Talk is cheap

Coach Strong energizes fan base with actions

Sep 1, 2010 at 5:00 am

Psychologist Benjamin Beck said there are two types of people: talkers and doers.

When I was in sixth grade, we were asked to deliver two oral book reports. For one, I did everything the teacher asked. For the other, I made up everything — characters, plot, title (“Hardwood Dreams”). The fabricated report earned me an A. The future Harvard law student report netted a B-.

Psychologist Benjamin Beck would say I’m a talker.

The University of Louisville’s last head football coach, like myself, was a talker. Unlike myself, Steve Kragthorpe was given $2.2 million to take his talking — and lack of doing — elsewhere.

Before new head coach Charlie Strong was hired, he was criticized for being a poor public speaker. But when Strong spoke to fans at the recent kickoff luncheon, he drew the largest crowd in the event’s history. No small feat considering the Cardinal football program has produced fewer wins than the year before in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1973-1975.

The luncheon crowd wasn’t an anomaly. In the eight months since he accepted the job, Strong’s doing has re-energized the Louisville fan base. 

Kragism No. 1: “Things aren’t where they should be in terms of wins and losses, but we are doing things the right way.”

Strong inherited a group of players accustomed to failing in the classroom and on the field. Last winter, during one of those “honoring Cardinal student athletes” segments at U of L basketball games that no one really pays attention to, just three (I think, I wasn’t really paying attention) Louisville football players stood at center court, a number dwarfed by the contingent from every other fall sport.

In his first talk with his new team, Strong made it clear this would no longer be the case, a message that apparently resonated. This past spring, a record 39 Louisville football players earned a GPA of 3.0 or better, seven freshmen posted perfect 4.0s, and the average team GPA was 2.7.

Kragism No. 2: “I’m the captain of this ship, and whatever happens falls on me.”

Steve Kragthorpe never truly accepted the blame for anything that went wrong with the football program. He would make a statement like the one above and then follow it up with a vague comment about “inheriting unforeseen problems.”

The fact is, Kragthorpe lost or sent packing 12 assistant coaches. He fired two offensive coordinators and a defensive coordinator, and saw another two defensive coordinators accept positions elsewhere. It was the sign of a desperate frontman deflecting blame.

Strong has never left any room for doubt when it comes to the issue of who’s in charge. This is his staff, these are his players, and things are being done his way.

Kragism No. 3: “The fact that we haven’t won the last two years, I don’t know if that adds anything from our side other than we know that it’s an important game and we want to win it.”

From day one, Strong has made no effort to hide how badly he wants to beat Kentucky. Last year’s 31-27 loss in Lexington has been playing on a constant loop throughout the football training room all summer, and players have consistently stressed the importance of “taking back the state.” 

Kragism No. 4: “Recruiting’s going well. We’ve got a couple of guys who I think are real diamonds in the rough.”

Recruiting during the Kragthorpe era was defined by losing sub-par talent to sub-par football schools, and by the head coach labeling the two-star recruits he did manage to woo as “diamonds in the rough.”

With very little time to work, Strong managed to put together a 2010 recruiting class that was unanimously ranked higher than his predecessor’s three efforts. He landed two four-star recruits — the first since Bobby Petrino’s final U of L class — and quickly locked up arguably the two top players in Louisville in Seneca High School quarterback DaMarcus Smith and Ballard wide receiver DeVante Parker.

Kragism No. 5: “I don’t judge games by the score, I judge them by what I see on film.”

This is certainly one of, if not the least talented team Louisville has fielded in the past decade, but earlier this month Strong made the type of genuine promise the fan base was always looking for and never getting from the last guy.

“I can’t make any promises here,” Strong said. “I can’t say how many games we’re going to win or what we’re actually going to do. But I can say this to you: We will be an exciting football team. We will play hard.”

In eight short months, Charlie Strong has done everything Louisville fans want their football coach to do … except win a game.