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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Charlie Strong believes that he can develop championship college football teams – and that he can develop them at the University of Louisville.
Strong delivered powerful evidence of his belief in the U of L program on Thursday morning by saying that he had declined a prestigious coaching opportunity at the University of Tennessee to remain the U of L coach.
"I didn't want this to be an emotional decision," Strong said. "When I thought about leaving, I came back to ‘We haven't finished the job yet.' … As I talked to my family, it became crystal clear that I needed to stay at the University of Louisville."
Strong said that he has not finalized details of a contract extension with U of L athletic director Tom Jurich but said they will talk soon. Jurich has said that he would match any salary offer, and Tennessee is believed to have offered more than $3 million per season.
Strong currently earns $2.3 million.
Strong credited Jurich's commitment to him as a primary reason he turned down Tennessee, a program with 102,000-seat stadium that has won a Bowl Championship Series title. Jurich gave Strong, 52, his first head coaching opportunity when he hired him from Florida in 2009 – and then gave Strong an extension in 2011, even after Strong had lost games to Florida International and Marshall.
"My enthusiasm and heart are at the University of Louisville," Strong said.
Strong also said that he was committed to the players who have followed him to Louisville over the last three seasons. He said that many grew up without a father in their lives, and that he did not want to walk out on them.
Cardinals fans say all of it is music to their ears -- especially since many of them feared Charlie Strong was as good as gone, leaving a football program to start all over again with new team and new coach in a new conference.
"It was surprising, and when I heard he was staying and all the reasons he was staying, I said like, 'Well it looks like he finally got his head,'" said Sabrina Wines, a U of L fan.
Social media had been buzzing with what Louisville's coach would do with his offer from Tennessee, with speculation coming from local and national media.
"It's been kind of intense because it's been such a long process, but now that it's over, people can just relax," said Morgan Barnes, a Cardinals fan.
But there's still a lingering question. Earlier this week, Coach Strong seemed to say that Kentucky Wildcats fans were more faithful to their team than Cardinals fans, so with him staying, will the Cards forgive and forget?
"I just saw, once there was talk that he might leave, a lot of the fan base switched gears and were really negative toward him, and I just didn't like that at all," said Dominique Pasqualichio, a U of L student athlete. "Now that we know that he is staying, get on board. Get on the train and root for the Cards because we're going to do good things."
"We'll probably get a to a national championship within the next five years," boasts Gregory Barnett, another Cardinals fan.
Louisville finished 4-8 in 2009. Three seasons later, Strong coached U of L to a 10-2 regular-season record. The Cardinals will play Florida in the All State Sugar Bowl in New Orleans Jan. 2. It will be Louisville's third consecutive bowl appearance under Strong.