By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
NEW ORLEANS – Louisville coach Charlie Strong will be very familiar with the team across the sideline when his Cardinals square off with Florida in Wednesday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Strong, who is in his third season as Louisville’s head coach, spent 14 years with the Gators over the span of four different coaching stints starting in 1983. Most recently, he was the defensive coordinator at Florida from 2003-09.
He was part of two BCS National Championships for the Gators in 2006 and 2008.
“I spent so many years there, it was a special time for me,” Strong said at Tuesday’s press conference. “If you look at when I started from the 80s and the 90s, I was able to work with every head coach in that program. I was able to develop and become a really good football coach because of my experience there.”
A really good football coach indeed.
Strong has totaled a 24-14 record during his time in the Derby City, leading his team to back-to-back BIG EAST titles and three consecutive bowl games. Louisville’s appearance in this year’s Sugar Bowl marks just the second BCS berth in the program’s history.
Strong embraces the opportunity to take his football team up against one from the Southeastern Conference, former employer or not.
“If you look at the Southeastern Conference, look at the national championships over the last few years, it speaks for itself,” Strong said. “And now you have a chance to go play a team from the Southeastern Conference, I think our team is really excited about it, because when you hear college football, everyone talks about the Southeastern Conference.”
Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and running backs/special teams coach Kenny Carter both served on the Florida staff with Strong.
Additionally, the Cardinals have a roster filled with players from the Sunshine State, including sensational sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater of Miami, who has thrown for 3,452 yards with 25 touchdowns, including two 400-yard single-game performances this year.
“You look at the state of Florida and there’s so many players there,” Strong said. “Getting Teddy was, if you look at how just how valuable he is to our program right now, probably one of our best football players, it was key, because we needed that quarterback. And to go into the rest of the players, we just built around him.”
That the majority of Louisville’s players come from the state of Florida gives the Cardinals added motivation in Wednesday’s game.
“I don’t have to say much because a lot of these players on our team are from the state of Florida,” Strong said. “So they know a lot of the players that they’re going up against. They understand that it’s the University of Florida and it’s the Southeastern Conference and we’re in the Sugar Bowl.”
And for Strong, it will be a unique situation in which he will be facing off against a number of players that he recruited for the opposition.
“I guess what really hasn’t hit me yet, I haven’t seen many of the players,” Strong said. “So, probably, when I walk into the stadium for the first time tomorrow night and look across the sideline, you see a lot of those players you’re able to recruit, then it kind of hits you. It will be something special.”