Charlie Strong has University of Louisville football off to the first 9-0 start in school history. The Cards have climbed to No. 9 in the Bowl Championship Series standings this week and are poised to play in a lucrative BCS Bowl game for just the second time in school history. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw five touchdown passes in their 45-17 win over Temple last Saturday. UofL visits Syracuse this Saturday at noon. The defection of West Virginia to the Big XII has given the national pundits the impression that a watered down Big East is not deserving of consideration to play for the national title. UofL is one of just six unbeaten teams remaining in major college football. I sat down withÂ Coach Strong to talk about the latest developments.
KENT TAYLOR: You moved up to No. 9 in the BCS standings this week but are behind two SEC teams with two losses â€“ what is your reaction?
CHARLIE STRONG: The way I look at it is that we donâ€™t control that. I have nothing to do with it. The only thing our team can do for the rest of this year is continue to play well and just play it out.
TAYLOR: Do you deserve to be in the national championship conversation?
STRONG: At the end of the season, youâ€™ll see where youâ€™re going to end up. We cannot worry about that; our focus right now has to be Syracuse.
TAYLOR: How many times have you tried to schedule an SEC school?
STRONG: Georgia got out of it the time that we had them on our schedule.
TAYLOR: Why is that so difficult?
STRONG: I think that what happens with a lot of conference teams is that they donâ€™t want to play a tough team out of conference because they feel like that within their conference theyâ€™re playing enough teams that they have to go each week to get ready for. They donâ€™t want to say hey, letâ€™s go step out of conference and go play thisÂ team here.
TAYLOR: There have been some pretty good quarterbacks here: Johnny Unitas, Chris Redman, Dave Ragone, Stefan Lefors, Brian Brohm. Does Teddy (Bridgewater) already deserve to be in that conversation?
STRONG: Heâ€™s in that conversation, but I think that with him, he doesnâ€™t want to be placed on a pedestal. Heâ€™d rather continue to get better and let me go earn this position that they want to go put me in. He is a special player and heâ€™s fun to watch.
TAYLOR: What is different about him?
STRONG: Whatâ€™s great is just the respect he has from his teammates. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s amazing about him. What you really like about him is that from the offensive side to the defensive side, you have a quarterback who can swing both sides, and players feel comfortable with him. Not many places are like that, because the quarterback is usually held to a higher standard. We are with Teddy, but a lot of them donâ€™t want to become a teammate with the whole team. A lot of them want to think that itâ€™s all about them. Itâ€™s fun to just watch how he just mixes with the other players.
TAYLOR: Are you excited that you donâ€™t have to worry about the weather this week, playing in a dome (at Syracuse)?
STRONG: I think I want a rain game, I think we play better. To be indoors, it will be a good test for us. Thatâ€™s why weâ€™ll practice all week in the Trager Center to get used to that type of surface.
TAYLOR: What does it mean to you to be 9-0, to do something that has never been done before at this program?
STRONG: I guess we really have not even talked about our record. Each week our focus has just been on the team that weâ€™re playing. We were sitting there at 8-0 and I never once said, â€œHey weâ€™re 8-0, weâ€™re No. 10 in the country.â€ I just said, listen guys, you have a good Temple football team coming in here and if you donâ€™t lock in. I just look at it with our program, weâ€™re sitting here 9-0 and weâ€™re still not where we should be. You donâ€™t want guys to get full of themselves.
TAYLOR: What is your reaction to Joker Phillips getting fired?
STRONG: Joker and I are good friends and you hate within this profession for that to happen to anyone. Thereâ€™s a young man who put in 22 years at a university, was a player there and also, he coached there. You have to look at it as a business and the decisions that were made, their athletic director and president made that decision. I know this, Joker will fall on his feet because heâ€™s an outstanding coach and an outstanding person.
TAYLOR: Have you talked to him since the announcement?
STRONG: No I have not spoken with him. What you like to do is just let him get through this. Heâ€™s probably getting a ton of phone calls, and then when this happens, Iâ€™ve been fired before, not as a head coach, not yet, but Iâ€™ve been fired before. You donâ€™t feel like talking to anyone. More than anything you just let those phone calls come and then you just donâ€™t even answer the phone.