Charlie Strong made quite an impression with the Texas Longhorns last season – and it had nothing to do with his 6-7 record. Rather, it had to do with the players that Strong suspended or kicked off the team before the first game of the season.
“I didn’t kick them off,” Strong clarified on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “So much was said about, ‘He walks in here and he just starts getting rid of guys.’ I always look at it like this: With our coaching staff, we’ve provided you a chance to just get it right and do what we ask you to do, and that’s what it came down to. Anytime you take over a program, sometimes you’re going to be challenged. I’m one of those coaches where I make it about the players. I want them to always understand that I’m going to do everything I can to make sure they’re successful. Now, some people don’t want to hear the message. And then when they decide that they want to run their own program, then I tell them, ‘You know what? This may not be the place for you. There’s other schools that would love to have you, so I just think that’s probably where you need to go.’”
So much of Strong’s first season was about changing the culture at Texas – which, in many ways, began with Strong’s hiring. He became the first African-American to coach a male sport in Texas history.
Is Strong aware that he is a pioneer? Is this something he thinks about?
“Oh, I do,” Strong said. “But (what) I think about more than anything is who I represent. Not only do I represent myself, I represent you. I represent coaches of color. And I just think about the opportunity that I have and the line of good coaches who have coached this game a long time didn’t get this opportunity. So it’s up to me to come in here and do a great job because my work has got to speak for us all. I have to do an unbelievable job.”
Strong’s 6-7 record left a bit to be desired last season, but the Longhorns did finish 4-3 after a 2-4 start.
“We were probably better than what our record showed,” Strong said. “I tell our coaching staff that all the time. I just didn’t think we did a (good enough) job with what he had. A lot of times it goes back to where you have to fit your personnel to the system. We came in here and I think a lot of times coaches expect more because this is the University of Texas and you’re thinking, ‘Hey, we got all this.’ But still, at the end of the day, we had to come in and coach them, and we have to do a better job of coaching.”
Strong, 54, was an assistant at Florida under Urban Meyer before becoming the head coach at Louisville, where he coached from 2010 to 2013. Strong was asked what he learned during his first head-coaching job that will help him in his second.
“You had to learn as you was going, and each year was a different year,” Strong said. “We recruited well there, (and) we can recruit well here. But my message is always the same. I always think this: It starts in the classroom and it starts off the field with players. If you show me a good football team, I’m going to show you a team with great academics. If you show me a bad team, I’m going to show you a team with bad academics. If a young man can go to class and do everything expected of him in the classroom, then the football part of it becomes easy for him. Because now you know that you have someone who’s smart. He’s dependable. It’s all about that – someone who’s accountable, someone who’s responsible. That’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for young men who want to be held accountable for their actions. They have to do it on the field as well as off the field.
“Even when we started to build it there at Louisville, it was all about that,” Strong continued. “And more than anything, I think that those young men were so proud when they walked across the stage, and it just carried over on the football part of it because now they performed well on the field. And (it’s) the same thing here. That has to happen.”
Strong had a top-10 recruiting class this year, but he doesn’t pay much attention to class rankings or recruiting stars; instead, he cares about finding guys that will excel in his system.
“It’s all about taking players and developing them,” Strong said. “You got to be able to develop young men and win a tough conference, and you’re going to have to play well week-in and week-out. Coming into the University of Texas, they have to understand the pride and the tradition that is so strong here.”
Texas opens the season at Notre Dame on Sept. 5, before three straight road games against Rice (Sept. 12), California (Sept. 19) and Oklahoma State (Sept. 26).