Belk Bowl Notebook

Cincinnati's Stripling used to stepping in

CorrespondentDecember 23, 2012 

Steve Stripling has been in this situation before – handed the reins of a team and asked to prepare it for a bowl game.

This time, it’s the Cincinnati Bearcats, who began their final practices leading up to Thursday night’s matchup against Duke (6-6) in the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium.

“The guys were fresh-legged and really into it,” Stripling said after the Bearcats (9-3) held a 90-minute practice in helmets and shoulder pads Sunday at Charlotte Country Day’s John Cook Field.

Stripling was named Cincinnati’s interim head coach on Dec. 7, right after Butch Jones announced he was taking the head coaching job at Tennessee. A day later, school officials announced that Tommy Tuberville was leaving Texas Tech to take the Bearcats’ coaching vacancy.

Joining Jones immediately at Tennessee were five assistant coaches from his Cincinnati staff, and Stripling will become the Volunteers’ assistant head coach and defensive line coach after the Belk Bowl.

All that, coupled with the events surrounding a college bowl game, would usually spell disaster for a team’s morale and game preparation.

But Stripling has some experience dealing with something like this – he was interim head coach at Central Michigan when it beat Troy State 44-41 in double overtime in the 2010 GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The head coach he replaced? Jones, who had taken the Cincinnati job after Brian Kelly left to take over at Notre Dame.

“These kids are put into a tough situation,” Stripling said. “You have to rely on a routine, and you have to have discipline to get them through it. It’s not a time to be trying new things; you have to stick with your staples. You also have to rely on your senior leadership. Fortunately, we’ve got a large number of seniors (24).”

It also helps that the Bearcats have a goal – a Belk Bowl win would make them just the fourth team (along with Oklahoma, Oregon and Alabama) to post 10-win seasons in five of the last six years.

“It’s a great goal for these kids,” Stripling said.

In the fast lane

Before the Bearcats’ held their first practice in Charlotte, the players and coaching staff spent the morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway getting rides around the track from the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

While a few players – most notably, 6-foot-9 offensive lineman Sean Hooey – had problems squeezing into the stock cars, they all got three laps around the 1 1/2-mile oval at speeds around 140 mph.

“That’s the great thing about bowl games,” said Stripling, who was the first one on the track. “None of these kids have ever been through something like that.”

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