BOZICH | Keeping Strong at Louisville Great, Keeping Jurich Essential
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The eyes of Texas have been locked on two fixtures in the Louisville football landscape over the last three months.
One is thinking about the Neiman-Marcus goodies the Texas head-coaching job offers and considering taking off like Earl Campbell chasing Bevo.
Strong has done great work for four seasons. He'd be taking a bit of a risk while wading into a shark tank, but for five years and $25 million, anybody reading this column would take it, too.
If Strong goes, thanks for the memories and all your determined work. Good luck. You'll be great. If he stays, fun times await in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Keep working on building the fan base that has come miles and miles the last 30 years.
But never forget that Strong was not the first person in Louisville that Texas wanted. The first person was Cardinals' athletic director Tom Jurich.
Jurich was not gaga about all that money that flows through Texas, all those extra seats in the football stadium, all the exposure of the Longhorn Network, all that Texas tradition and all the other treats that make people say (with considerable reason) that the Horns are hooked on being one of the five best jobs in the game.
If Jurich had been interested, he'd likely be in charge at UT today – and Charlie Strong would not be the front-runner to be next football coach in Austin. But by mid-October Jurich made it clear that he preferred U of L to Texas.
Lose Jurich and keep Strong? Or lose Strong and keep Jurich?
If only one of the pair was absolutely going to stay, Louisville has the lock on the affections and commitment of the right guy. That's been proven for nearly two decades.
I realize that I wrote the same column after John L. Smith bolted for Michigan State in 2002 and Bobby Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons after the 2006 Orange Bowl, but it's just as true today as it was the last two times that ambition stirred a successful coach to jilt the Louisville program.
In fact, considering the year the Louisville athletic department celebrated last year, I'd argue it's more true in 2014 than it was in 2006 or 2002.
That's not Conference USA and games with East Carolina or the Big East and showdowns with Rutgers that Jurich is selling to Strong or, if needed, a successor.
He can sell fresh life in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a schedule that will crackle with the Florida State team that is playing for the national title Monday, the Clemson team that beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl Friday night and that team with the gold helmets in South Bend, Ind., (2014 trip to Notre Dame Stadium included).
He can sell a stadium that has expanded once and that he's primed to expand again. He can sell a fan base that is not as large as the big boys, but is vibrant and growing every season. Jurich can sell a program that has won a pair of BCS bowl games since 2006. He can sell a talented roster with more young, emerging players. The recruiting base isn't going to define the job, but it is workable for a savvy coach with a plan.
So why would Strong leave all that?
Heavens, J.R., we're talking about Texas – five-star football country, a job that sparkles the way that not many other jobs do. Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida and Louisiana State. It's a short list.
Charlie Strong won't have to worry about cub reporters covering his spring football press conferences during basketball season any more. His blood pressure won't spike when Senior Day arrives and the entire stadium is not filled for the pre-game ceremony the way the scene unfolded last November.
Charlie Strong did great work at Louisville. He fixed a program that was sagging in the classroom as well as in the blocking and tackling departments – and won 37 games (including three bowls) in four entertaining seasons. But after talking to Jurich earlier in the week, I'm convinced the athletic director is more driven that he's ever been to find a coach who is going to come to Louisville, win at Louisville and stay at Louisville – if Strong decides to bolt.
It's the last part that has been the final challenge for Jurich. But now he has the ACC and a bigger stadium and a better schedule and a chip on his shoulder that's larger than the Sugar Bowl trophy.
Has Jurich whiffed?
Yes, he did with Steve Kragthorpe. It didn't work. Jurich corrected that about as quickly as a coaching mistake can be corrected – three seasons.
But Jurich has won three out of four hires. Ted Williams was a great hitter, but didn't hit. 750. Bear Bryant didn't win 75 percent of his games.
Jurich isn't perfect. No athletic director is. But he is driven to make certain that Louisville moves into its new football universe with a coach who is ACC-ready.
With Charlie Strong would be best. But even without Strong, Tom Jurich will keep moving the chains at Louisville.
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