Grabbing the Bull by its Horns

-Forbes/Getty Images

-Forbes/Getty Images

They say everything is bigger in Texas. Especially when it comes to football, there is no doubt that Texas exhibits great pride for the popular American sport. Some even go so far as to say that football is a Texan religion. For the Texas Longhorns’ first-year head coach, Charlie Strong, there is a greater challenge ahead this season. The former Louisville head coach attained recent success, going a combined 23-3 in his previous two years. He will have some big shoes to fill and some great expectations to live up to as he takes over for the iconic former head coach Mack Brown.

Brown resigned at the conclusion of the 2013 NCAA Football season. He was the Longhorns’ coach for 16 seasons. His achievements include a 158-48 record, nine postseason bowl game wins, and two BCS National Championship game appearances (winning one title). Under Brown, the Longhorns finished the year with at least 10 wins for nine straight seasons. After reaching the National Championship game a second time during Brown’s tenure, Texas was never the same.  The Colt McCoy quarterbacked Longhorns fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS Title Game. The following year was the first losing season under Brown’s watch; they went a disappointing 5-7 that year. The Longhorns never went under .500 again in Brown’s final three years, but they never rediscovered their glory days of old.

Brown left and Strong was quickly hired as his replacement. The hiring was met with both praise and criticism, especially from Red McCombs, one of the more influential Texas boosters. The University of Texas named its business school after him, he even has a statue inside the stadium. A close friend of Mack Brown, it is reported that he has donated over $100 million to the school. McCombs went on the air and said that the hiring of Charlie Strong was a “kick in the face.” He even went on to say in another interview with a San Antonio newspaper, “I don’t see how they can miss…They can get anyone they want. They can close their eyes and go ‘Eeny-meeny-miny-moe’ and end up with someone good.” McCombs has since apologized for his remarks, but he surely can’t be the only doubter of Strong.

However, Strong has done well so far in managing the pressure placed around him. He has been working hard during the offseason to install his system, as well as trying to gather recruits. Recruiting has not been easy for the first-year coach. Texas is no longer the top dog in the in-state recruiting scene. With the emergence of Texas A&M and the attention that Johnny Manziel has brought to the Aggies during his time there, high-profile recruits have been going to College Station instead. Meanwhile, the Longhorns haven’t been able to secure a top-10 Texan recruit. Strong has found other ways to make ends meet. The Longhorns’ 2015 recruiting class is currently ranked 17th best overall by ESPN.

Change is coming to Texas and it is happening outside of the confines of X’s and O’s; Strong is also keeping tabs on current players while they are off the field. He knows it will not be easy, and he is requiring his players to show the same amount of dedication and focus that he is putting into the program. He not only wants to win and turn around the football program, but also to ensure his players do things the right way. Strong is a no-nonsense guy and he demonstrated that when he took to the podium today and addressed the dismissal of a number of players. He made his core values clear in his first meeting as head coach: be honest, no drugs, no guns, no stealing, and treat women with respect.

So far this offseason, seven players have been given the boot and three more are about to be suspended indefinitely. He confirmed that running backs Joe Bergeron, Jalen Overstreet, and safety Chevoski Collins have been removed from the team. He then announced today that wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander will not be returning. The pair of receivers were arrested last month for sexual assault. These five new dismissals add to the list that originated with fullback Chet Moss and cornerback Leroy Smith. Moss and Smith were let go back in March. Three suspensions are about to be handed to Daje Johnson, Desmond Harrison, and Josh Turner. The trio is expected to be starters this season.

While Charlie Strong has yet to showcase long-term success in his young head coaching career, he seems to be a great fit for Texas. He is exactly what the Longhorns need. They need a tough coach who will whip them back into shape. So far, he has proven that success is not a birthright and that he takes his job very seriously. He has no interest in those who will waste his time or be detrimental to the program. Just as the Longhorns are looking to rediscover glory, he is looking to prove his worth as a head coach. The journey will not be easy, victories will not be handed to them. They no longer have the respect that they once had in the previous decade, and they will be looking to recapture that top spot in Texas. What I admire about Strong is how he cares about his players’ conduct off the field. In a state like Texas where the mindset may be “win at all costs,” he is not cutting any corners. With the right amount of support and patience from the boosters and fans, he can really turn this program around. I am concerned about how much support and patience will he receive from Texas. While he may do what is best for his players, the fans might want his head on a silver platter if he does not get them a 10+ win season. The reaction will be even worse if they come out with a losing record. I wish him success as he tries to right the ship and make men ready for the NFL or the real world. He has a tough road ahead, but it seems that he is unfazed by it all.