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Charlie Strong Wants To Keep The Joy In Winning

Andy Lyons

Like Luke Hancock facing a 12-point deficit on the second Monday in April, it's only taken Charlie Strong four tries to dig Louisville out of a seemingly insurmountable hole.

Taking over a Cardinal program that had failed to earn a bowl bid for three straight years and was picked to finish dead last in the Big East, Strong has since guided U of L to a trio of postseason appearances, a share of two Big East championships and probably the biggest victory in program history (the home win over Syracuse in 2011, obviously). The game has changed heading into year four, where Louisville faces not only the loftiest expectations of the Strong era, but likely in the history of the program.

"I know we've been picked to win the conference," Strong said during Tuesday's AAC media day. "I think about four years ago we were picked last. Even the next year, we were picked last. Last year, we were picked to win it, and this year we're picked to win it. Two years picked last, and next two picked to win it. It's a tribute to the hard work our players have made over the years. ... It's all about us. Can we adapt and change and continue to move this program forward? We want to make this one of the best programs in the country."

While the massive expectations and predictions of an undefeated season are new to the players he's coaching, Strong has been here before. He was the defensive coordinator for the 2009 Florida team that returned 21 of its top 22 defensive players, as well as a quarterback named Tim Tebow.

Strong said that Gator team - which ultimately lost to Alabama in the SEC championship game - took no joy from winning, a disturbing trend he's making sure this Louisville squad avoids.

"Winning became a sigh of relief for that team," Strong said Tuesday morning on 'The Deener Show.' "When that team finally did lose a game to Alabama in the SEC championship game, it was devastating. That's not what I want to see happen for our team. I'm not going to allow that to happen where winning becomes a sigh of relief."

The first opportunity for joy is 33 days away.