First he was, then he wasn't, then no one had any idea what the heck was going on. But finally, after a couple days of widespread speculation and conflicting reports, Charlie Strong has left Louisville for the University of Texas' head-coaching vacancy.
Steve Patterson, the university's athletics director, announced the two sides had come to terms on Jan. 5. in a press release. Strong will not be officially introduced as head coach until Monday, but he seemed eager to embark on the new journey:
I'm excited and my family is excited to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country. Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year. It's special because it has such great history, pride, tradition and passion for football.
Strong, 53, went 37-15 during his four-year stint at Louisville, including a 23-3 record over the past two seasons. A burgeoning giant with the backing of a national television deal, Strong helped the Cardinals recover from the disappointing Steve Kragthorpe era and landed arguably the biggest recruit in school history with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
With Bridgewater entering the 2014 NFL draft and Strong having proven himself able to handle head-coaching duties, going to a program like Texas is a natural next step. Strong takes over for Mack Brown, whose retirement was nearly as big of a fiasco as the school's coaching search.
Though Brown is arguably the second-most decorated coach in school history behind Darrell Royal, the program's struggles late in his tenure led to widespread criticism. Texas had at least four losses in each of the past four seasons and will likely finish unranked for the third time in four years after losing to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
Still, this is the type of dream job coaches rarely turn down. Strong walks in with unprecedented financial backing buoyed by the Longhorn Network and other revenue streams and should be able to bring the Longhorns back to prominence.
Chris Brown of OrangeBloods.com indicated Strong is the type of choice that should reinvigorate the program:
Charlie Strong is tough as nails. In my humble opinion, the entire #Texas athletic department just got a menacing makeover it sorely needed.— Chip Brown (@ChipBrownOB) January 5, 2014
Retired Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones apparently has a different sport in mind for his children. While praising the Strong hire, Jones indicated the former Louisville coach is the type of man he wants taking care of his kids—should they be good enough to get an offer:
Kudos to the Longhorns for their Charlie Strong hire. He's who I would want coaching my kids. I'm moving to Texas this summer. #hornsfan— Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) January 5, 2014
As for the kids to whom Strong was actually responsible, well, that reaction was a little different. He did not meet with his Louisville players before departing for Texas for Monday's announcement, and quite a few Cardinals seemed unhappy with their former coach. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin called Strong out for lying and saying he would not leave:
Its not that he left, it's the fact that prior to him leaving he told me not to worry because he wasn't going anywhere. #LiedToMeStraight— Lorenzo Mauldin (@94sWorldPremier) January 5, 2014
Safety Calvin Pryor thinks that perhaps it's the players—not the coaches—who deserve credit for the Cardinals becoming a national power:
Don't be fooled ppl...US players changed that program around...just helps when u have outstanding coaches who know the game!!!— Calvin Pryor (@CP3_850) January 4, 2014
Louisville players aren't going to be the only ones missing Strong. As ESPN ACC noted, the head coach is leaving just before the program makes the move from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC:
The ACC is missing Charlie Strong before he even got here.— ESPN ACC (@ESPN_ACC) January 5, 2014
On the Texas side of things, reactions were understandably positive. ESPN's Dick Vitale notes that there won't be many excuses—financial or otherwise—for Strong to not build a national title contender:
No doubt Charlie Strong can coach - Will have all the toys needed to have TEXAS in the hunt 4 the national title !http://t.co/UNYm95dpz5— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) January 5, 2014
Roland Smith? He doesn't seem to think too much will change, even if he qualifies it by liking the hire:
I'm used to the arrogance of Longhorns. Love to see them continue to be humbled, even with Charlie Strong as head coach. Let's go— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) January 5, 2014
At one point, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was tabbed as Brown's replacement in waiting. With the Gators struggling and Muschamp's job possibly in jeopardy with one more bad season, the SEC Logo wants to know whether he could get his old gig back:
So Muschamp is the coach in waiting behind Charlie Strong now?— The SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo) January 5, 2014
On a more serious note, it's obvious Strong has national respect as a football coach. Greg Tepper of TexasFootball.com thinks the hire was solid—even if Strong wasn't the first choice:
I'll write a bunch of words on @DCTF's site this week, but short version: I think Charlie Strong is a good (potentially great) hire for UT.— Greg Tepper (@Tepper) January 5, 2014
No matter what comes next for Strong and the Longhorns, it seems the program's new coach wants to honor the past. Strong went out of his way to mention Brown and his legacy by name, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel:
The second quote in the Strong press release is about Mack Brown's "class and integrity." Smart.— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) January 5, 2014
Whether Strong was a good or a bad hire, Texas fans are likely happy the whole process is over. From Nick Saban to Jim Mora to any number of other suitors, it seemed everywhere the athletic department went it was turned down. Strong, in the end, decided to take the next step.
The only question remaining is whether he's ready.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: