KENNER, La. When Charlie Strong began pursuing Jon Bostic as a high school prospect, he visited Wellington a number of times, as many as theyd let me.
At that point, Bostic was a safety and running back for Palm Beach Central and saw himself policing the secondary as a college player. Strong, then the defensive coordinator at Florida, examined his frame and skill set and envisioned a different future.
Bostic was too big to play safety, so I knew it was just a matter of time before he was going to eat his way into a linebacker, he joked shortly after arriving at New Orleans International Airport.
The last time these two were together in New Orleans was the 2010 Sugar Bowl, at the end of Bostics freshman year. It was the final game Strong worked for Florida, where he spent 15 seasons as an assistant, and started as the head coach at Louisville the next day.
They will meet in the Superdome again Wednesday as Florida takes on the Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl (8:30, ESPN). This time it is Bostic walking away from the Gators and Strong in the process of building something.
As a senior, Bostic is one of the last remaining links to the Tim Tebow era and was a crucial part of the programs resurgence under new coach Will Muschamp. After going 15-11 in 2010 and 11, the Gators are 11-1 and ranked third in the BCS this season.
It will be the final mark on a solid career as Floridas middle linebacker, fulfilling Strongs prediction. He filled out to 6-foot-1, 246 pounds. He is third on the team with 62 tackles, including three sacks, and has two interceptions. He is expected to go in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Strong inherited a Louisville program that had stumbled to a 15-21 mark through three years under Steve Kragthorpe. The Cardinals went 7-6 in each of Strongs first two seasons before breaking out this year. They opened with nine straight wins and stand at 10-2.
I knew wherever he ended up he was going to have success, Bostic said. It was just a matter of time before somebody really realized what hes been doing.
Under Strongs guidance, Louisville (No. 21 in the BCS) finished the regular season 25th in total defense and 19th against the pass. That could be problematic for the Gators, who rank in the bottom 10 nationally in passing offense.
To Strong, the roots of his accomplishments are in Gainesville. He worked as a graduate assistant for Charley Pell and Galen Hall in the 1983 and 84 seasons, returning as a linebackers coach in 88. He left for Ole Miss in 1990, but Coach Steve Spurrier brought him back from 1991 through 94.
He showed up for a fourth stint at Florida as Ron Zooks defensive coordinator in 2003. The Zook years are forgettable, but Strong impressed Urban Meyer and kept his job despite the coaching change.
As Florida stormed back to national prestige, Strong drew national interest as a head-coaching candidate. He steered the Gators defense during their 2006 and 08 national championships. Those teams kept opponents to an average of 13.2 points per game.
Its all about the coaches I worked with, plus the foundation I was able to establish for myself, he said. It was outstanding, but what happens is you go win the first one and then they expect you to win one every year. But it was some great experience there. Won a lot of football games.
Those years were a test as well. The 2008 season, for example, brought the glory of a national title, but it also was his 27th year in coaching. He was in the conversation for several head coach jobs that never materialized.
At age 50 Muschamp got the Florida job at 39, for comparison he finally found a job that fit. Louisville wanted a proven coach and recruiter with a compelling personality, and Strong wanted the opportunity to run a major program.
A lot of times we want it to happen right away, and it didnt for me, he said. But Im so glad about when it did happen because Im at the right place right now.