From the day the participants in the 2013 Sugar Bowl were announced, a major story heading into the game has been No. 21 Louisville Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong going up against the No. 3 Florida Gators, a team he coached in one position or another for 16 of the 30 years in which he has been a coach.
After graduating from Central Arkansas, Strong took a graduate assistant job at Florida from 1983-84. He moved on to two other stops and returned to Gainesville, FL as an outside linebackers coach from 1988-89. He returned two years later to serve as assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach from 1991-94. Strong then spent seven years away before returning to UF as defensive coordinator (and assistant head coach) from 2002-09.
Central Arkansas may be his alma mater, but Florida is undoubtedly a second collegiate home to Strong. Yet while fans and the media are focused on the back story, Strong has spent little time thinking about the Gators that way. That’s not to say he will not be touched by the moment at some point before the game begins.
“Well, see, I guess [it] really hasn’t hit me yet because I haven’t seen many of the players. So probably when I walk into the stadium for the first time [Wednesday] night and look across the sideline, you see a lot of those players you were able to recruit. Then it kind of hits you,” he said on Tuesday. “Once you hear the band rev up and play the different songs that you’re so familiar with … it will be something special. I mean, you kind of sit there, I’ll probably be in a daze for a second, but I still got to get refocused and get my team going also.”
Strong knows he has to be focused because his Cardinals are going up against a formidable opponent. He did not waste much time before praising UF as he lauded his former school as part of his opening statement on Tuesday.