GO VOLS XTRA
By 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.