AUSTIN — Months before he would coach his first football game for the Texas Longhorns, Charlie Strong was losing the media campaign. He gave lackluster speeches and little media access.
Strong made it clear at the time of his hiring that he was here to coach football and make sure his players behaved and attended class. Nothing else, including media and alumni, mattered a whole lot to him.
So it was a surprise to hear Strong talk very candidly at the Big 12 Media Days in Dallas about the state of the Longhorns — now and before he arrived.
“We’re not as bad as we used to be, but we still have some work to do.”
Take that, Mack Brown.
It’s not that Strong wants to bash his predecessor. On the contrary, he takes every opportunity to laud Brown as “iconic” for a 16-year tenure that included a national championship and one runner-up.
But before you can improve something, you have to recognize what’s wrong with what you have. Speaking on that subject was Texas senior cornerback Quandre Diggs, a three-year starter. He was one of the players Strong sent forward to face the media.
“I told Coach Strong that I feel like we had guys on the team that just didn’t love football the way they should. . . .
If you don’t love football you’re not going to play here. . . . This is the New Texas.”
Diggs admitted to ESPN that New Texas is not always going over well with Old Texas. There are some who feel the 8-5 of last season is no disgrace. No need for drastic change. There have been conflicts in the weight room and locker room as the athletes are required to work harder than they did under the easygoing and easy to please Brown.
Strong emphasizes “core values,” one being “treating women with respect.” When a returning starter at wide receiver, Kendall Sanders, recently was charged with sexual assault, Strong suspended him indefinitely. “If you violate the core values,” he said, “it means you don’t want to be on the team. . . . Starter or not.”
The new coach dismissed four players, including running back Joe Bergeron, who rushed for 16 touchdowns in 2012. Strong is changing the culture, as he needed to do.
And he’s hired a fine staff. Offensive coordinator Joe Wickline comes from the Air Gundy program at Oklahoma State, where he built the best pass-blocking lines in the country. This is especially good news for UT’s multiple-concussed senior quarterback David Ash.
Losing Sanders won’t help Ash, but a better effort by him and around him will. Diggs said the Longhorns “who don’t love football will be on the bench.” And deserve to be.
“You should swing the towel and be happy they’re paying your school.”
Charlie Strong could not have said it better. Perhaps he didn’t need to.