KNOXVILLE -- As Tennessee's search for a new head football coach continues, so do the public remarks of denial from possible candidates linked to the Volunteers' vacancy.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong, one of those candidates, knew the topic would come up in his usual Monday news conference, but his attempt to limit the discussion was unsuccessful.
"Lately there's been a lot of rumors about my name surfacing with many of these job openings, but I'm not here to discuss the rumors," Strong said to open his media session in his first public comments since his team beat Rutgers last Thursday and he reportedly met with Tennessee officials Friday. "I'm here to talk about our football team."
His Cardinals clinched the Big East Conference's BCS bowl berth with that win in New Jersey and earned a chance to play Florida, his previous employer, in the Sugar Bowl.
After his initial comments, Strong reiterated twice that he would not discuss the rumors that have linked him to the openings at Tennessee and Auburn.
"I get annoyed, very annoyed, because a lot of times when those rumors come out, people don't know exactly what they're talking about, so why discuss it?" he said. "If you're not talking to me, you're not getting it from me. So why would you ever just start running with something that you have no idea what you're running with?
"I'm never going to deal in rumors. People can say whatever they want to about me -- they've always said it. It is a no-win situation because people are going to say whatever they want."
When pressed to say if he'd be the Cardinals' coach next season, Strong replied, "I will say that at the right time."
Later in the news conference, Strong lamented what he perceived as a lack of fan support, pointed specifically to the team's walk to the stadium in the home finale against Connecticut and even mentioned the "Big Blue Nation" for Kentucky's basketball program.
"You want the passion from the fans, and you want the support," he said. "This frustrated me more than anything: We have great fans here, but when we came here on senior day to [the] Connecticut game, we get off the bus ... no one came out. We had a few people out there.
"We had the real fans out there -- I'm not saying we didn't have anyone -- but you'd like to see more fans come out. If you support your program, you support your program, and you want that."
The announced attendance for Louisville's game against UConn was 45,618, which is nearly 10,000 less than capacity at Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium.
"We're sitting there at [9-1] ... and we don't even pack the stadium," Strong said.
Louisville won four games the season before his arrival, but the Cardinals are 24-14 in his three seasons. A longtime defensive coordinator at Florida, Strong's defenses at Louisville have finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense in each of his three years. Though his signing classes at Louisville -- ranked 42nd, 29th and 48th by Rivals.com -- may not show it, Strong has earned a reputation as a good recruiter.
The 52-year-old accepted a contract extension a year ago that raised his salary to $2.3 million this season and included a buyout of $2.2 million.
As for other candidates for Tennessee's opening, multiple reports in Knoxville and Tallahassee on Monday indicated that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is likely to stay with the Seminoles. Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, who's also been linked to the opening at Arkansas, reportedly met Sunday with Tennessee officials.
One source suggested to the Times Free Press late Sunday night that Tennessee would like to have a coach hired within "four to five days."
The National Football Foundation awards dinner that Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart mentioned at his news conference 17 days ago is tonight at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. Hart suggested then he would do some interviews while attending that event and seeing former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...