John Adams: Strong just wasn't 'cut that way'

John Adams

You learn not to trust football coaches.

They lie about injuries, suspensions and jobs. They lie to the recruits, media and fans. Sometimes, they even lie to their bosses.

So when a coach says he will never leave University X, I take him as seriously as I would a 20-day weather forecast.

Maybe that's why I didn't place great import on what Louisville coach Charlie Strong had to say in an interview with Jim Rome in October. When coaches start speaking passionately about their loyalty to school and players, I usually zone out faster than I would in an economics lecture.

Otherwise, why would I have ever thought Strong would leave his coaching job at Louisville for the University of Tennessee?

Rome began the interview by noting that Strong's name had come up in connection with the impending coaching opening at Arkansas. Strong responded by espousing his gratitude to the Louisville president and athletic director for giving him the only head-coaching job he had ever had.

"The AD and president here gave me my first opportunity," Strong said. "You don't just walk away."

He didn't stop there.

"I look at the players I recruited here," he said. "I told them to come here for me and this university. And then, all of a sudden, I get a shot somewhere else, and I walk away from them?

"I'm just not cut that way, Jim."

It didn't sound slick or contrived. It sounded heartfelt. It sounded believable.

As I listened to the audio Wednesday, it still sounded believable — even as a Twitter storm to the contrary was erupting around me. The minute-by-minute updates all but had Strong on a plane bound for Knoxville in plenty of time for an evening media conference.

The media conference never happened. Meanwhile in Louisville, the Cardinals' players came and went from a team gathering. There were conflicting reports as to whether Strong attended the meeting, which was scheduled to discuss the team's Sugar Bowl plans. In fact, there have been conflicting reports about virtually everything since UT began its search to replace Derek Dooley, whom it fired before the team's season-ending game with Kentucky.

Amidst all the uncertainty, Jimmy Hyams of the Sports Animal reported that Strong had turned down UT's initial offer; UT had then responded with a more lucrative offer. Later in the evening, Hyams and multiple media outlets reported Strong was no longer a candidate for the UT job.

That was refreshing news — not because I discounted Strong as a worthy candidate for UT, but because I wanted to believe the guy I heard in the Rome interview. If those words were as truthful as Strong made them sound, that's the kind of guy any school should want as its coach, provided, of course, he also could win games.

But if Strong could have spoken with such conviction and left the school and players behind two months later, you could have added him to the long list of names who have made coaching an untrustworthy profession.

Strong says he's "not cut that way." His players believed him.

Rumors were rampant late Wednesday afternoon that Strong might leave Louisville for UT when Cardinals senior center Mario Benavides took to Twitter and wrote: "I'm not worried about my coach. We're a family."

Hours later, news broke that Strong was staying at Louisville. His faith confirmed, Benavides tweeted, "Hallelujah!!!. We never doubted it."

UT had missed out on a really good coaching candidate, I thought. But I felt better about the profession.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 82

runninbroke writes:

Yea, I feel better about the profession too. It's nice to see someone stick by their principles and not jump away to the money. He is showing loyalty and gratitude to a community that supports him. That should be commended! With that being said, I hope Florida wins 100-0!! But hey, no hard feelings!

VFLVFLVFL writes:

whippity doo adams. Your giddy i know.. others that are UT fans and players want to puke... i hope our current players / recruits hang in there. keep your heads up vol nation. no where to go but up from here

redmcman writes:

It is refreshing to see a coach be loyal to the school and players. BUT WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN TO TENNESSEE. Is this a compitant coaching search being done by the UT administration?

TKO writes:

It feels like a tire stuck in a ditch and the harder you try the deeper the ditch gets.

GAVols writes:

Very loyal.....he played both universities to get a massive raise. This move was full of integrity. I don't blame him for playing the game, but please don't paint him as a Saint.

TommyJack writes:

Don't forget his flirting got him a huge raise.

BruisedOrange writes:

The more I read about C.Strong the more I like him--and he was my top choice at the beginning!

Head Coach experience notwithstanding, Tennessee needs to be the school that gives the next Charlie Strong his first chance.

Given the challenges to success at UT today (having to recruit nationwide, facing the NCAA's best teams regularly, and a fan-base that will be financially hit hard in the coming economy) we'll HAVE to land a coach who is INCREDIBLY HUNGRY for success, and willing to work like heck-and-a-half to be better than the rest.

I'm not convinced you can find the kind of commitment this program requires in a coach who has already "proven himself" as a head coach. We either have to find a head coach with Fulmer's fierce loyalty to Tennessee, or be the one who gives that first chance to the next Charlie Strong.

