Tom Jurich concedes: He was nervous that Louisville football coach Charlie Strong may leave for the Tennessee Volunteers.
“Are you nuts? Of course I was nervous,” Jurich, UofL’s athletics director, said during a news conference.
In speaking for the first time since Charlie Strong announced he’d rebuffed UT’s offer, Jurich said the university and Strong’s representative began this morning discussing a contract extension — and that such a contract would likely place him among the top 10 paid.
“He’s going to get his market value,” Jurich said, adding that if he had his way, he’d add another eight years to Strong’s contract.
Strong is currently paid $2.3 million, plus retention incentives and performance bonuses, from a deal made last year, according to ESPN.com.
Alabama’s Nick Saban is the nation’s top-paid coach — earning $5.48 million per year, according to USA Today Sports’ database of football coaches’ salaries. Texas Christian’s Gary Patterson is 10th on USA Today Sports’ list, earning $3.47 million.
The top salary in the ACC currently is Jimbo Fisher’s $2.75 million per year, the database said.
The Cardinals finished 10-2 in the 2012 season — Strong’s third — and play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. It’s the Cardinals’ third major bowl appearance in program history.
Louisville has a tradition of losing football coaches to higher-profile programs. Howard Schnellenberger left after the 1994 season for Oklahoma. John L. Smith left after the 2002 season for Michigan State. Bobby Petrino left after the 2006 season for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. At least this season, UofL kept its coach.
When asked about having a coach with an offer from a top-tier Southeastern Conference choose to stay, Jurich told reporters that the Louisville football program reached a higher echelon last week when the Atlantic Coast Conference made UofL its 14th member.
He admitted a bias, but Jurich said people shouldn’t view the football program as an “underdog.”
Since the ACC’s decision, “I think this is a top 10 job in the country in football,” Jurich said.
Earlier this week, Strong criticized Louisville’s fans for their participation — and compared them unfavorably to the Kentucky Wildcats’ fans.
Jurich said Strong was “disappointed” by fan participation in UofL’s last home game of the season, during which senior team members are honored.
“Charlie is going to tell you what’s on his mind,” Jurich said.
Meanwhile, in a statement, UofL President James Ramsey praised Jurich.
“Charlie Strong is a great coach, role model and asset to our university and community,” Ramsey said. “His announcement today reinforces our message that UofL is on a big, upward trajectory athletically and academically. It also proves, once again, that Tom Jurich is the best athletics director in the country.”