UF expects strong effort from Strong-led Louisville


Louisville coach Charlie Strong still has the respect of his former players at Florida. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.

There may be a tendency for some of the younger Florida players to take Louisville lightly in the Sugar Bowl. The elements for that occurring certainly are present: The Gators are favored by more than two touchdowns against a two-loss team from a conference (Big East) that is considered a significant notch below SEC standards.

But there is zero chance UF's veteran defensive players will fall into the trap. That's because they know Charlie Strong. They played for him. They know his style, his defense and what his team will bring to the table in New Orleans on Jan. 2.

“I remember playing for him a couple of years ago,” senior safety Josh Evans said. “Man, he's a great coach. He's a guy who knows his stuff. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a great game. He's a great coach. He's got a good defense coming into this game and a good offense, so it will be very competitive.”

Evans is among a handful of seniors and fifth-year seniors who played for Strong when he was the defensive coordinator at Florida — a position Strong held for seven seasons under Ron Zook and Urban Meyer before he was hired as the head coach at Louisville after the 2009 season.

Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter played under Strong for two seasons (2008-09) on two of the strongest defenses in UF history, including one that helped the Gators win the national championship in 2008.

Hunter knows Strong will have his defense ready to play at a high level in the Sugar Bowl.

“Oh, they'll be very prepared,” Hunter said. “A Charlie Strong defense, you know, those defenses my freshman and sophomore year … we had great teams and great defenses. He was a main part of that, getting guys ready and prepared for games.

“A lot of defensive guys took that pretty rough (when Strong left). Me being a young guy, I didn't really understand it as much as the older guys. But that was definitely tough for a lot of guys.”

Hunter and Evans said Strong is more than just a good coach. He's also a good person who relates to the players and gets the most out of them.

“He was a high-energy guy,” Evans said. “He was a funny coach, but he knew when to take it serious and push us to the next level. I'd say that was probably the best about him, knowing when you're lacking and pushing you to be the best player you can be. That's the type of coach he is.”

Hunter said all the players at UF, not just the defensive players, were close to Strong.

“He was just a real honest guy,” Hunter said. “He like to have fun and liked to work at the same time.

“He's one of those guys where, Coach Meyer would always tell us to run off the sideline. I'd be sprinting off, and Coach Strong would be screaming my name like I didn't run just to get my (position) coach to yell at me.

“He was just one of those type of guys, just to have fun and laugh and joke while you work hard. I miss Coach Strong. He's a great guy. First and foremost, he's a good coach.”

Evans said he is not surprised at how quickly Strong has turned around the Louisville program, which is in a BCS bowl game for only the second time in school history.

“Some of the (current UF) players who played for him, we all agreed that he would be a winner,” Evans said. “We know the way he coaches and the way he gets after it with his players that he was going to push them and motivate them to be the best they can be.”

Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said he doesn't know Strong personally, but he knows his reputation and the job he did at Florida and the job he's doing at Louisville.

“His defense always had an element of toughness to it,” Quinn said. “You can tell they finished and played hard. As a defensive coach, when you see another person's tape and their unit, you have a sense of respect for who they are.

“That group plays hard. That group knows how to finish. They take the ball away. Those are the things you notice about a guy.”

Hunter said it will be good to see Strong again, even though he'll be on the opposing sideline.

“I'm looking forward to seeing him,” Hunter said. “It will be fun.”

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