role?
COACH STRONG: If you look at the Southeastern Conference, look at the national championships over the last few years, it speaks for itself. And now you have a chance to go play a team from the Southeastern Conference, I think our team, they’re really excited about it, because when you hear college football, everyone talks about the Southeastern Conference.
But you look at the Southeastern Conference, it’s not so much the players, but it’s the fan support. Because when you go to those stadiums, LSU or Auburn or Tennessee, look at the fans and how they turn out. I think that is an advantage for those teams in that conference also.
Q. I know you want to win every single game, but how important do you view this opportunity against Florida as more exposure for your program, a good showing and leading into the future and maybe even setting your team up for next year?
COACH STRONG: I always tell them: You look at a Bowl game, and I say to them this is the first game of next season. And it shows us exactly where we are. And now you have a team that it is a really good football team. And now we have to have a good showing in this football game because we need to know exactly where we are.
It’s going to be a measuring stick for our program and it’s going to either show us how far behind we are or how much further we need to go.
Q. You’ve had some guys sit out with sickness over the past couple of days. How has that affected your preparation and do you expect all those guys to be back?
COACH STRONG: The sickness, it hasn’t really affected us all. Guys are getting the bug here or there. But they’re all bouncing back in their practices so they’ll be prepared to go play a game.
Q. It’s been a month since your team has played a game. And I know you guys have been practicing, but is there any concern about maybe getting into the flow because obviously you guys want to get into the game real quick?
COACH STRONG: Can’t always just go back to just when you start a fall camp. You start a fall camp, it’s four or five weeks before you play that first game, even though now we played 12, you’ve been off five weeks. Now it’s all about when you get to practice. It’s about the fundamentals of techniques. And again it’s the guys back in a rhythm routine of practicing.
You have to hit another opponent. Just been practicing against yourselves. So now it’s going to be a great opportunity. But it’s key that we just continue to just focus in and lock on fundamentals and technique and have those type of practices.
Q. Can you kind of take us through what you think of the focus of your team, where you gauge it at this point, if you came back from a little bit of Christmas break, how you’ve been in New Orleans a couple of days and practice is down here, the focus you’ve seen from them and what’s going to happen over the next 24 hours for your team?
COACH STRONG: I think with the focus, even before we came to New Orleans, we started practicing in Louisville and they understand who they’re playing, they understand the Bowl game.
And I think that’s ‑‑ now they have a chance to get to a BCS Bowl game. Opponent, University of Florida, speaks for itself. I don’t have to say much because a lot of these players on our team are from the state of Florida. So they know a lot of the players that they’re going up against. So the focus and where we need to be as far as their mindset, they understand it’s the University of Florida and it’s the Southeastern Conference and we’re in the Sugar Bowl.
Q. Given your history with Florida over the years and all the guys that you recruited that were here the last couple of years, how hard was it for you to watch what they went through in 2010 and 2011?
COACH STRONG: Well, those guys are all young at that time. But I knew that coaching staff still. So I knew that coaching staff, eventually, once these players grew up they were going to be really good players and it’s happened. If you look at it right now, look at how much the growing pains and the effect of it and look where they are.
Q. Did it affect you or bother you watching them have such a hard time the previous two years?
COACH STRONG: I had a hard time myself. I was 76‑76. So I didn’t worry about them. I was struggling myself.
Q. What does your time, though, at Florida mean to you, the time you spent coaching there?
COACH STRONG: Well, I spent so many years there, Chris, it was a special time for me. And if you look at I think when you start from the ’80s and the ’90s, I was able to work with every head coach in that program. It was a special ‑‑ it was special times for me.
I really put my career there. I had some great wins, great losses. But you always learn from it. I was able to develop and become a really good football coach because of my experience there.
Q. Can you give me an estimate of how many head coaching offers you had over your years and why you felt Louisville was the right job to take?
COACH STRONG: I just don’t know the number. But I think about the University of Louisville and Tom Jurich and our president, Dr. Ramsey, they gave me the first opportunity and it’s all about loyalty.
And a lot of times when you have a little success, everybody starts saying, hey, let’s go try to go hire this guy away. But because of them giving me my first opportunity, it’s hard to say and walk away and then for the players that I recruited there, you know, talked to them about trust, talk to them about commitment.
