Louisville's Charlie Strong accepts Texas coaching job

Herald-Leader Wire ReportsJanuary 4, 2014 

AUSTIN, Texas — Louisville officials confirmed late Saturday that Charlie Strong will leave to become the next head football coach at the University of Texas.

Texas had not made an official announcement as of late Saturday night because it was waiting for Strong to have a face-to-face meeting with Louisville Athletics Director Tom Jurich, who was stuck in Colorado most of the day and couldn't return to Kentucky because of inclement weather.

Jurich did return Saturday night and met with Strong, according to a Louisville spokesman. Strong insisted that Texas wait out of his respect for Jurich, the man who gave Strong his first head coaching job after almost two decades as an assistant.

Texas fans grew anxious Saturday awaiting news on whether Strong would accept their school's offer.

Texas officials kept their cool throughout the day, and two sources insisted Strong would accept after speaking face-to-face with Jurich.

Texas officials reportedly are targeting Monday morning for an introductory news conference.

The 53-year-old Arkansas native was offered a five-year contract worth approximately $5 million annually, a high-ranking UT source said. Any contract would have to be approved by the UT System Board of Regents. Strong has compiled a 37-15 record in four seasons with the Cardinals.

Strong becomes the first black head coach of any men's sport in Texas history. This is something some university officials have been privately hoping would happen.

The major delay to that taking place Saturday? Mother Nature.

Jurich, who was vacationing in Steamboat Springs, Colo., was stuck there most of the day Saturday because of inclement weather. Jurich was scheduled to fly home on a commercial plane, but once news broke, a private plane was sent to retrieve him.

Around midday, a Louisville source said a private plane was parked in Salina, Kan., while pilots waited for snowstorms to clear. Meanwhile back in Austin, everybody had to cool their jets.

Privately, UT officials had some feeling of concern. Strong accepted the Tennessee job in December 2012 and then backed out after talking with Jurich. He decided then to stay at Louisville.

That won't be the case this time, hopeful UT sources insisted. "He wants to do this thing right," a Texas source told the American-Statesman.

Given the frantic timeline, Strong did not have time to tell his Louisville players he's leaving himself. The Cardinals were not scheduled to be back on campus until 5 p.m. Sunday for a previously scheduled team meeting. Louisville will start school again Monday.

Strong had been scheduled to fly to Bristol, Conn., to participate in ESPN's coverage of the BCS national championship game. It's unclear whether that will still happen, although Texas officials would want Strong on TV to promote the Longhorns instead of the Cardinals.

The hurry-up-and-wait process started late Friday, with reports that Strong had been offered and had accepted the job. A high-ranking UT source told the American-Statesman that Strong had received an offer but that the deal wasn't finalized. Strong wanted to talk to Jurich, the source said.

That meeting finally took place late Saturday night, the Courier-Journal of Louisville reported.

The eight-person selection committee, which was kept in the dark throughout this whole process, had a conference call Friday to discuss the situation, according to a high-ranking UT source.

New athletic director Steve Patterson conducted the entire search almost by himself, with some help vetting candidates from Jed Hughes, an executive from the search firm Korn Ferry International.

On Saturday morning, Strong had a 15-minute meeting with his assistant coaches in the Louisville football offices. He told them nothing definitive, a source close to Strong said. The Louisville assistant coaches quickly left the football offices without saying anything to media waiting outside.

Several Louisville reporters issued tweets that Cardinals coaches were calling their recruits with updates on the situation. That is allowed under NCAA rules even though the NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period doesn't end until Jan. 16. Phone calls are allowed but face-to-face contact is not.

That date was critical because it's the deadline Patterson gave himself. He said the football program had to "be open for business" by then because coaches could be seeing recruits and filling out the 2014 recruiting class. National signing day is Feb. 5.

The American-Statesman reported in December that longtime UT benefactor Red McCombs would support school officials if they hired a minority head coach — assuming he was the right candidate for the job.

The Longhorns have had only one black coach lead one of their four major programs. Rod Page was the women's basketball coach for two seasons in the mid-1970s before giving way to Jody Conradt.

If Strong fell through, the school was prepared to go hard after Vanderbilt's James Franklin, who also is black. Once reports surfaced Friday that UT had picked Strong, Franklin's name was almost immediately attached to the vacant Penn State job or possible NFL openings.

One high-ranking source told the American-Statesman on Friday that Strong and Franklin were the school's top two choices. But Patterson felt so comfortable about Strong that he did not even bother to reach out to Franklin on Saturday, according to a source.

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban were also considered but were eliminated from contention Friday.

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