Just a few weeks ago, a UK "friend" of mine posted something on Facebook asking UofL fans why TJ would give a head coach such a solid contract when he has a losing record (at the time, three weeks ago) overall, in the Big East and at home. Today, I think Charlie answered that question for him.
Bobby Petrino left us within an offsides call away from going to the National Championship game, and possibly even winning it given Ohio State's performance. The following season we were considered among the favorites to go all the way. Well, Kragthorpe came in and gave us three seasons of flat football. My dislike for Kragthorpe as a coach wasn't due to his inadequate play calling, his odd recruiting plan nor his lack of discipline... no. I hated Kragthorpe as a coach because week after week, our beloved Cardinals seemed to play without any pride, accountability or heart. They came out onto the field with an expectation of losing. They even seemed to flat out give up at times.
That changed with Charlie. Last season he instilled (and I hate this word) "swagger" in a group of players that had become accustomed to a culture of losing. He turned them into leaders on and off the field and did one of the best coaching jobs I've ever seen at any level of football. Taking that "misfit" group of seniors to any bowl at all, and winning it was simply amazing. Sure a 7-6 record and going to the Beef O'Brady's Bowl is the kind of season that would land coaches at a lot of programs in hot water or even fired. But I was as proud to witness the Beef's win as I was the Orange Bowl win... The 2010 team lost 5 of 6 games by a possession or less.
Last year showed the school and the fans why he was a good hire for the program. I didn't think he could possibly top that and was willing to give him a couple of seasons to get the right personnel and really start to build his program. I stuck by that sentiment as we started out 2-4 and had some kind of Kragthorpe-esque drama within the staff. The losses to FIU and Marshall were pretty embarrassing, can't lie about that. However, here we are again, the first week of November sitting atop a 5-4 record (same as last year). Also like last year, up to this point, all of our losses but one have been by a possession or less. This WVU win seems like it may have been the turning point of our season. This weekend last year, I believe that the Syracuse win was the turning point of our season, despite two straight subsequent losses.
If you were to add a touchdown and PAT onto each game, Charlie Strong's record would only have three losses since taking over as head coach (with a few ties). I know winning is winning, I get it. I also know that I'm bringing way too many "what ifs" into this, but I really feel that this speaks the attitude that Charlie instills in his teams. I don't think I have enough fingers to count the number of double digit losses Kragthorpe dished out, I could be wrong and I'm not going to check, but I'm pretty sure it's close to or more than 10.
All in all, I'm just glad that I get excited to watch Louisville Football again. Coach Strong brings out the best in these guys. It's not always pretty, but at least we're expecting to win again. For a few years, I wasn't even that disappointed when we lost, it just became habitual. This season is comprised of a completely different team than last year, it's the second youngest team in the country and they're one win away from going to a bowl game. To take this team, given all of the distractions regarding coaching changes and conference realignment, and have them in this position is nothing short of amazing.
Are these wins aesthetically pleasing? No. Is this team overachieving? Probably. Are these guys winners? Definitely.