And a lot of times I tell those players that a lot of people have walked out of their life. Now all of a sudden here I am the head football coach, I’m going to walk away from them, who will they ever trust. I couldn’t do it to that university. I couldn’t do it to that group of players.
Q. With Boise State leaving next year and once you get to the ACC, this will take care of itself. But with Boise State leaving, you don’t have a, quote/unquote, marquee opponent on the schedule here with the unique opportunity of all the talent you have coming back. How critical is it to replace them and maybe get a marquee opponent on that schedule maybe in nonconference?
COACH STRONG: We’ll leave it up to Tom, do everything possible, what he feels we have to do to get that marquee opponent.
But we still have next season to worry about. Let’s get through this game, then I’m going to start worrying about Boise. Not so much Boise, but worrying about my own team.
Q. How key is going into Florida and getting players to kind of where your program has come from and how big was it to go to Miami particularly and pull Teddy out of there?
COACH STRONG: It’s key. Because you look at the state of Florida, there’s so many players there. You have Miami, Florida State, Florida. And everyone else comes in there after they get who they want. But it’s still some outstanding players still left there.
And getting Teddy was, if you look at it just how valuable he is to our program right now, probably one of our best football players, it was key, because we needed that quarterback.
And to go into the rest of the players, just built around him. I was sitting out there the other day just looking, not to take away anything from the state of Kentucky, outstanding players within Louisville and the state, but once we recruit that state, then we’re able to go to Florida, because of the ties and the connections that we have and the relationships we have built, that we have built with the high school coaches there.
Q. How do you see this game playing out in your head, what will be some of the keys for both teams; and if this were to be a winner for you, how much would it mean to you and the program?
COACH STRONG: What’s going to be key is not giving up the big play and being able to just stop the run. Both opponents, you look at Florida, look at us and being able to stop the run and try to make it somewhat one‑dimensional, the program.
And it’s going to be key for our program because we have a chance to go play a Southeastern Conference opponent, an opponent that’s one game away from playing for a national championship. But all games are big. So it’s a great deal that we’re in this position and we’re in for it.
Q. Can you give us a sense of, I guess, the sentimental value? Is this the equivalent to maybe playing your alma mater, or do you just kind of tune all of that out?
COACH STRONG: Well, see, I guess what really hasn’t hit me yet, I haven’t seen many of the players. So probably when I walk into the stadium for the first time tomorrow night and look across the sideline, you see a lot of those players you’re able to recruit. Then it kind of hits you.
Once you hear the band rev up and play the different songs that you’re so familiar with ‑‑ and we had a function last night, saw a lot of the administrators. So it will be something special.
I mean, you kind of said there’s a lot of possibilities, but I’ve got to get my team ‑‑ I’ve got to get refocused and get my team going also.
Q. Florida is historically known for their special teams prowess. Your team, it’s been a rough year in that regard. What is your concern in that avenue?
COACH STRONG: Well, you had to play all three phases and their special teams have been outstanding. You’re right, we struggle some games with our special teams. But it’s always a key element in the game, special teams going to play a critical element in the next game. So we just have to make sure we don’t give up the big plays special teams. And when it’s time to go cover, it’s time to go cover. When it’s time for us to return, we have to get some return yardage.
Q. In the weeks since your decision to stay, how has that resonated with recruits, with just the profile of the program? And second part, where does your contract negotiation stand, has that been resolved?
COACH STRONG: I don’t know where the contract negotiations stand right now. But just with recruits, we’re still recruiting the same guys. And so recruiting has always been ‑‑ you have to go recruit the best players. That’s what we’re going to try to do, go recruit the best players.
Now that we’re in a different conference I think that will help us get into some homes we weren’t able to get into when we were in the Big East. So recruiting is always critical.
And that is the lifeblood of the program. You have to be able to recruit well. But the contract, we’ll talk about that later.
Q. You said you think the Big East is going to be fine. What makes you say that from the outside looking in; looks like the conference is disintegrating, and why do you think the ‑‑ where did the Big East go wrong?
COACH STRONG: I don’t know where it went wrong. But I just think that there are fine teams out there. I think there’s still a lot of teams out there that are not within a conference, and I think maybe that’s how they can fall in and get those teams to become part of the conference.
It’s always tough because you look at everyone’s trying to build and everyone’s trying to position themselves to get better teams for the other conferences.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.