NEWPORT, R.I. (WDRB) -- There's been a lot of talk about how the University of Louisville football players will deal with the expectations of this season, returning the bulk of a team that earned an AllState Sugar Bowl victory over Florida.
For Charlie Strong, however, there's another group that must handle the expectations. Much of Strong's summer has been spent working to challenge his coaching staff.
"For us, it's all about the coaching staff," Strong said. "When we talk about this football team, it's going to go as far as our coaches take it. . . . Our coaches understand the expectation level and they've taken it on themselves."
Strong normally challenges his staff over the summer with various projects, including a July retreat in which each coach makes a presentation to the staff and is graded. This year's version of that just concluded at the Marriott East in Louisville.
At American Athletic Conference media day, Strong said the last group he wants to become complacent is his coaches.
"I tell our coaches all the time, you guys are out in the community, you hear people patting you on the back. Our players are out in the community, they hear people patting them on the back. We tell our players they have to develop, but every message is to the coaches also," Strong said. "You can't coach the way you coached yesterday, you have to get better. Because yesterday wasn't good enough. Can you improve? Do you want to improve? I've told our guys, just look at your group of players. You're the head coach of your group of players, make it the best position in the country."
Strong plans to do his part. He says that when camp begins next Tuesday, all of the "noise in the system" that players have heard will be replaced by noise from the coaching staff.
"I told our guys, I want to make this one of the toughest camps we've had since we've been here," Strong said. "Because of the unrealistic expectations. I don't want our players to walk into camp thinking they have all the answers, that they don't have to work as hard. I've told them, there's going to be a lot of days you're not going to like me. I'm not going to change. If guys don't come out to work, I'm going to start it over. I'm going to get my work in. We're going to get our day in. We're going to work. We're not going to be one of those teams that punches a clock. We're not going to be one of those teams that thinks it has arrived."
Strong's use of the phrase "unrealistic expectations" prompted plenty of interest, and one line of questioning. Strong was asked what he meant by that, given that the Cardinals are favorites in every game they play, and that they were picked to win the conference on all but two of 30 media ballots cast. He responded.
"Anytime people start talking about you being in a national championship game and you're in your fourth season, I think that's unrealistic," Strong said. "I was looking at SEC media day, and they talk about Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia. Are we in that conversation? Are we that type of team? Can you go walk in that conference and be competitive each and every week?"
QUESTION: Last time you faced a team from that conference you looked pretty competitive.
STRONG: On that night, we did. Now, could we do that each and every week? Can we compete at that level? When we get to that point, I'll say we're one of those teams. Can you do it every week? Not just one night, but every week.
QUESTION: Have you seen enough yet to indicate that they can?
STRONG: I haven't, because I haven't gotten a chance to put that Sugar Bowl team back out there. On Tuesday, I'll know.
Strong and his staff can't watch players work out. They can't oversee conditioning. They can't watch the players during skeleton drills.
But that doesn't mean they stop coaching, Strong said. In fact, he said that the summertime is an important time for his staff.
"We talk to our kids," he said. "It's all about developing a relationship with kids where they trust you. A lot of times we think it's about X's and O's. But it's really about that young man having confidence and faith in you, and you trusting him enough that he'll go and compete for you. If you develop that in summer, it becomes easier for you, because they'll jump out there and go to work for you. But you have to develop that, and not only with your starters, but with those guys who are a play away. We don't talk about the second-team guys a lot. We talk about Teddy (Bridgewater) or the wide receiver starters. But what about the next guys? You've got to develop the relationship with them, too."
Starting Tuesday, Strong said, the expectations get laid aside and the work begins. If players don't understand his brand of reality today, he said, check back with them next week.
"Everybody talks about us being 11-2 and winning the Sugar Bowl," Strong said. "We won a lot of close games. It's not like we walked out there and blew people out. . . . We had a lot of close games that could've gone the other way. Instead of 11-2, we could have been 7-6. Nobody talks about that. As coaches, we have to look at that side of things. . . . I say we're nowhere near where we need to be as a program. And as a staff, we mean that."