Hutchison: Charlie Strong Teaches Accountability

UT’s football coach demands high standards at a formative stage—and people are taking notice, writes Texas Exes president Kay Bailey Hutchison.


This op-ed first appeared in USA Today.

An elevator video of a professional football player knocking his fiancée unconscious riveted the attention of the sports world on an issue that isn’t new—but finally is being taken seriously. Fans (and non-fans) are demanding that these sports icons meet a higher standard of behavior.

But, are we limiting our focus to adults who by now should be mature enough to show better judgment?

How about high school and college…What can coaches, teachers and parents do in the formative stages of development? Peer pressure may be most influential in temptations regarding drugs, crime, manners, values, and morals long before one qualifies to be a professional athlete. But adult leadership can make a difference.

Enter Charlie Strong. The new head football coach at the University of Texas.

He laid down the code of conduct expected from players for U.T. from his first day on the job last January. To his credit, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made a personal trip to Austin last weekend to talk to Charlie Strong about his initiative.

Charlie’s Code has about 11 simple rules, pretty clear.

1. No drugs

2. No stealing

3. No guns

4. No earrings

5. Treat women with respect

6. Attend class

and so on. He said these are just common-sense values by which everyone should live their life.

Well…most of these young people have been told that in Sunday school since they were five years old.

So what is different?

Charlie Strong is enforcing the rule. He has leverage and he is using it.

Last week, Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman reported that the number of drug tests administered to University of Texas football players has skyrocketed under first-year coach Strong.

Davis found that an average of 104 tests were administered annually to football players from 2010 to 2013, according to university records. A total of 188 tests were administered the first eight months this year under Strong. Overall numbers of drug tests administered also spiked during Strong’s first year at Louisville in 2010.

Much is asked of student athletes, there is no doubt. It’s no surprise that some of these young people will make mistakes. The NCAA and coaches, including Strong, know this and give students an opportunity to learn from those errors.

That’s why UT athletes who test positive once are subject to counseling. A second positive test results in counseling and suspension for “10 percent of his/her season’s games.” A third positive test means counseling and the athlete is suspended for 50 percent of the season, which for football players is six games. A fourth positive test results in dismissal.

To date, nine players have been dismissed and two suspended for breaking one of Charlie’s Codes of Conduct.

“You have 95 percent of the guys that are doing it right, and then you have a small fraction of guys that just feel like, ‘Hey, this is the way I’m going to do it whether you like it or not,'” Strong said after a recent practice. “I just tell them there are other teams out there, but this isn’t the school for you.”

Is Charlie doing the right thing? I believe he is. Beyond being athletes, these young men will eventually have to contribute to society in other ways. Only a select few will go on to play professional football. Strong’s core values are a great foundation for any student. And mostly the UT fans are not only supporting Charlie’s Code but are impressed that it isn’t empty rhetoric.

There are student athletes who may have had a very rough start in life. What Strong is hoping to instill in his players may be completely foreign to some. That is no reason to allow them to fall victim to the scourge of low expectations.

Strong’s core values, and his insistence on playing and living by them, are giving all UT football players the keys to success. To expect less of his players would be a disservice—and the Longhorn faithful may yet be surprised by what those young men who play by the rules will do, on and off the field.

Photo courtesy UT Athletics


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