A few nuggets about the man who may be poised to become the next University of Louisville football coach. A source close to the situation told The Courier-Journal that U of L athletic director Tom Jurich planned to meet with Strong today in Florida.
A lot is already known about Charlie Strong, the 49-year-old defensive coordinator from the University of Florida. But let’s review:
— Strong has coached under Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz.
— He holds two Masters degrees
— He has coached the defense of two of the past three national champions.
— In the 2008 title game, Oklahoma averaged 54 points per game. It scored 14 against the Gators.
— Meyer, in 2008, called him, “One of the greatest football coaches in the country.”
— On Christmas Day 2002, when he decided to leave the University of South Carolina, he called all nine of his returning defensive starters personally to tell them he was heading to Florida, so they wouldn’t find out from ESPN or a news report.
— Strong called said he has a “father-son type of relationship” with Holtz.
— Strong has always been big on physical fitness, and still runs and lifts weights regularly. He has run a half-marathon and in the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Fla., a race over bridges that is considered the 15K national championship. He told this story to Florida Today.
“When I was in South Bend, I would run in the snow,” he begins with a wide grin. “I’d get up early in the morning and there would always be someone heading to work. So I would let them drive their car past me and pack their tracks in the snow. Then I’d jump out there and take off right behind them. The snow was kind of packed in. “The only time it’s bad is if you are going downhill and you see the water is running where snow has melted off. They call it black ice and you can’t really see the ice, so you’ve got to be careful as you’re going down a hill. But as long as you see snow, if you just stay within the snow, then you’re OK. I never fell. You just wait until that car goes through and then I’d take off. There I’d go.”
— Strong has coached the No. 1 defense in the SEC at two different programs — Florida and South Carolina.
— This excerpt from a profile of Strong, published by The State in Columbia, S.C. on Dec. 30, 2001, and written by Bob Gillespie, describes Strong’s early life in Batesville, Ark.
Batesville, Ark., population 7,500 when Strong grew up there, sits in a valley hard by the Ozarks. “You can stand at the top of the valley and see the whole town,” he says. Back then, most people rarely got that view, since few ever left.
NASCAR driver Mark Martin got out. Eventually, so did Strong.
Few who stayed then went to college. Most worked for Arkansas Eastman or Emerson Electric or the town’s two poultry businesses, or joined the military. Tommy Neeley, Strong’s cousin and best friend, joined the Navy in 1978; he’s stationed in Bahrain.
Fewer than 10 percent of the townspeople were black, and Arkansas in the 1960s was hardly a bastion of racial harmony. Still, Strong says he never felt bias or hatred, except when he or his brother Billy or one of his cousins went out of town with a sports team and listened to fans’ catcalls.
One baseball game, he came to the plate and heard a woman in the crowd shout to the pitcher, “I’ll make you a chocolate cake if you strike out that ‘so-and-so’!” Says Strong: “I hit that ball out of the park. Then I looked at her like, ‘Do I get a cake now?’ “
Strong grew up in a house with 11 other children; his mother and her sister combined households when Charles Strong Sr. split with his wife.
“It was tough financially,” Strong says, “but when you’re young, you don’t know it.”
He worked after school and on weekends at his uncle’s service station. “He’d wash cars, pump gas, clean up,” N.H. Strong, 64, says. “I could depend on him; he’d be there.”
. . . Strong was the town’s golden child, the son other mothers in town held up to their own as a role model. His mother thought he might become a minister. “I rang the bell at Bethlehem Baptist Church every Sunday: 8:45 a.m. for church, 9 a.m. for Sunday school,” he says.
Strong also remembers perhaps his only miscue growing up. “In eighth grade, they took a picture of the best players in football, basketball, track,” he says. “I was trying to be cool, so I dropped down in my seat with my head leaning back.”
When N.H. Strong saw the photo in the Batesville Guard newspaper, he confronted his nephew. “He said, ‘What are you doing? Why would you ever embarrass yourself or your family like that?’ ” Strong says. “What made it worse, I was the only black in the picture. From then on, I always thought, ‘What are you doing?’ before I did it.”
— Strong is an infamous practical joker.
— His wife, Victoria, says he’s a neat freak. From that same profile in The State: “It’s insane. His closet is organized by long-sleeve and short-sleeve (shirts), by color. Between breakfast and lunch on Sundays, he’s cleaning. He keeps a great house. I don’t have to do a thing.”
— In Luxora, Ark., the Charles Strong Recreational Center is named for his father.
More to come, just a few odds and ends I’ve run across.