PUT THE ‘T’ BACK IN TEXAS: Charlie Strong
UT AUSTIN IS GOING STRONG
Austin MD brings you an exclusive interview with University of Texas Austin’s new coach Charlie Strong.
“There is just so much pride and tradition here that it’s one of those jobs that every coach dreams of one day having.”
By Sam Jackson
Longhorn football season has arrived. And it’s time to get your – burnt orange – ON. Time to celebrate UT’s commitment to raising the bar on the quality of its players – by focusing on core values. Austin MD caught up with UT’s new football coach Charlie Strong to discuss his vision, values and plans for our beloved Longhorns. Charlie Strong’s offseason motto for the Longhorns has been “Put the ‘T’ back in Texas.” We asked him to tell AMD what the ‘T’ will mean for UT and its fans.
Strong answers, “We will not cut corners,” He said earlier this summer. “Putting the ‘T’ back in Texas means more than just being physically tough; it’s the mental resilience that drives a player in the fourth quarter on the field – and guides him during those moments when bad decisions off the field have consequences for everyone involved. Putting the ‘T’ back in Texas means you’re accountable, you’re responsible, you can’t be shaken or distracted by anything or anyone.”
Considering his past experiences that give him insight to the difficulties involved in building team culture. Strong is open and aware of the challenges ahead of him. He was around the beautiful mess that was Florida’s football last decade, when the Gators were winning multiple national titles – and when the program eventually imploded from within because of player behavior problems and entitlement.
When Strong left Florida for Louisville, he had similar issues with the Louisville locker room – with a lot less talent. He weeded out malcontents there, too, and by Year 3, Louisville was playing in (and winning) a BCS bowl.
When asked why he selected UT Austin, he said. “There is just so much pride and tradition here that it’s one of those jobs that every coach dreams of one day having,” Strong said of his new job. “Everything about University of Texas Austin is just so special. I have enjoyed meeting all of the former players, being around UT’s great facilities, and of course walking into the stadium. Coach Strong stated. “I say it all of the time – I’m so proud to be the head football coach at the University of Texas.”
The advice he was given from his mentors in the business, is to not treat this job any differently than any other job you have had. Stay focused, be yourself and work hard. He certainly knows this is a much bigger stage and by no means thinks it is a lateral move.
“What’s really key is you can’t look at your current job any differently than anywhere else you’ve been,” he remarked. “I’ve had opportunity to coach at really outstanding programs, such as the University of Florida, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Ole Miss. as well as being the head coach for the University of Louisville. What’s key is to just make sure you surround yourself with good people”.
He says the mission is very simple, it will never change: He will make sure that our young men graduate while competing for championships.
That mantra has not stopped him from establishing a reputation as an iron-fisted head football coach – more so when it recently came to light when players arrived for the first day of practice on Monday, their helmets were solid white. The orange longhorns were gone. He made them walk the half-mile to practice instead of taking a bus like they used to under Mack Brown. When asked why, he said. “You have 85 guys on scholarships. If 80 of them are doing it the right way, why can’t the rest of them do it the right way?” Strong said. “They knew the first day I took the job, when I laid out the core values in that first team meeting, what the program was all about.”
Strong has been focused on bringing healthy core values to his players on and off the field. Players must work hard to earn the right to bear the Longhorn symbol. This kind of training reminds the players that making the team is just the beginning. Being a team player will be defined by their actions. This “Earn The Right” has been carried over to flashing the “Hook ‘Em Horns” hand gesture – Strong says they will have to earn it. Hard work, focus, personal discipline and accountability will be guiding principles for players.
Strong truly means what he says and takes action with speed and accuracy. As proven with the (now) nine ex-players, rule violations and criminal charges will not be tolerated.
Highlights of the five-point team regimen detailed that the first two phases and winter and spring training had left a trail of blood, sweat and cut players. They have just pulled through summer conditioning and are coming to the end of the fourth phase.
“The good thing about summer conditioning is you get your freshmen in and they become a part of the program,” Strong said of the process. “Phase four is fall practice. It’s now the time we really have to build this football team and come together with the chemistry and focus needed. And finally, phase five is the season. Now you have a chance to go out and show what you’ve done. You only get 12 opportunities, and you can’t waste one.”
“We want to make sure our young men become better people than they were when they came into the program.”
Other issues plaguing both the coach and the fans are health worries. While the possibility of injury is a thought already in the back of everyone’s minds, this year has much more concern for UT. This year’s starting quarterback, David Ash, is returning to the team after taking a nasty knock against Brigham Young University last September that kept him out of the season. While it is true that he has made a full recovery, Strong nonetheless sat him down and instructed him to watch himself while on the field.
Medical and disciplinary issues aside, the team certainly will not be fragile this year. “Many times when people talk about toughness, it’s not physically challenging them that wears them down,” Strong said. “It’s a toughness to do the right thing. Go to class. Paying attention to the little things. It’s having that type of toughness.”
Going further into the subject, he added this: “They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them. When you talk about toughness, you have to not only talk about it, but you have to practice it. And that’s what we felt happened in spring practice when you look at three-on-threes and you look at one-on-ones and you look at the goal line.”
When Strong came to UT, he brought one of his own little traditions with him that might just catch on with the rest: women’s football clinics. While paying $75 to do football drills on a Texas summer evening might seem like a tough idea to sell to anybody, it’s become a standard event for Strong to throw no matter where he is.
As he said, “We have so many fans that are women, and we wanted to give them a chance to see and experience the passion of this program, what the players and coaches go through, and just let them be a part of it. It’s really a lot of fun. We’ve received a lot of feedback from them saying they had a great time and that they’ll be back next year.”
“When we talk about putting a ‘T’ back into Texas, you talk about toughness, trust, togetherness, and then you talk about becoming a team.” Strong continues. “You can never become a team until you have toughness. You can’t trust one another until you can trust yourself. Its all about becoming a team that is exciting to watch.” And that is the team Longhorn fans are looking forward to seeing. Hook ‘Em Horns!