LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It’s been about three decades since the University of Louisville started creating a football program that the basketball program could be proud of.
Howard Schnellenberger blew in from Miami flashing a national championship ring on one hand and a Super Bowl ring on the other. The sports landscape in this town changed – and it has not stopped changing.
A program that was thrilled to welcome 15,000 fans into an aging baseball park for chilly November games is about to play The Signature Game of the opening weekend of the 2014 college football season against Miami while moving into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It’s been quite a ride.
Now I have a question: Which coach has been most influential in getting Louisville football from there to here?
Six guys have worked here since the 1985 season. But there’s no reason to include two of them – Ron Cooper and Steve Kragthorpe – in the discussion. They didn’t win. It’s that simple.
That leaves a Fab Four.
Click on the poll at the top of this story to make your pick for the program’s most influential coach over the last three decades (I acknowledge the importance of Frank Camp, but not for this stretch).
Here are their credentials, presented in alphabetical order:
A.Bobby Petrino, four seasons, 41-9, .820.
Finished one win from playing for the national title in 2006; Won at least nine games every season. Set numerous offensive records as his teams scored 40 or more points 28 times. Played in four bowl games, winning two. Developed local stars Brian Brohm and Michael Bush as well as Harry Douglas, Amobi Okoye and Elvis Dumervil. Went 4-0 against Kentucky as his teams never trailed against the Wildcats. Left for the NFL, but returned last January for the move to the ACC. Considered one of the best offensive coaches in the game.
B. Howard Schnellenberger, 10 seasons, 54-56-2, .491.
Beat Alabama in the 1990 Fiesta Bowl and Michigan State in the 1993 Liberty Bowl. Delivered the Cards’ first 10-win season, defeating Kansas, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Boston College. Developed players like Sam Madison, Ray Buchanan, Ted Washington, Browning Nagle, Bruce Armstrong, Joe Johnson and Jeff Brohm. Added Florida State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Michigan State and Penn State to the schedule. Pushed for construction of a new football stadium. Started the annual rivalry with UK. Promoted, promoted, promoted. Talked big. Often delivered.
C. John L. Smith, five seasons, 41-21, .661
Played in five consecutive bowl games, winning one. Beat fourth-ranked Florida State in 2002. Improved the program from one victory to seven during his first season (1998). Won back-to-back Conference USA titles. Coached Chris Redman to a record-setting passing performance and also brought Dave Ragone, Deion Branch, Ibn Green, Stefan LeFors and Dewayne White into the program. Hired Petrino as his offensive coordinator, setting the stage for him to eventually succeed him.
D. Charlie Strong, four seasons, 37-15, .710.
Beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl and Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl while winning three bowl games in four seasons. Won seven games in his first season after inheriting a program that had suffered three consecutive non-winning seasons. Had three players – Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith, Teddy Bridgewater – selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Built one of the nation’s top five defenses. Raised the academic performance of the program. Won 23 of his last 26 games. Defeated Kentucky three straight. Left the program in outstanding shape before departing for Texas after the 2013 season