Charlie Strong and the University of Louisville football team wrapped up spring practice by drawing an announced crowd of over 33,000 for the annual Red-White game on April 13. It was the largest crowd in school history for the spring game. Strong has compiled a 25-14 record in three seasons as the Cardsâ€™ head coach, including two bowl wins and two Big East championships. His fourth UofL team is expected to kick off the 2013 season ranked in the Top 10, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The Cardsâ€™ season opener is Aug. 31 against Ohio.
KENT TAYLOR: Was that what you were looking for, some atmosphere, and over 30,000 for the spring game?
CHARLIE STRONG: It was just great for our players, and they know this: They have the city behind them, and they have all the fans behind them, and they enjoyed it.
TAYLOR: What are the differences that you see in Teddy Bridgewater, even since January?
STRONG:Â During the season I said to our team, â€œWhat position on this football team cannot have a mistake at all?â€ All of them said quarterback, so I said, â€œWhy is it the quarterback? Why canâ€™t your position?â€ They said because the quarterback always has the ball in his hands. I said, â€œNo, itâ€™s because of the way he prepared every week. He knows his mistakes; everybody sees them.â€
Offensive line coach Dave Borbely brought Teddy into the offensive line meeting room. He put up a pass scale, and he had Teddy go through a play and tell what each player is supposed to do. He said field one does this, field two does this, boundary one does this, boundary two does this. Okay, if itâ€™s press coverage, then boom, and he went back through it. The way he spit it out, he sounded just like (Shawn) Watson spitting it out to him. He left the room and all the players looked at Borbs (Borbely) and they said, wow, he knows all of that. He was making a point, okay youâ€™re the offensive guard but why donâ€™t you know what the tackle is doing?
TAYLOR: Is he improved in that area?
STRONG: Teddyâ€™s whole awareness, he is such a student of the game. He is so aware about everything that is going on. Some quarterbacks break it down to just one part of the field, because they want to attack it, he pulls those safeties off, and then heâ€™ll come back to the backside knowing that heâ€™s got that receiver open.
STRONG:Â He made a point to me. He says, â€œHey coach just let me be a player.â€ Heâ€™s so worried about letting someone down. He said, â€œCoach if we win, then weâ€™ll see what happens, but I donâ€™t want to be placed up there. Itâ€™s not about me, itâ€™s about the whole football team.â€
TAYLOR: How do you balance that, because itâ€™s good for the program to have a Heisman Trophy candidate?
STRONG:Â Itâ€™s also good when you win as a team … and what he doesnâ€™t really want is all that attention. You donâ€™t find too many people like that. Some of those guys, they want all that attention. Theyâ€™d be eating it all up. Thatâ€™s just who he is.
TAYLOR: How involved will you be in whatever the Heisman Trophy campaign is for Teddy?
STRONG:Â I let the marketing people handle that. If Teddy plays well, everyone already knows who Teddy is now. Heâ€™s become a national guy. People can go back to that performance in the Sugar Bowl. With him having that night, now heâ€™s become that national figure, so heâ€™ll get the attention.
TAYLOR: Is the message doing it every week, avoiding the Syracuse and UConn weeks, playing like you did against Florida every week?
STRONG: Thatâ€™s key, consistency. Each week will we show up to play, no matter who we play, will we show up to go play. Itâ€™s going to be tied into leadership. If you have the right leaders, it doesnâ€™t matter who you play, guys will say, letâ€™s go win this football game, letâ€™s not go mess around, letâ€™s go get it done. Itâ€™s all about being consistent. It comes back to â€“ and I tell our coaches all the time â€“ itâ€™s going to come back to us, too. If we look relaxed, the players are going to look relaxed. If we donâ€™t walk in and ourselves be prepared and making sure that when we start meetings guys are in there, sitting in their seats, guys not just walking in. Like I said, they never have walked in five minutes late, so letâ€™s not start letting them do it now. A lot of times when you feel like youâ€™ve arrived, the little things slip. We canâ€™t let the little things slip.
TAYLOR: Who is handling the recruiting coordinator duties right now while Clint Hurtt is on leave?
STRONG: I have a young guy that kind of places guys and tells them where they need to go, but each coach has an area. Each coach is still responsible for the recruits in that area and so when we go out here in the month of May, weâ€™re going to make sure that where Clintâ€™s area was, weâ€™re going to get that covered.
STRONG: Itâ€™s always been like that. I still go to volleyball and people walk up and want a picture, but nothing really has changed. I donâ€™t think you have to change as a person. You are who you are and what comes with success. A lot of times the picture taking comes, the autographs, I still do it. I still run my run, I still see the same guys, they blow and honk at me, but it hasnâ€™t changed. I donâ€™t ever want to have to change.
TAYLOR: What coaches have you kind of leaned on â€“ mentors â€“ as to how to approach this season, coming off the Sugar Bowl win?
STRONG: Urban (Meyer) and I talk all the time. We probably talk once a week. Another guy I really talk to a lot is Bob Davie. Bob just got back into coaching. Actually, he called me and said, â€œHow did you turn that team around?â€ I said, â€œI have no idea, but for some reason we found a way.â€ You have friends in the profession and everybody always has a different idea because youâ€™re always trying to get better and say how can we get better? What can we do?
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune