Sugar Bowl

UF’s Muschamp, Louisville’s Strong in blue-collar coaching clash at Sugar Bowl


UF’s Will Muschamp and Louisville’s Charlie Strong have similar approaches to leading their teams.

No. 4 Florida vs. No. 22 Louisville

Game: Allstate Sugar Bowl, Superdome, New Orleans.

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m., Wednesday.

TV/radio: ESPN; WINZ 940.

Favorite: Florida by 13 1/2.

Records: Florida 11-1 (7-1 SEC); Louisville 10-2 (5-2 Big East).

Series: Florida leads 2-0.

Florida injuries: Questionable — DB Loucheiz Purifoy (head). Doubtful — Jelani Jenkins (ankle). Out — WR Michael McNeely (foot), DE Ronald Powell (knee), OL Ian Silberman (shoulder), WR Solomon Patton (arm), DB Cody Riggs (foot), LS Drew Farris (collarbone).

Louisville injuries: Questionable — TE Nate Nord (undisclosed), WR Scott Radcliff (undisclosed), CB Charles Gaines (undisclosed). Out — RB Senorise Perry (leg), WR Michaelee Harris (knee).

Miami Herald Writer

In the final news conference before Wednesday night’s Sugar Bowl, Florida coach Will Muschamp was asked a question that insinuated his team would be taking Louisville lightly simply because it’s a Big East opponent and considered inferior.

“I think that’s hogwash,” Muschamp said. “Every game is important. As a competitor, I don’t care what you’re doing, want to go play in the parking lot, it’s important. … With the University of Florida, there’s a lot of pressure in every game. We’re expecting to win them all.”

That mentality sums up Muschamp and the No. 4 Gators (11-1), who enter the Sugar Bowl as a near two-touchdown favorite over the No. 22 Cardinals (10-2). Florida is just one year removed from a 7-6 season that left lingering doubts about whether or not Muschamp was the man for the job. But here they are, back in a BCS game for the seventh time in school history, and his players said they attribute their success and quick turnaround directly to Muschamp and how he runs the team.

Fifth-year offensive lineman James Wilson has been around the program since 2007. He listened as former coach Urban Meyer announced his departure just before Florida left for this same bowl and New Orleans in 2009 only to backtrack and return. He watched the news as Meyer then departed once more, this time for good. And although both Meyer and Muschamp quickly elevated the Gators into national contenders, Wilson said he immediately noticed one distinct difference between the two coaches.

“I just knew that [Muschamp] didn’t pick favorites ever,” Wilson said. “That’s different from coaches that have been here. He’s really just a show-me guy. Show me what you’ve got. If you perform and go hard every day, he respects that. That’s what really made this thing a team effort.”

Wilson and several of his teammates said Muschamp’s consistency in his attitude and approach week in and week out regardless of wins, losses or circumstance has been paramount in their development. The long-used and perhaps cliché statement that teams adopt the mentality of their coaches certainly seems to ring true in Florida’s case.

“When I first got to Florida, [I told the players] they needed to take ownership of the football team,” Muschamp said. “I don’t know that we did that in our first year. The accountability and the responsibility that this is your team, it’s not mine. … But I certainly think this year we have taken some ownership within the team. We’ve handled a lot of the discipline within the locker room. A lot of those things when you have those things you start to have some special things happening with your football team. … And I think [Louisville coach] Charlie [Strong] would say the same thing because I think he and I have a lot of the same personality.”

To the degree that Muschamp has impacted the Gators’ return to expected heights, the same could be said for Strong elevating his team to new ones.

Strong and Muschamp share the same blue-collar, team-first mentality, and it’s serendipitous that they would be pitted against each other in Wednesday’s game. Strong’s first coaching job was at Florida, as a graduate assistant in 1983, and he made multiple return trips, including a stint as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach from 2002 to 2009.

Strong recruited a large portion of the players on Florida’s roster who have helped turn the program around, and he said that seeing them on the field Wednesday and hearing the band play the fight songs he spent many formative years singing will be a sentimental moment.

And it is his team. Although he had to wait more than two decades for a shot at being the guy, Strong was a hot name for job openings this postseason, garnering interest from several SEC schools. But he chose to stay, to continue what he started.

Despite all the story lines, the importance of this game hasn’t been lost by either coach or team. Muschamp’s Gators would likely earn a top-five preseason ranking with a win, something that affected their chance to play for a national title this season despite having the country’s best résumé. And Strong and Louisville just want to keep climbing.

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