Florida assistant Strong heading to Louisville

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Associated Press

Posted on December 9, 2009 at 9:39 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 9 at 6:01 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is headed to Louisville to be the Cardinals' head coach.

Louisville hired Strong on Wednesday to help revitalize a program that sagged under former coach Steve Kragthorpe.

Strong had become a hot commodity in recent years, while molding the Gators into one of the top defenses in the nation under coach Urban Meyer.

Strong's first mission will be to win back a fan base that fled in droves as the Cardinals struggled under Kragthorpe, who was fired on Nov. 28 following three disappointing seasons with the team.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich praised Strong's passion and dedication to his players as a major factor in his decision.

"I've done a lot of homework with this hire, and I was amazed how well-respected and revered Charlie Strong is throughout the country," Jurich said. "He commands a lot of respect from people within the game, including ex-players and coaches around college football."

Terms of Strong's contract were not yet completed. It's unclear whether he will join the Gators for their Sugar Bowl matchup with Cincinnati.

Jurich hopes Strong can energize supporters who grew disenchanted with Kragthorpe as the program steadily slid from the heights of 2006, when the Cardinals won the Big East and the Orange Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 6 in the final poll under coach Bobby Petrino.

A crowd of just over 23,000 turned out for last month's season finale against Rutgers, a decline the program knows must stop with Cardinal Stadium expanding to 55,000 seats in time for next year's opener against rival Kentucky.

Under Strong, Florida ranked in the top-20 nationally in 10 statistical categories last season while winning its second national title in three years.

The Gators have been just as good this fall, finishing third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense and fourth in total defense for No. 2 Florida.

He'll have plenty of work to do at Louisville, where the defense's precipitous fall has fueled the Cardinals' descent into the Big East cellar.

Louisville ranked 67th nationally in both total defense and scoring defense this year, significant improvements from 2007 and 2008 but still only good enough for seventh in the eight-team Big East.

Unlike Kragthorpe's hire, which came less than 48 hours after Petrino opted to leave for the NFL, Jurich took his time while searching for the coach charged with bringing Louisville back to national relevance.

Though Strong was considered Jurich's top choice all along, Louisville waited until Florida was done with its regular season before reaching out. Jurich also spoke briefly with former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer about the position last week.

Strong's deep recruiting ties to the South would be welcomed at Louisville. Kragthorpe and his staff largely abandoned recruiting in the area in favor of looking for players from the west and southwest.

Strong becomes the 11th black head coach in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision, and the fourth hired in the last month.

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