LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When Charlie Strong was asked about a national championship during Wednesday's Governor's Cup news conference, he was ready.
Strong has been sitting back for much of the summer and letting expectations for his football team run amok. It's easy to forget, however, Strong knows what a national championship team looks like. He reminded reporters of that on Wednesday, in ways subtle and not so subtle.
"Someone once told me you never talk about winning a national championship," Strong said. "You just wake up in the morning and you're national champion."
Strong has been a part of two national championship efforts. Both were at the University of Florida. He's also been part of a season in which the Gators returned the better part of a national championship team, and Heisman trophy quarterback Tim Tebow, and didn't win it all.
"I don't ever want to talk about winning a national championship," Strong said. "There's a lot of things that have to happen. There's a lot of luck involved. And you don't want to put added pressure on your team, where they're always thinking, we have to go win it, we have to go win it.
"I can remember that second time at Florida. And everybody thought we were going to go win a third one. I remember on defense, we had 21 of our top 22 coming players back. We had Tebow back. Percy Harvin was back. And every game -- and this is not what I want to see here -- you did not enjoy winning because people said, 'You should have won by 30.' Or you win by 30 and people said, 'You should've won by 40.' And I just don't want that to creep into our team, where losing becomes devastating. And you win a game, the players don't really enjoy it. That can happen. It happened at Florida. We ran the table, then lost in the Southeastern Conference championship game to Alabama, and you would have thought we had lost every game that season. I just don't want that to happen with this team."
In other words, while everyone else's expectations run wild, don't expect Strong's to follow suit. When asked if he was going to stress putting up gaudy offensive numbers to make a statement to pollsters, he responded, "We're not there to run up the score on anybody. We just want to win the football game."
It shouldn't be a surprise. Strong has gone about things his way from the start at U of L. And he realizes he has set himself up for expectations because of what has happened the past two seasons. He also thinks last season, and what happened with the team when it got to 9-0, should be instructive.
He called many of the expectations on his team, "unrealistic," then went on to say, "What probably should have happened in this football program is the first year we should've won two games and the next year we should've won four and last year we should've won six. Now this year we'd have been good with seven or eight."
Strong says he wants a more mature team this year, a more consistent team.
He did say he wants the Cardinals to take, "the next step," but in his thinking, that means they will become a more consistent team that performs at a high level no matter who the competition is. That's not what happened a year ago.
"You ask about the schedule, and it's all about us. How much better are we getting as a team, and as players," Strong said. ". . . What happened last year was we went to Syracuse and got pounded. We felt a little too good about ourselves and thought we were better than we actually were. And then the wake-up call, UConn beat us. . . . Our players heard the noise in the system, and when you do that too much, it becomes a part of the team ego. Instead of respect your opponent, you start feeling cocky and getting self-absorbed and listening to what everyone is telling you. It's still about work. It's still about preparation. It's still about focus. And what happened was we lost that."
While coaches haven't been around players all summer, Strong suggested that his staff will be filling them with a different kind of noise come the start of camp.
"You like to think that four years into the program, with our players and the continuity of our coaching staff, our players are buying in and know what our coaching staff expects," Strong said. ". . . Keep this team in perspective. I tell our players all the time, it doesn't matter where people say about you at the start. We're either going to grow and move forward, or we're just going to maintain and remain the same.
". . . When you look down the road you miss out what's happening right in front of you. I don't know if we're at that level where we can be consistent. You have to be competitive, then learn how to win, then learn how to handle winning, then go to the next level. That's what we're going to try to do."