Mark Story: Is there any viable argument that U of L is not a better football job than UK?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014 

Now that Charlie Strong has traded in his Louisville comfort zone to become the new face of The Longhorn Network, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the relative attractiveness of the head football coaching positions at our state's two marquee universities.

Unless you are blinded by the most burning Big Blue love, is there any credible argument that Louisville is not a better football job than Kentucky?

Of the last six U of L head coaches, two were fired with losing records.

But one left to become head man at Oklahoma. One left to be head coach at Michigan State. Another left The 'Ville to be coach of the Atlanta Falcons. In Texas, one just landed arguably the best head coaching job in all of college football.

Conversely, of the last six UK head coaches before incumbent Mark Stoops, one left to become head coach at Baylor, two retired on their own terms but with overall losing records and three got fired.

In fact, since Bear Bryant left Kentucky for Texas A&M in 1953, UK has employed 11 coaches. Of the 10 head men between Bryant and Stoops, seven got the pink slip.

If you measure the attractiveness of a position by the opportunity it offers for success, which coaching job — UK or U of L — would be more appealing to you?

For most of my lifetime, the two big advantages UK seemed to have over Louisville were its conference affiliation and its facilities.

The Southeastern Conference is the mac-daddy of college football leagues. Yet there's not much prestige in membership when, like UK, you've compiled a whopping seven winning conference seasons since 1933.

As for facilities, U of L in the Tom Jurich era has been on a building spree that has left the Cardinals with state-of-the art venues. That includes a posh, modern football stadium and an indoor practice facility.

Late last year, Kentucky announced that it will spend $110 million to essentially make Commonwealth Stadium more like Papa John's Cardinal Stadium — smaller, more modern and nicer.

What UK does still have over U of L is a larger fan base, a genuine statewide following. That never has been leveraged into any kind of meaningful football advantage, however.

The next U of L head coach — and my guess is Jurich will have to get way down his list of candidates before Bobby Petrino gets into play — will be in a challenging spot.

In his last two years, Strong went 23-3 with bowl pastings of Florida and Miami, respectively, to punctuate each season. The new Cards head man will not be inheriting Teddy Bridgewater, but he will be buying "the stock" that is U of L football near its all-time high.

Starting with the 2014 season, Louisville will be playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In terms of football, the ACC is not the SEC — but the competition will be a substantial step up from what U of L has been facing in recent years.

At the top of the ACC, Florida State and Clemson seem to have gotten their acts together and are now SEC-level programs. If Miami can ever get out of its own way with scandals and probations, it should get back to an elite level, too.

Louisville will also play Notre Dame with some regularity as part of the agreement that made the Fighting Irish members of the ACC in all sports but football.

Being in the ACC seems to have secured Louisville a spot among the big-boy leagues of college sports for the foreseeable future. Yet for the next Cards football coach, it will mean 11-2 and 12-1 seasons are going to be far more challenging to come by than they were for Strong.

One other thing that may be interesting for the next Louisville head man. Kentucky (9-27 the past three seasons) almost has to be better than the UK that Strong went 3-1 against from 2010-13.

The jury is very much out on Stoops as a head coach, but there is some realistic hope he can succeed at Kentucky where so many others have failed because he seems to have viable recruiting bases in the talent-heavy states of Ohio and Florida.

So the pressure will be on U of L's new head man to continue Strong's three-game winning streak against the Cats while playing against a Kentucky that has nowhere to go but up.

Of course, coaching jobs that come with viable hopes of success carry the pressure of expectations.

For The Long-Suffering UK Football Fan, it sure would be nice some day to see a newly hired UK coach face the pressure of maintaining substantial success.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory.

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