Calling it "the toughest decision I've had to make in 29 years of coaching," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said he turned down a lucrative offer from Tennessee out of a sense of loyalty to his players and the athletic director that gave him his first chance to be a head coach three years ago.
"As I talked with my family, it became crystal clear that I needed to stay,” Strong said during an early Thursday morning press conference in Louisville.
Strong had emerged as the Vols’ top target earlier this week in the now 18-day search to replace Derek Dooley, who was fired Nov. 18 after three losing seasons.
Strong’s decision has left the next step Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart’s search uncertain.
Strong claimed that he had not agreed to a new contract with Louisville, but would negotiate that with athletic director Tom Jurich later.
Loyalty to Jurich played a big part in the decision, Strong said.
Strong, 52, was a longtime SEC defensive coordinator who had been passed over for several head coaching jobs before being hired by Louisville three years ago. After the Cardinals struggled early in his tenure, Jurich stuck by him.
"I was 9-10, and (Jurich) hands me an extension,” Strong said. “How do you walk away from someone who trusts and believes in you?”
The Cardinals are 10-2 this year and headed to the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. They move to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
Strong said he’s made a long-term commitment to the program with his decision.
"What's happened here, people expect you to walk out,” he said. “I guarantee you 80 percent of the people here thought I was walking out...I don't think I put my career on the line at all by choosing Louisville over Tennessee."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Get rapid coaching search updates at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.