This season was bad.
The offense was terrible. The team lost David Ash after the first game thrusting Swoopes prematuring into the spotlight. We lost even more seniors to injuries. This was the first losing season in four years. We experienced the worst Texas home defeat ever this season. We lost the bowl game. Did I mention the offense was terrible?
Despite all of this game, I was just as hyped for next season as I was when I watched UT steamroll over the University of North Texas during its first game of the season. In fact, I hadn’t felt this excited for a season since Vince Young was killing the game. And that’s not just blind optimism, it’s because I believe in Charlie Strong. I believe that his values and leadership will lead Texas into a brand new era of amazing football.
He’s old school
Strong is all about discipline. The players must follow his core values—honesty, treating women with respect, no drugs, stealing, or guns—or else. He dismissed and suspended eight players in a single day in early August. Strong also took away Brown-era luxuries like TVs in the locker room, the team’s nutrition and smoothie bar, and even their bus ride to practice (forcing the player to walk a half mile in order to get to the practice field).
His motto during the summer was “Put the ‘T’ back in Texas” because he literally took the “Longhorn” and “T” off of player’s helmets, roped off the Longhorn logo in the locker room, and banned them from throwing up the “Hook Em’ Horns” until he felt that they earned it.
He also denied players the opportunity to live off campus and ordered the team to live in athletic dorms in order to create a better sense of community between the players and remove cliques that damaged the group’s team dynamic. Strong established from day one that he wasn’t going to play or be a pushover and he is keeping his promise.
He gives a damn about academics
While this doesn’t apply to every football player, as a UT student, there are times where I’ve seen football players show up late to class or just sit in class surfing the web with headphones in instead of taking notes.
One of my more bold professors, on more than one occasion, pulled all the late football players in front of the class and interrogated them as to why they were late. Now, if a player misses class, they have to run. If they miss class twice, his entire position unit has to run. If they miss class three times, the position coach has to run.
Strong also instructs the team to sit in the front of the class and take notes. He has tutors and position coaches dropping in on classes on a regular basis in order to hold the players accountable for their attendance.
Strong has even established a “Breakfast Club” to help players “find their classroom,” whether in a metaphorical or literal sense, by having them attend two-hour study hall sessions at 6 a.m. and again at 8 p.m. It’s rare to see a coach who values the classroom as much as the field.
He’s an underdog
It would be foolish to ignore the fact that Strong will have to face many obstacles as the first black head coach at a university that seems to make national heads once or twice per year for racially charged incidents.
Red McCombs, a Longhorn booster club member whose name is plastered on several buildings on campus, was called a racist for lambasting the school for selecting Strong as head coach. He felt that his impressive resume only warranted him a position coach job. Dallas Morning News tweeted a news story called “Why he’s not a hip-hop coach: 10 things you might not know about new Texas coach Charlie Strong,” which was quickly deleted after criticism of the term “hip hop coach.”
Even UT President Bill Powers had to condemn a t-shirt reading, “Black is the new Brown,” supposedly celebrating Strong’s new arrival as “racist” and “ugly.” He has faced racism like this throughout his career. He was denied a head coaching job in a southern BCS Conference school early in his career due to his marriage to a white woman. In the face of such blatant racism and brutal criticism, I can’t help but praise the man for his strength and ambition. He’s made the big time, and he earned it.
Is UT football going to be as amazing next season as it was when Vince Young was still donning a burnt orange jersey? Maybe not. Charlie Strong has inherited a struggling football program and it will take awhile for him to bring it to its full potential.
However, with Charlie Strong leading the Longhorns, seasons to come will be filled with trophies and iconic games that will be remembered for decades.