The demands of this job, and the odds against success in it, are too daunting to attract any other kinds.

volman91 writes:

COACH Fulmer we need you now more than ever!!!!!
No one will ever love UT more than a true Vol.
Fulmer,Martin,Sanders,Wilson Etc....
BRING in some ORANGE BLOOD to right the ship!
VFL

cvol1990 writes:

Would Strong have remained so loyal to Louisville if the school had not ponied up more money to keep him? We can only guess, but I say 'no.' I'm sure the guy has integrity, but let's not ignore that he is getting more money to stay.

spacehistorian writes:

I can remember the end of the Bill Battle era because of the excitement felt by Tennessee fans that Johnny was coming home to UT after winning the NC with Pittsburgh. It took a few years but Majors returned Tennessee to national prominence and won 3 SEC Championships before that fateful 1992 season. We all know how Coach Fulmer came to be the head coach with Majors being forced out. It was an ugly time in Knoxville but as long as the Vols were winning the bad feelings were forgotten. Then CPF grew complacent and the team slid into a 2nd tier status in the conference along with the multiple player issues with law enforcement. The Fulmer Cup sums it up. If only UT had made the right call with Fulmer's replacement we wouldn't be in this rotten situation. Who knew Pete Carroll was going to bail on USC opening Kiffin's dream job the year after he was hired at Tennessee? When Kiffin left us hanging there was a mad scramble to find a coach ASAP which led to the hiring of the unprepared Derek Dooley. CDD did some good things on The Hill but he just couldn't get the wins needed to be successful and had to go. Now the eyes of Vol Nation turn to AD Hart to get this choice absolutely right otherwise we will continue to be mired in mediocrity for the rest of this decade. Gruden was never a realistic choice and now Gundy & Strong have turned us down. This is a stressful test for Hart to see if he has what it takes to find the right leader to return the Big Orange to an elite status. We all are waiting with baited breath to see who Hart will announce and pray to the football gods that they will rain blessings upon us with the right guy for this job. Personally I like Gary Patterson of TCU. He battles the big boys in Texas for talent and he coaches them up and runs a fine program. If he has any hopes of proving himself in the best CFB conference Tennessee would be a great place for him. I know the Southern Miss fans down here around New Orleans loved Fedora and hated to see him leave for UNC. I just don't know much about him as a coach. Bob Diaco is Notre Dame's DC and he did one heck of a job with their defense. Keep Jim Chaney as OC and Diaco can run the defense. In the end we will all hope that whomever Hart hires that he is wildly successful. I am not sure many of us could handle the stress of three or four more years of being the basement dweller of the SEC. Just not good for the heart or the psyche. Go Vols!!!

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

Someone who might be in play whose name has not been mentioned to my knowledge is Bill O'Brien at PS. He was just named Big 10 Coach of the Year, and if his #1 kicker had not left at the beginning of the season might have gone 10-2 in his 1st yr. He's going to have an uphill battle recruiting top talent for the next few years but the manner in which he faced such overwhelming adversity and rejuvenated a "gutted" team and fanbase is most commendable. I think the guy has tremendous potential. Any thoughts?

born2ride writes:

Strong would have been a failure.

Gruden is the only coach who can turn the program around.

VolCard writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

Someone who might be in play whose name has not been mentioned to my knowledge is Bill O'Brien at PS. He was just named Big 10 Coach of the Year, and if his #1 kicker had not left at the beginning of the season might have gone 10-2 in his 1st yr. He's going to have an uphill battle recruiting top talent for the next few years but the manner in which he faced such overwhelming adversity and rejuvenated a "gutted" team and fanbase is most commendable. I think the guy has tremendous potential. Any thoughts?

I think you're right, and that Bill O'Brien has done a heckuva job at PSU this year. Of all the things the kids on that team need though, it's not to have the rug jerked out from under them yet again. I know they're not Tennessee, and I know it's just a Big 10 team ... but it's also a bunch of 18-20 year old kids already getting punished for the acts of a horrible few (and they handled it admirably this year), and I'd hate to see them lose a coach now.

gobigorange5090 writes:

in response to born2ride:

Strong would have been a failure.

Gruden is the only coach who can turn the program around.

Gruden isnt coming. Get over it already!

Noiseboy writes:

READ MY LIPS. Before UT lost to MIZU I said on this board the 4 best coach candidates based upon cost were Gundy $$$$; Strong $$$; Malzahn $$; Dykes $. But all you idiot Chucky lovers killed what opportunity Hart had to get a deal with the top 3 of those guys and who really wants the Dooley successor at La-Tech? Hope you like a 7-5 ACC coach 'cause that's what you deserve.

