Louisville Football: Top 5 Replacements for Charlie Strong
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich confirmed Sunday what had been reported over the past 36 hours: Head coach Charlie Strong was headed to Texas.
It's a tough loss for the Cardinals and a good, albeit interesting, acquisition for the Longhorns. Strong resurrected a Louisville program that had slipped under former coach Steve Kragthorpe, winning 37 games in four seasons. Strong is an excellent defensive mind and a relentless recruiter.
It will be fascinating to see how Strong fits at Texas, but don't expect the 'Horns to give up 550 yards rushing—like they did to BYU this season—anytime soon.
But Louisville should be fine post-Strong. Jurich is regarded as one of the best ADs in the country and money is not an issue for the Cardinals, who will enter ACC play for the first time in 2014.
Louisville is a good job, and it can get an excellent coach out of all of this. Here are five directions Jurich may go with his coaching search.
Chad Morris, Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
Morris is a fast riser in coaching ranks whose name has already been floated for head coaching jobs. What makes him an interesting candidate, though, is his situation with Clemson.
With a $1.3 million annual salary, according to USA Today, Morris is the highest-paid assistant in major college football. Unless he's utterly desperate to become a head coach, he doesn't need to leave for just any job. In fact, Texas could theoretically ask Morris to join Strong's staff as an offensive coordinator for more than he's making right now. And Morris has ties to Texas from his days as a high school coach.
Louisville would obviously pay Morris more than $1.3 million; Strong was making $3.7 million in base salary.
Like Strong, Morris is highly regarded for his X's and O's acumen, but for offense instead of defense. Clemson had a top-10 scoring offense in 2013, with quarterback Tajh Boyd throwing for more than 3,800 yards and 34 touchdowns. Receiver Sammy Watkins returned to his former form, hauling in 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns after making only 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns in a disappointing 2012 season.
For all the credit Strong got as a defensive mind, the Cardinals had a great passing game with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a truly fantastic group of receivers. Having a high-powered offense in Louisville should not be difficult, especially given their history with former head coach Bobby Petrino.
Bobby Petrino, Head Coach, Western Kentucky
Speaking of Petrino, he should get a look from Jurich as well.
Based on Jurich's comments Sunday, the Western Kentucky coach is not out of the question.
"Everybody is in play," Jurich said about the possibility of hiring Petrino.
Petrino, of course, was hired by Jurich and coached the Cardinals from 2003-06. During that time, Petrino oversaw Louisville's transition from Conference USA to the Big East.
Petrino is a wild card. Petrino is a wild card. He's never chosen to remain in any job more than four years, including a 13-game stint as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. At Arkansas, he was fired n 2012 after an affair and motorcycle accident with Jessica Dorrell, an employee of Petrino's.
But he does run an extraordinarily tight ship. In a September, 2012, article, Eric Crawford of WDRB in Louisville chronicled the precision with which Petrino ran the Cardinals program. There was no room for error. Even the smallest slip-ups weren't tolerated. It may have been a program run on fear, but the Cardinals were successful, appearing in the 2007 Orange Bowl.
Say what you will about Petrino as a person, but he gets results.
Pat Narduzzi, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
Strong came to Louisville in 2010 from Florida where he was a defensive coordinator and longtime assistant.
In terms of coaching history, Pat Narduzzi isn't that much different from Strong. Narduzzi just finished his seventh season as the defensive coordinator for Michigan State. Prior to that, he was the DC for Spartans coach Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati for three years.
The Spartans have been a defensive powerhouse under Narduzzi. In 2013, Michigan State finished second in total defense (behind Louisville), rushing defense and passing efficiency defense, and third nationally in passing yards allowed and scoring defense.
Perhaps no individual play epitomized the Spartans defense like the fourth-down stop against Stanford to win the 100th Rose Bowl Game last week, 24-20.
It seems about time for Narduzzi to land a head coaching job, though he reportedly turned down an offer last month from UConn to succeed Paul Pasqualoni. He'd be a great hire for the Cardinals to continue the defensive tradition started by Strong.
David Cutcliffe, Head Coach, Duke
247Sports reported a couple of days ago that Louisville had reached out to Cutcliffe in anticipation of needing a new coach. Seeing as Strong was still technically the coach of the Cardinals, take that for what it's worth.
Still, regardless of whether Jurich already has or not, it's not a bad idea to contact Cutcliffe.
Duke went 10-4 this season, making it to the ACC Championship and coming oh-so-close to beating Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
It wasn't a fluke, either. Not even close. The Blue Devils were fast, physical and a ton of fun to watch. That was a talented football team.
The Cardinals lose Teddy Bridgewater to the NFL draft, so how about bringing in a coach who knows how to develop quarterbacks better than anyone? There's the Peyton and Eli Manning connection Cutcliffe has from his time at Tennessee and Ole Miss, respectively, but he also sent former Duke quarterback Sean Renfree to the NFL as well.
Current strong-armed Duke quarterback Anthony Boone has also developed a nice touch under Cutcliffe's tutelage. He could be another interesting NFL prospect down the road.
Cutcliffe has said before that he loves Duke, but it's worth picking up the phone and calling.
Doc Holliday, Head Coach, Marshall
If Louisville's priority is to keep the Florida recruiting pipeline it had under Strong, there's no better person to look at than Marshall's Doc Holliday.
Holliday has a 27-24 record with the Thundering Herd, but he did lead Marshall to a 10-win season in 2013, the first for the program since 2002. Perhaps another stellar year in Huntington will make Holliday a more attractive head coaching candidate next year. However, it is worth considering that Marshall had just one winning season in the previous six years before Holliday was hired.
Like Strong, Holliday was a longtime assistant, mostly at West Virginia, before he got his first head coaching gig. Marshall is reworking Holliday's contract to make it more lucrative; he currently makes $600,000 a year.
It would be an off-the-radar hire by Jurich, but an intriguing one nevertheless.