Charlie Strong talked about being tough and winning championships. That is exactly what Texas fans wanted to hear from their new football coach.
There’s little doubt he can deliver the first. The second part will determine whether he can revive a dormant program back and push it back among the national elite where the Longhorns are desperately longing to be.
“It’s time to put the program back on the national stage,” Strong said Monday at his introductory news conference. “The mentality is always going to be mental and physical toughness … We will be a hard-nosed football team.”
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That’s the reputation Strong brings to Texas, which has floundered since playing for the 2009 national championship. Four seasons of at least four losses and no Big 12 titles ended with Mack Brown exiting after 16 years, and Texas turning to the coach who led Louisville to a 23-3 mark and two bowl wins the last two seasons.
Strong also had a reputation of being uncomfortable with the media, but with his wife and two daughters sitting in the front row watching him, he breezed through his 45-minute news conference with smiles and jokes before ending with the trademark “Hook’ em Horns” hand signal for the cameras.
“Let’s go win football games,” Strong said. “Let’s go win championships.”
The 53-year-old Strong clearly has some of the same pages from Brown’s playbook. He embraced the legacy of Texas’s football tradition when he entered the room and hugged Edith Royal, the widow of former Longhorns coach Darrell Royal who won national titles in 1963 and 1969 and a share of a third in 1970.
And just like Brown did when he arrived in 1997, Strong made a point of embracing Texas high school coaches and his commitment to recruiting the state’s best players.
“We will recruit with fire, recruit with passion,” Strong said, adding he wants to “close the border” to out-of-state programs.
Brown, whose last game was Texas’ loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl, did not attend the news conference. Strong said he spoke to Brown over the weekend and assured him he would be welcome around the program.
But he also told Brown: “You ran your program, I have to run mine.”
Strong said Brown left the program in good shape, even if it hasn’t won in recent years like Texas expects to. The Longhorns last won the Big 12 in 2009. Their last national championship was in 2005.
“The bricks are there,” Strong said. “I just need to put another brick on top of it.”
Although his contract must still be approved by the school’s board of regents, Strong was offered a five-year contract with an annual salary of about $5 million. Strong dismissed suggestions that Texas may have courted other coaches before offering him the job.
“I could have been the 15th choice,” Strong said. “And I’m still so happy to be the coach here.”
Strong also acknowledged this historical significance behind him taking the job: He is the first African-American head coach of a men’s sport at Texas.
“People look at it lot as me being a minority. I’m a football coach,” Strong said. “This is a historical day. There’s always going to be a first somewhere.”
Strong did not want to reveal which assistants he planned to bring from Louisville or who else he would hire from for his staff.
Strong said he doesn’t feel any special pressure taking over a program that boasts the nation’s wealthiest athletic department, its own television network and annual expectations of winning conference and national championships.
While Strong spoke, the football stadium’s giant scoreboard displayed a huge picture of Strong cheering with a clenched fist raised in the air, a shot from his Louisville days with his Cardinals red shirt now tinted burnt orange.
“When you’re not prepared, yeah, there’s pressure,” Strong said. “If you surround yourself with the right people, it’s not pressure.”
In-Depth: The emotions behind the historic hire
“I am excited to have Charlie Strong here to build on the proud tradition of Texas football and the 16 great years that Mack Brown gave to the program,” UT Athletic Director Steve Patterson said. “Our committee and former lettermen helped create an extensive selection criteria and after visiting with Charlie, it was clear he met them all. He led championship defenses as an assistant, a resurgence at the University of Louisville with double-digit game winning seasons, and twice been selected conference coach of the year.”
“Most importantly, Charlie is a man of great integrity, with a wonderful family, who is well respected inside and outside the game,” Patterson added. “He is committed to the development of the total student-athlete both on and off the field. Charlie will represent the program and University extremely well.”
Powers said he’s behind the hire as well.
“Charlie Strong is one of the best coaches in the country,” Powers said. “I’m confident he will continue the Longhorns winning tradition while maintaining the integrity and commitment to students that have always defined our program.”
“I’m excited and my family is excited to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country,” Strong said. “Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year. It’s special because it has such great history, pride, tradition and passion for football.”
Strong replaces Mack Brown, who won 158 games in 16 years including the 2005 National Championship.
“To follow a future Hall of Fame coach like Mack Brown, who built a program that had great success and a reputation of doing it with class and integrity, is extra special,” Strong said. “The National Championship, BCS Bowl wins and all he accomplished in 16 years built on the Longhorn legacy and makes it such an exciting place to be.”