So tired and disappointed with all this phooey, I'm gonna put this out there one time.

JIMMIE JOHNSON. One of 2 coaches ever with a Super Bowl and an NCAA ring.

If Hart has the .... and the bank account left, give the guy $6 mil guaranteed for 5, and his staff $4 mill and see what he says. He knows he can win in this league, just make it worth the effort.

Lvillebill writes:

in response to GAVols:

Very loyal.....he played both universities to get a massive raise. This move was full of integrity. I don't blame him for playing the game, but please don't paint him as a Saint.

I guarantee you his listening wasn't playing both universities. He's a smart man, and only a fool wouldn't listen. But he is a high character guy, and UofL was the one who gave him his shot. That went a long way with him.
Anyway, I hope Coach Fedora is our man. GBO!

Lvillebill writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

Someone who might be in play whose name has not been mentioned to my knowledge is Bill O'Brien at PS. He was just named Big 10 Coach of the Year, and if his #1 kicker had not left at the beginning of the season might have gone 10-2 in his 1st yr. He's going to have an uphill battle recruiting top talent for the next few years but the manner in which he faced such overwhelming adversity and rejuvenated a "gutted" team and fanbase is most commendable. I think the guy has tremendous potential. Any thoughts?

Too much to buy him out. PSU was smart and built in exit penalties.

Lvillebill writes:

in response to Noiseboy:

READ MY LIPS. Before UT lost to MIZU I said on this board the 4 best coach candidates based upon cost were Gundy $$$$; Strong $$$; Malzahn $$; Dykes $. But all you idiot Chucky lovers killed what opportunity Hart had to get a deal with the top 3 of those guys and who really wants the Dooley successor at La-Tech? Hope you like a 7-5 ACC coach 'cause that's what you deserve.

So tired and disappointed with all this phooey, I'm gonna put this out there one time.

JIMMIE JOHNSON. One of 2 coaches ever with a Super Bowl and an NCAA ring.

If Hart has the .... and the bank account left, give the guy $6 mil guaranteed for 5, and his staff $4 mill and see what he says. He knows he can win in this league, just make it worth the effort.

He'll be 70 before summer practice, and he has a cushy big $$$ gig with Fox. He'd give that up for this mess? What are you smoking?

jack4444 writes:

The Tennessee job has so much baggage, look how Fulmer was fired, how they went about terminating Pat Summit, the outrageous fan expectations and what appears to be a rudderless administration. No Tennessee alums around til you get to Condredge and Jay Graham. Throw in a really tough schedule next year. You come to Tennessee you better get a good buyout like Dooley did. Tennessee is slipping fast.

tnvol34 writes:

OK! YOU JUST GOT STRONG A PAY RAISE! WHOSE NEXT MR HART! NOBODY WANTS THIS JOB! GET PETRINO, AND GET IT OVER WITH, BEFORE HE'S GONE TOO! DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT'S GOING ON!

Orangeblood13 writes:

Gary Patterson will listen, should have been first stop

Banner writes:

JA shut the heck up. Who are you trying to fool? You love all the bad that goes with this. You always write about other programs etc but bash UT. Spineless!

TheStupidPolice writes:

#TurnedDownTennessee is currently trending on Twitter.

TheStupidPolice writes:

in response to redmcman:

It is refreshing to see a coach be loyal to the school and players. BUT WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN TO TENNESSEE. Is this a compitant coaching search being done by the UT administration?

You are under arrest for not being COMPETENT. You have the right to remain silent...

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

in response to Lvillebill:

Too much to buy him out. PSU was smart and built in exit penalties.

Hey there, bill, Just googled O'Brien and read about those departure penalties. Apparently, rumors about his leaving started recently when he gave an ambiguous answer about staying put. But he has since dispelled those rumors with a reaffirmation of his commitment. By the way, I will be leaving in a few hours for the 'Ville where I will be working at the fairgrounds this weekend. Always enjoy my trips down there and try to get to a KFC buffet at least once.

BradleyJKinkaid writes:

in response to runninbroke:

Yea, I feel better about the profession too. It's nice to see someone stick by their principles and not jump away to the money. He is showing loyalty and gratitude to a community that supports him. That should be commended! With that being said, I hope Florida wins 100-0!! But hey, no hard feelings!

Trust me, I am all for character (we need some ourselves), but don't be too fooled.

Yes, he stayed with the kids he recruited, but he did talk to us, he did consider us, and at the end of the day he got paid more.

