What We Learned During Charlie Strong’s Day at ESPN


On Wednesday, Longhorn football head coach Charlie Strong spent the day in Bristol, Connecticut, home of ESPN. Over the course of a whopping 17 interview sessions, he talked about last year’s disappointing season, what it means to be an African-American head coach of a flagship football program, the battle for starting quarterback, and much more. Here’s what we learned.

On the 6-7 record from last season: “That’s not the standard here.” No kidding.

On the abysmal end to last season: Texas was outscored 79-17 in the regular-season finale against TCU and the Texas Bowl loss to Arkansas. “I go back to that Arkansas game. It’s still burning inside me,” Strong said. “Why did we even take the field? It was embarrassing.”

On bulletin-board material: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made a comment that it was “borderline erotic” beating Texas last season in the Texas Bowl.”Whenever you come in the building now you see it all over. I said, ‘Don’t take it down.’ His quote is everywhere. It’s in every locker.” Every locker?

On the dismissal of nine players last season: “He left me a great group of guys,” Strong said of his predecessor Mack Brown, making sure to note that he didn’t place any blame on Brown. Of the players he dismissed and suspended in 2014, Strong said: “You remove yourself. I don’t ever want to kick a player out of a program. A lot of them have nowhere else to go. I want them to represent the program the right way.”

On having a better grasp on the program in year two: Strong said players weren’t “playing for the brand” and the pride of the Longhorns last season. He also said “the trust is there” with his players this year.

On his five rules: Be honest, treat women with respect, no drugs or alcohol, no stealing, and no weapons. When asked why it’s so difficult for college players—and men in general—to grasp rule two regarding the treatment of women, Strong said, “I really don’t understand that. I always look at the backbone of most families is the women. I don’t understand how you would want to disrespect a young lady.” Strong was raised mainly by his mother, as his father worked as a teacher and basketball coach more than two hours away from their home in Arkansas.

On the small number of black coaches in Division I FBS football: There are only 13 head coaches in all of the highest level of college football. “There’s a lot of good African-American coaches out there. When I was at Florida and we won the national championship, I got very few interviews,” Strong said. “It didn’t happen for me. I was sitting there saying, ‘If it doesn’t happen for me, the only thing I can do is just continue to work hard and pave the way for another young African-American who is going to come behind me.’ Our success is going to be judged on whether it’s going to open the door for someone else.”

On new UT men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart: Strong and Smart have known each other for years; they were both assistants for the Florida Gators. “Shaka was a great hire. I told him once we made that hire, ‘I’ll do anything I can to help you be successful.’ At the University of Texas, the two most visible programs are being headed up by African-Americans, and that just speaks volumes.”

On meeting Daje Johnson for the first time: “I remember my first day on the job standing in the hallway and a player comes walking toward me and I said, ‘Who are you?’ And he said, ‘I’m Daje Johnson.’ I said, ‘You’re the guy I’m looking for. You know something, son, I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be very fun for you.” The much-maligned, extremely talented Johnson has faced an uphill battle to stay on the field throughout his entire Longhorn career, with injuries and repeated suspensions due to unspecified violations of team rules. Let’s hope his recent foray into music doesn’t hamstring him even more. Regardless, Johnson apologized to Strong.

On the quarterback competition between Tyrone Swoopes and Jerod Heard: “I’m not going to play musical chairs with them. They both are going to play. When we line up in South Bend, whoever is going to start, the other guy is going to play also.” Interesting, if true. If Swoopes starts, as is most likely to happen, will Heard come in if Swoopes is struggling? Will there be designed running or 3rd-down plays for Heard? We’ll likely know more when fall practice begins on August 7.

On patience: “I’m not patient,” Strong laughed, in his ESPN Radio interview with Paul Finebaum. “I’m really not patient after last season. We have to improve every year.”

On the pressure of coaching at a large school like UT: “The boosters are like anyone else,” Strong said. “They just want us to win. My job is to get this football team ready to play.”

On coaching in the Big 12 Conference: “It’s more uptempo. The [SEC] is more of a grind-it-out. They score a lot of points [in the Big 12].” This, of course, doesn’t bode as well for the defensive-minded Strong. He’ll have to step up the offensive innovation this coming season to compete in a Big 12 that is increasingly better across the board over the last decade.

Strong is notoriously tight-lipped on most subjects, so we didn’t learn much that we already didn’t know, though it is interesting to hear him speak candidly on African-American coaches in college football, and, of course, what’s happening with the quarterback position in 2015. We’ll just have to wait to see how that one plays out.

Photo by Anna Donlan.


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