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Gators' Charlie Strong to be new Louisville coach but only after Sugar Bowl

GAINESVILLE — As he spent a few days sorting through the pros and cons of leaving Florida after seven seasons, defensive coordinator Charlie Strong kept coming back to the same thing.

Finally, he was getting a chance.

After years of yearning to become a Division I-A coach and wondering if his race was a factor in preventing that, Strong realized he had to seize the opportunity.

And so Wednesday, following his gut and his heart, Strong accepted Louisville's offer. During a news conference in which he was introduced, Strong teared up.

"I cannot pass up this opportunity,'' Strong said earlier Wednesday. "To have a chance to coach at a BCS school in a BCS conference, this is just something I could not pass up.''

Strong, 49, becomes one of only three black coaches at a school from a BCS conference — ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10 — and one of only 11 minority coaches among 120 I-A schools. Louisville's Courier-Journal reported the coaching veteran of 26 years signed a five-year contract worth $1.6 million annually (not including incentives).

Strong, however, will be with the Gators for their Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.

"I feel like we need redemption from the way we played Saturday," Strong said of UF's 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. "I don't want to walk out of here with the taste of the way we played … as the last time I coached a game here at the University of Florida. And I don't want to leave this coaching staff short of a coach, either. I owe it to this coaching staff. I owe it to the University of Florida, and I owe it to the players to finish out.''

Louisville fired Steve Krag­thorpe after going 4-8 last season and 15-21 in three. In the four previous seasons under Bobby Petrino, the Cardinals went 41-9 with a Big East and Conference USA title.

"I think Louisville has the resources that you should be able to recruit well," Strong said. "And they've had success there. That's the key."

Strong had not talked with Florida players in person but phoned several before leaving for Louisville on Wednesday.

"I think he'll be a great head coach anywhere,'' Florida cornerback Joe Haden said.

Strong does not plan to take any current UF assistants with him, and he said coach Urban Meyer didn't make the decision to walk away easy.

"He did everything possible to try to get me to stay here,'' said Strong, who was in his fourth stint at UF, totalling 15 seasons. "But I just told Urban I want to be a head football coach.

"And I just didn't want to pass up an opportunity when who knows if this opportunity will come again?"

In a statement released by the school, Meyer said he expects Strong to succeed at Louisville.

"Charlie Strong is more than just an excellent football coach," he said. "He is a … tremendous mentor to young people. And I know he will continue to show the same level of commitment in running his own program at Louisville."

Tebow honored: SEC coaches voted Florida quarterback Tim Tebow the conference's offensive player of the year and top scholar-athlete. Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain was voted top defensive player, teammate Javier Arenas (a former Robinson High standout) the special teams player of the year; and Nick Saban the coach of the year. Vanderbilt return specialist Warren Norman was named freshman of the year.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Gators' Charlie Strong to be new Louisville coach but only after Sugar Bowl 12/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 10:33pm]
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