He used this job offer to get something. I know it has become protocol in coaching, but is it right to threaten your current employer to get a raise. If he was truly all in at UofL, then why didn't he just tell UT from the beginning, "I'm not interested, at all."?

snafu14u#241639 writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

Someone who might be in play whose name has not been mentioned to my knowledge is Bill O'Brien at PS. He was just named Big 10 Coach of the Year, and if his #1 kicker had not left at the beginning of the season might have gone 10-2 in his 1st yr. He's going to have an uphill battle recruiting top talent for the next few years but the manner in which he faced such overwhelming adversity and rejuvenated a "gutted" team and fanbase is most commendable. I think the guy has tremendous potential. Any thoughts?

I'll agree with you on that. Coach O'Brien has done a fantastic job in a crazy tough situation. Coach of the Year....you bet. Don't believe he would leave, too much invested into Penn State and his players. I can't believe the situation we are in, coaches are being signed and hired by colleges all across the country and the Mighty Mighty UT Vols can't hire our top picks. And here's the deal folks, you can't believe that you can hire a coach and he's going to keep half of the old staff. We set our sights high and are getting played and look like a school that has the plague. Butch Jones just got hired, it appears more and more like we got caught flat-footed. And throw in a basketVol team that gets outscored by the footVol team. I do not know what AD Hart is doing or how we get there. My head is spinning. This is embarrassing. Bonzaivol

TheStupidPolice writes:

in response to Orangeblood13:

Gary Patterson will listen, should have been first stop

Listen to what? He reportedly just signed an extension and got pay raises for him and his staff. He's not the coach of the TCU of the 90s. He's the coach of a TCU team that is now in the Big 12, has made him one of the richest coaches in CFB and just poured $105 million into a stadium renovation.

OwensboroVol writes:

I don't feel better about a profession that would fake interest in a job just to get the current employer to give a big pay raise. He certainly didn't care about giving my Volunteers a black eye by choosing a second rate football school in a second rate conference and calling it a better job. He can kiss my A... One thing too, in a few years when he goes 2-10 and Louisville is firing him lets see how loyal they are to him.

golfman1975 writes:

The Addams fam--a--lee....click...click!
He just gave us the finger and you write this?

I am SO relieved you "feel better" about the profession. I will sleep better.

NYCApple writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

NYCApple writes:

The comments here just fully validate the fact that JA has absolutely NO IDEA what's going on in Knoxville, or has ANY insight into the program/coaching search. Lol.

Tennfan4075 writes:

Do the JA critics not realize how foolish it looks to bash Adams time after time yet continue to read his stories? The scary part is it seems to be the same people over and over and some even manage to bash the same story multiple times. I have always thought continuing to read or listen to someone who I consider to be wrong or inept was a waste of my time, but maybe not. I guess it really is about killing the messenger if you don't like the message.

bfowler1161#262198 writes:

in response to Lvillebill:

I guarantee you his listening wasn't playing both universities. He's a smart man, and only a fool wouldn't listen. But he is a high character guy, and UofL was the one who gave him his shot. That went a long way with him.
Anyway, I hope Coach Fedora is our man. GBO!

Yep. He is now the highest paid coach in college football. If he were so loyal, it would not have taken the money to keep him there.

ashvol7 writes:

in response to redmcman:

It is refreshing to see a coach be loyal to the school and players. BUT WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN TO TENNESSEE. Is this a compitant coaching search being done by the UT administration?

I was wondering the same thing, I don't trust Dave Hart and I don't think Jimmy Cheeks has a clue. With all of the things UT has to offer it is hard to beleive they can't find a good coach. We should be looking to replace Hart and Cheeks along with Dooley.

Prostar writes:

If Hart has done this so many times then why does he keep screwing up this search/hire. I'm just waiting until he calls his press conference and announces that after careful consideration and reevaluation of our situation he is announcing the promotion of Sal Sunseri as the new head football coach of the University of Tennessee. Improbable, yeah but it's not impossible. He's turned his back on the money people and those in power and influence to go his own way in this thing. Anyone that is hired now will know they weren't the first choice or even the second or third or maybe fourth. So why not hire the man who wants to be here, Butch Davis or Bobby Petrino. Get it over with, already.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Don't forget his flirting got him a huge raise.

No doubt, if he's all about ethics he should have honored his contract and politely declined an interview to discuss the UT job..JAT.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to OwensboroVol:

I don't feel better about a profession that would fake interest in a job just to get the current employer to give a big pay raise. He certainly didn't care about giving my Volunteers a black eye by choosing a second rate football school in a second rate conference and calling it a better job. He can kiss my A... One thing too, in a few years when he goes 2-10 and Louisville is firing him lets see how loyal they are to him.

