Charlie Strong’s first campaign as head coach at Texas was an up and down affair which ended in ugly fashion in the Texas Bowl. In his second appearance at Big 12 Media Days, he didn’t mince words, and made it known he has no qualms about the expectations he faces at Texas.
“Last year 6-7 is not good enough. It will never be good enough at the University of Texas. We know we lost a lot of players on defense, returned a lot on offense, but we have to improve as a coaching staff. We have to do a better job of coaching. But we’ve also got to get our players to go play and go compete and go compete week in and week out.
“The schedule is very challenging. It’s very demanding. We open up in South Bend, and you look at two programs so rich in tradition. We go there. You come home against Rice. You come home against Cal Berkeley. Then we have Oklahoma State coming in with our first conference game. Then we have to go on the road to TCU. Then we have the Red River Shootout.
“But the good thing about it, why would you want it any other way? That’s why, if you’re at a place at University of Texas, and that’s why players have to understand, it’s all about competing. That’s why you’re here. You’re here to go compete for championships.”
A Culture Change In Austin
Questions still linger about Charlie Strong’ methods of changing the culture at Texas while trying to get everyone to buy into his vision for the program. Coach was careful to be tactful when asked about the issue.
“Well, it wasn’t so much. Let me say this. It wasn’t so much new rules. Coach Brown did an unbelievable job. Anytime there’s a coaching change, some guys just felt like they want to do things their way.
“So like I said, so much has been made about that. When you look at what happened and when, as a coaching staff, we sat down, even with our players, it’s not where you got to sit there and say, hey, listen, you’re out. You’re out. You’re out. You start pointing at guys and telling them they’re out of the program, that never, ever happened. They were given plenty of opportunities to do what was asked of them.
“So the culture — it wasn’t so much you had to have a change of culture because, when you look at this, you say nine guys. We have 85 guys on scholarship. So if the other 76 can do everything we ask of them, then why can’t those nine do it?”
It’s Not Just About The QB
The obvious weak link for Texas last season was its offense as they struggled to put points on the scoreboard. Coach Strong described what he expects from not only his quarterback (Whoever that may be), but from his offense as a whole.
“I always say this. A lot is made about the quarterback position, and it should be. When it plays well, it gets a lot of praise. When it plays bad, it gets a lot of criticism.
“I was just saying earlier, and I think about this, not to compare– no way am I trying to compare here. But every quarterback I’ve ever been around, there’s been really good players around them. I could just go back University of Florida, and I think about Tim Tebow, you had Percy Harvin lined up, Aaron Hernandez lined up, you had Riley Cooper outside. You had Rainey behind, you had two first-rounders on the offensive line. Everybody’s got to do their part. It’s all about everyone doing their part.
“You talk about what you see out of Swoopes and what you see out of Heard, both those guys are very competitive, but everyone else around them needs to play well also. We need to find playmakers at wide receiver. We need the running backs. You got J. Gray here. We need him to have a big year. We need the offensive line to protect the quarterback. Then you will have a chance.
“But it’s all about them managing the offense, putting us in position where we can move the football, but not turning the ball over and having dumb plays or dumb mistakes.”
The Receivers Need To Step Up
Last season Jay Norvell was trying to unlock the Texas defense in the Red River Rivalry, but now Lincoln Riley is running the OU offense, and Norvell is coaching up the Longhorn receivers. What a difference a year makes!
Coach Strong felt that the unit under-performed in 2014, so he has high expectations for 2015, and demands they step up and accept the challenge.
“You look at Daje, he’s a senior now, Marcus Johnson, those guys need to step up and become playmakers.
“You look at Peter, Warrick, look at Leonard and Lorenzo Joe, but we have to develop playmakers at that position. Jay’s done an unbelievable job. He’s an unbelievable coach. He came in, and players have really taken a liking to him. They do everything that is asked of them from him. And the thing about Jay is he’s very detailed, very disciplinarian, but he’s a guy that’s making sure that that position improves.”
An Early Test
It won’t take long to know where this team is at. The highly anticipated prime-time matchup versus Notre Dame is seen as the barometer. It will be a tough case as the Fighting Irish are favored to be an outside contender for the playoff, but coach Strong seems to be excited about the opportunity.
“You like to always say this. When you have an opponent like Notre Dame and it’s right there at the beginning of the season and through the winter conditioning, through the off-season, it’s something that you’ve been working to. So now it’s something that’s sitting there where they understand just the whole– just the magnitude of that game, and they return a lot of starters. It’s going to be an unbelievable game for us. Very challenging game.
“But we need to go out and we need to go play well, and they understand what’s really good is Notre Dame. So not a lot has to be said. Now it’s about us now just building our team.”
The Outlook For 2015
When asked about his team’s overall outlook, Charlie’s comments indicate that he expects that a total team effort will be required in order to vastly improve upon last season’s 6-7 record.
“I don’t know what the number would be or what would happen, but not only with the quarterback, it’s got to come from all positions. You look at us on defense, we lost six key starters there. So we’re going to have to play really well on defense. That’s where it all starts at.
“With the quarterback position, it is a very critical position because you want to see that position play so well. And Swoopes — and I’ll tell you this right now. He wants to play well because of so much has been said about him, and he wants to prove to everyone that he can play that position. I hope he does do that. I’d be more than happy if he did.
“But it’s all about us just performing well as a team in all phases.”