“Coach Brown developed such a strong bond with his players, the lettermen, community and high school coaches in this state, and that’s something I hope to build on,” Strong said. “He made everyone feel at home. I had the opportunity to speak at the High School Coaches Clinic in Austin a few years ago and Coach Brown introduced Coach (Darrell) Royal, and everyone gave him a standing ovation. Meeting Coach Royal and being around him that day is something I’ll never forget.”
His dad a high school football coach, the sport’s been in Strong’s blood for quite some time.
Strong led the Cardinals to a 37-15 record in his four years after the program won just 15 games in the previous three season. Strong is a two time coach of the year after serving as an assistant coach for 24 years, including 16 years at Florida where he was defensive coordinator for two national championship teams.
Strong met with Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich on Saturday to inform him of his decision to take the Texas job.
Jurich said while he expected Strong to stay at Louisville for a long time, he understands the decision. “When I hired Charlie I truly thought he wanted to be here, Texas, that’s a premier, premier job, so lets call it what it is, lets don’t try to hide from it. It’s a premier job in a fabulous city and a great opportunity for him and I wish him the best.”
“I cannot thank the Louisville community enough for their unwavering support,” said Strong during Monday’s press conference as the new UT head football coach.
Strong leaves as one of Louisville’s most successful coaches, one who took the program from three consecutive non-winning seasons to four straight bowl games including Louisville’s second BCS victory last January with a 33-23 upset of Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals added another bowl win last week, beating Miami 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
He is Texas’ first black head football coach and inherits a program aching to reclaim its place among the nation’s elite.
In-Depth: About Longhorns and losing
Brown’s Longhorns won the 2005 season national championship and returned to the title game after the 2009 season. But the Longhorns fell to 5-7 in 2010 and have lost at least four games each of the last three seasons.
The Longhorns ended the 2013 season with a 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
That dropoff, including an 18-17 mark in the Big 12 over the last four seasons, frustrated Texas fans, who demand much more from the wealthiest athletic program in the country that sits in the middle of the most fertile high school recruiting grounds in the country.
Strong’s hiring provides the Longhorns a strong recruiter that has built his program with talent from south Florida, including star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Texas also has its Longhorn Network partnership with the ESPN, a 24-hour channel dedicated to Texas athletics, a deal that pays the school at least $300 million over 20 years.
Brown had cited the fractured fan base in his resignation news conference and said it was time for someone else to unite Texas supporters. Brown lasted 16 years in the pressure cooker of Texas, but his final four years included university regents and power brokers exploring when and how to replace him, including a meeting with Alabama coach Nick Saban’s agent in early 2013.
“Throughout the process, it’s been clear we’ve been looking for a coach who can win and can win with integrity,” said Powers during Monday’s press conference. “No question he’s a winner.”
In-Depth: Strong’s stance on recruitment
For Strong, it’s simple: “We will recruit with fire. We will recruit with passion.”
And he said it will all start in Austin, Texas, a place he says he wants to cultivate into the state capital of football.
“You have to have Texas ties because we’re going to recruit this state,” he said on Monday. “Want to make sure I control this state and then cherry-pick outside this state, whether it be in Florida … or Georgia. I want the best players, wherever they are, wherever we have to go. But most of them are in this state.”
Strong says first and foremost, it’s all about running a clean program and that will be their focus: integrity.
He says he will continue to build tradition and continue to lay that rock, adding he’ll be placing just another brick on the bricks of Longhorn legacy that are already there.
“It’s never about me. It’s always about the young man, building them,” said Strong.
“When you talk about a player’s future, it all starts in the classroom,” said Powers.
The new coach will be tackling three things with the players:
- “You’re here to graduate. You’re here to get a degree. When you get a degree, you’ll always win.”
- Play football and win some games. “Let’s go win championships.”
- “Leave [the university] a better person. It’s about the attitude.”
During Monday’s press conference, Strong said he’ll be meeting with the players individually to assess their goals.
“I want them to understand that I’m here because I want to be here. I’m here for them,” he said.
In-Depth: A&M rivalry resurrected?ti
“It’s so hard now with the different conferences,” responded Strong on Monday when asked about reviving the long-standing Longhorn-Aggie rivalry game typically reserved for Thanksgiving Day.
“You’re asking for a lot of big games to be played, and a lot of schools just don’t want to see that happen right now because of the number of in-conference games that they have to play,” said Strong.