Good point, but we are sounding like "the fox and the grapes" from the famous fable.

whatthe84 writes:

It's pretty obvious the UT job is a stinker. All the other schools have filled their staff with a head coach and UT is back to square one. It is funny to hear the chatter about Gruden, Fisher, Stoops, etc. and fans seems to be in a fantasy world. They seems to believe Santa Claus will bring them a world renoun head coach to turn the program around by the end of spring and they will be pre season number one. Jimmy Johnson has been mentioned that had to be an attempt at humor but with some of these pie in the sky fans I wonder. Either hold your nose and call Bobby Petrino, take the initial hit or look at some unknown who has been successful at lower levels and do it, just do it.

dvhill100 writes:

Well, this is embarrasing. I think it is time for Don Corelone to make them an offer they can't refuse.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Prostar:

If Hart has done this so many times then why does he keep screwing up this search/hire. I'm just waiting until he calls his press conference and announces that after careful consideration and reevaluation of our situation he is announcing the promotion of Sal Sunseri as the new head football coach of the University of Tennessee. Improbable, yeah but it's not impossible. He's turned his back on the money people and those in power and influence to go his own way in this thing. Anyone that is hired now will know they weren't the first choice or even the second or third or maybe fourth. So why not hire the man who wants to be here, Butch Davis or Bobby Petrino. Get it over with, already.

I'm thinking it's going to be Butch Jones only because he was waiting to see if Strong was taking the UT job before he accepted the Colorado gig..We'll see..GBO!!

Debbieman89 writes:

This Just in vols to replace MTSU in sunbelt!!!

HtownVol writes:

I know how to get a good HC.
Let Peyton lead the search. Peyton talks to his guy and says that if he taketh job Peyton will come as his OC in 2 years.

I know.. just saying.

At this point since UT has the worst athletic administration in the world our beat option is Petrino.

Honestly I say go after a NFL assistant. Del Rio, raheem morris,someone like that. would they say no to a promotion. they can't use us as a pay raise.

I am so embarrassed right now. how ca

wilk58 writes:

With schedule next year make Chaney interim coach deal with results and regroup for 2014.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

After Strong used UT to get a big raise at Louisville, I'm going to have to change from being a big supporter of his to being a huge Florida fan when watching the Sugar Bowl.

15_counting writes:

in response to born2ride:

Strong would have been a failure.

Gruden is the only coach who can turn the program around.

Then it will never turn around!

leedsvol2007 writes:

What Strong did was good business. He liked where he was at and liked the opportunity UT offered. When Louisville upped the ante he stayed. If they had not he would have come.

Before Georgia hired Mark Richt they first had actually hired Chuck Mason who had a change of heart. All is not lost.

If I were Hart I would be looking for a coach with a similar resume to Brian Kelley. I wanted Hamilton to hire him instead of Kiffin after looking up what he had done.

Like Bruce Pearl he had started at smaller schools and won championships at every level. At Cincinnati he was winning with good but relatively unknown players which showed he could judge talent and motivate players.

Everyone is justifiably concerned about the state of the program but make no mistake we will be back if we can find an effective coach.

There is enough talent in Tennessee to establish a team base and we are close enough to great out of state talent to steal a few here and there and get what we need talent-wise.

We have a great and passionate fan base and facilities that are up to par with all the major programs at the least. And an institution that has a history of preparing their graduates for life.

Strong would appear to have been a good get but there are others in the pool.

What we need is a coach that can judge and recruit talent, motivate, and communicate with the media, and win over the fans.

Robert Neyland, John Barnhill, Doug Dickey, and Phillip Fulmer were all great coaches for us. NONE had head coaching experience when they were hired to coach.

Hart needs to find the right guy not necessarily the name guy.

GoVols!

SummittsCourt writes:

This article just proves how clueless JA is. If he thinks it was integrity that kept Strong at UL he is as clueless as it comes.

Please JA - just go away.

SneakyPete writes:

I wonder what Doug Williams would do as a coach if he got top rated talent?

VolsFanInAfghanistan writes:

in response to gobigorange5090:

Gruden isnt coming. Get over it already!

gobigorange5090, he only threw that out there to get a response to his post. He knows nothing, just like the rest of us right now. We're scrambling right now to find a coach and get this over with. People on here just want to rile up the Vol Nation to the point we're at each others throats.

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