Louisville head coach Charlie Strong has done a remarkable job bringing the Cardinals back to life after the black death of the Steve Kragthorpe era. The Cardinals were 15-21 overall and 5-16 in Big East play from 2007 to '09 under Kragthorpe, falling quickly from the dizzying heights achieved under Bobby Petrino. Strong took over in 2010, and in three years, he has built Louisville into an 8-0 team. Considering his success at Louisville and his track record as a defensive coordinator at Florida, it is almost universally assumed that Strong will be called upon to replace a fired head coach and rebuild a bigger program this offseason. It is also almost universally assumed that Strong will answer that call. Is there any chance he would choose to stay at Louisville?
According to a recent column written by CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel, Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich believes in Strong's loyalty. Jurich thinks that Strong and his family have become entrenched in the city's community, and that the head coach recognizes Louisville as the first school to give him a shot as a head coach:
"He likes it here, and he has a boss who values him," Jurich said. "I gave him his first chance. He was kicked in the teeth for 26 years."
That's all fine and good, but it rings a bit idealistic. After all, money talks, and in the college football coaching business, there's plenty of money to be thrown around. Strong apparently makes good money at Louisville, good enough to be among the top ten head coaches in terms of salary. But what if a school like Auburn or Arkansas or Tennessee opens the coffers and gives Strong an unprecedented number on a check? Jurich says Louisville won't be outbid:
"We'll make him No. 1," Jurich said, "if we have to."
It's hard to imagine Louisville employing the highest paid football coach in the country, and only time will tell whether or not Jurich's words have merit. If the Cardinals really are willing to give Strong a contract bigger than Nick Saban's, an already difficult decision for the head coach will become even tougher to make.
It's nearly certain that Auburn head coach Gene Chizik will be fired after this season, and if most Tigers fans have their way, Strong will be one of the top candidates to take over on the Plains. In addition to the revival at Louisville, the 52-year-old has 11 years experience as a defensive coordinator in the SEC -- 1999-2001 at South Carolina and 2002-09 at Florida. Over the course of his career as a coordinator in a conference that prides itself on great defense, Strong's units gave up an average of 18.5 points per game. In his last four years at Florida, the averaged dropped to 15.2. Clearly, Strong's resume should stand out to those in burnt orange and navy blue.
But if Strong turns out to be the man for Auburn, will the Tigers be able to get him? Most Auburn fans would like to believe that the Tigers would be able to win a competition that includes Arkansas and Tennessee. However, if Louisville is willing to pay whatever it takes to keep their head coach, the Cardinals will be a tough competitor to beat. Essentially, Strong would have to decide between taking over a major program or staying loyal to an above average program that gave him the break he had long desired. Right now, no one can know what he would decide-- not even Strong himself.