As if the Superdome itself would not be sufficient in taking his breath away — a stadium known for its splendor, magnificence and capability of holding more than 70,000 fans in one of the nation’s most historic cities — Louisville coach Charlie Strong expects some added emotion as kickoff nears Wednesday night at the Sugar Bowl.
For the first time since Louisville’s matchup with the Florida Gators was announced, Strong will see the Gators he recruited preparing for their final game in the Orange and Blue. A sight, Strong said Wednesday, that is sure to ravage him with emotion.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet because I haven’t seen any of the players,” Strong said Tuesday in his final press conference prior to the game. “When I walk into the stadium for the first time tomorrow night and look across the sidelines and you see a lot of those players you were able to recruit, then it kind of hits you.
“Then once you hear the band rev up, they start playing the different songs you are familiar with.”
Strong admitted it would be a special moment for him, as his career now, in a way, comes full circle as he faces the Gators after three seasons with Louisville.
Coincidentally, the Superdome was the site of Strong’s final game with Florida, as he helped the Gators defeat Cincinnati 51-24.
“It will be something special,” Strong said. “But I have to stay focused.”
Before becoming coach of Louisville, Strong spent time as a graduate assistant, linebackers coach, defensive coordinator and interim coach with the Gators. He helped architect two national championship defenses, as well as the group that won the Sugar Bowl three seasons ago.
These experiences, Strong said, helped shape him into the coach he is today.
“I spent so many years there,” Strong said. “I think when you start from the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was able to work with every head coach in that program. I really built my career there. I had some great wins, great losses.
“But you always learn from it. I was able to develop and become a really good football coach because of my experience there.”
Gators coach Will Muschamp appreciates the route Strong took to becoming a coach. Similar to Strong, Muschamp worked his way up the chain and was given plenty of coaching opportunities before deciding to come to Florida.
It’s not about taking the first job that presents itself, Muschamp said, but the one that makes sense, a sentiment he and Strong share.
“It’s about taking the right job,” Muschamp said. “It’s about the right situation, the right people, the right circumstances, being in a situation where you think you can be successful.
“All the critical factors as far as recruiting base, support from the administration, all of those things need to be in place, and obviously [Strong] feels that at Louisville.”