If it hasn't already earned the title, Charlie Strong's Sugar Bowl press conference on Monday afternoon will almost certainly go down as the head coach's most talked about of the season.
In a perfect world for Louisville fans, that statement would be true because of the unbridled excitement surrounding a remarkable three-year turnaround which has seen the program go from arguably its lowest point in the modern era to a BCS game against No. 3 Florida. Unfortunately, all the talk in the wake of Strong's presser has centered around things he said that Card Nation he wishes he wouldn't have, and the one thing he won't say that U of L fans are dying to hear.
Strong opened the afternoon by stating that he was aware of the rumors floating around, but that he was there only to address the Sugar Bowl and the win over Rutgers. That didn't stop members of the media from asking about the reports that he had spoken with other schools, a line of questioning which led Strong to grow increasingly perturbed and admit that steady stream of rumors and questions "annoyed" him.
Things came to a head when Strong was asked if he could put all the speculation to bed and say that he would definitely be the head football coach at Louisville in 2013. The "right" answer would have been the cherry on top of the ACC invite/Rutgers win/Sugar Bowl bid sundae that was the past week for Cardinal fans.
"I will say that at the right time."
It's a statement that follows the standard protocol in situations like these, but still one that does nothing to alleviate the fears of a Louisville fan base still scarred by the betrayal(s) of Bobby Petrino.
The mood lightened when the line of questioning shifted back to on-the-field-matters, and it seemed as though the press conference would end without anything else significant said. That changed when Strong was asked about what he'd like to see from the fans in the future.
"You want the passion from the fans," Strong said. "You want the support. When we came here for senior day and when we got off the bus - and I don't care what time Card March is - no one came out. We had a few fans out there, we had the real fans out there, but you'd like to see more fans come out."
It's an understandable statement. Louisville's showing of support for the Connecticut game was not in line with that of a fan base whose team was 9-1 and ranked in the nation's top 20. If Cardinal fans want to be upset about a coach at least considering a position elsewhere, then at least some of that outrage has to be directed inward.
Strong then followed that statement up by making perhaps the biggest faux pas any Cardinal coach can make: saying Louisville fans need to be more like Kentucky fans.
"Not to throw any salt in an open wound," Strong prefaced. "Kentucky can travel with the Big Blue Nation and go take over. We should have that same passion here and go take over."
Predictably, U of L fans went on the defense on Twitter almost immediately, pointing out that Kentucky had less than 19,000 fans in attendance at its final SEC home game against Vanderbilt. Strong had a valid to point to make, but using UK as a benchmark was an error in judgment.
The situation as it stands is a nasty merry-go-round that plagues at least one college football program around this time every year.
Strong wants Louisville fans to focus on the games and support the team. Louisville fans want Strong to say definitively that he's not going anywhere else. Strong doesn't want to be backed into that type of corner. Reporters have to address the situationthat readers are most interested in. Strong wants the stories and the rumors to go away. The only way for the stories and the rumors to go away is a definitive statement.
Anything short of "I love Louisville and I will 100% be the coach here next year" is going to leave Cardinal fans with hurt feelings, and that's understandable. But Strong doesn't want to risk earning the Petrino-esque reputation of being a liar when he's not even fully sure what opportunities might be out there for him, and that's also understandable.
Strong did tell reporters on the record that he had not talked with Auburn or Tennessee, which is comforting. Still, it's not difficult to undersand (even as a Louisville fan) why he wouldn't want to completely rule out the possibility of at least listening should those programs come calling.
People forget that Strong is 52-years-old. If he wants to take a shot at having his legacy defined by an extended stint at one of America's premier programs, the clock is ticking. Along the same lines, there's no guarantee that a pair of top-tier SEC jobs are going to be available and interested in him in the future. What if Strong stays and U of L tanks in 2013? Suddenly Charlie's the coaching version of Chris Marcus.
Look, I don't know what Strong is going to do. If I had to guess I'd say he stays loyal to Teddy Bridgewater and the rest of the 2011 recruiting class that took a chance on him and Louisville, but that's just a guess.
It's a shame that Strong's freedom can't exist without coming at the expense of Cardinal fans' feelings, but that's life in college football. All you can do is be thankful that the program has been successful enough to be in a position where its head coach is such a hot commodity, and hopeful that he chooses to build on that success instead of taking his talents elsewhere.