LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Charlie Strong shot back forcefully and, at times, angrily at reports he had interviewed with Auburn University earlier this week. After his team's 20-17 victory over Rutgers that locked up a share of its second straight Big East title and sent the Cards to an almost-certain BCS bowl, Strong fired back at rumors that broke on Thursday.
But he declined to take a shot at the toughest question -- of whether he would return to U of L next season.
Usually, when a coach starts to talk about journalism, guys like me roll our eyes, just like football coaches roll theirs when we start to question their play calls. Thursday night, Strong made a valid point.
"Anytime a reporter can make a statement or write information about someone, you have to be held accountable just like we're held accountable for our job," Strong said. "If you're going to make a statement, then go get your source and I'd like to know who your source is."
"Here I am trying to get a football team ready to go play Rutgers and that's the only thing I'm concerned about. I have a job. I don't need to chase jobs. I have a really good job. So for that statement to be made, without any factual information -- they didn't talk to me . . . It was a distraction for our program and a distraction for our fans."
Strong said he took it personally because the news story implied something about him.
"The way I look at it, it tested who I am," he said. "It's just testing me to see who I am. I'm trying to get a team ready, and you're saying I'm chasing another job and not taking care of the job I have, or not having respect for the players when they respect me and do everything I ask them to do. Then all of a sudden I'm going to turn my back and go interview for a job two days before a big game? I mean, come on. Seriously?"
Strong asks some good questions, regarding reporting and the boxes coaches are placed into when stories break. It is a no-win situation. If you address them, as Strong did in interviews with Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday night, you risk making the rumor a bigger story than it was. And if you don't, you're leaving information about you in the public domain go unchallenged.
It's a difficult thing. The problem is that often, the reporting is the truth, or has an element of truth. There needs to be some level of understanding about what's acceptable and what's not. For Strong to have interviewed with Auburn two days before a game with a BCS trip on the line would have crossed the line, given that his team had lost its past two games and was facing an uphill battle.
But can a coach not take a phone call in that situation? Surely, coaches have that right, so long as they're continuing to do their jobs well.
The way this all works leads to situations like Cincinnati encountered with Brian Kelly, who left an unbeaten Cincinnati team to coach Notre Dame before its Sugar Bowl appearance against Florida. Many UC players found out during a team banquet, or through media reports.
That's disrespectful, and Strong hit the right tone when he spoke of it in those terms.
What Strong would not do, however, is go any further. Steve Andress of WDRB, after Strong spoke about the reporting on the Auburn rumor, asked Strong this, and I'm quoting him exactly, to give context to the answer:
"This is the second time that this topic has come up this season. Would you be okay with saying that you are not moving next year? Are you fully 100 percent committed for next year?"
To that question, Strong responded: "Let's just concentrate on this. Let's worry about the game. Let's not worry about taking jobs right now. Let's worry about the game."
That won't stop speculation, or close any doors on these types of connections to open jobs. And frankly, maybe that works in Strong's favor from a contract standpoint, though Strong should know by now, he doesn't need to play games with Tom Jurich. Whatever he asks for, he's going to get. There's no need for leverage.
Regardless, U of L players are firm in their belief that Strong is staying, and say he has been far more direct in his discussions with them.
"Coach Strong isn't going anywhere," offensive lineman Alex Kupper said. "He said he's here to stay, and we believe that. He's like a father figure to us."
Wide receiver Eli Rogers said, "Coach Strong has always told us to stay within the program and don't really worry about outside media, and that's what we do. . . . He is a father figure to everybody on the team. You have to listen to him."