AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Wearing a burnt orange shirt for the television cameras, Charlie Strong strolled to the podium Monday for his first game-week news conference as the coach of the Texas Longhorns.
Over the course of the next 30 minutes, the man charged with revving up an idling program displayed no sign of the nerves that might come with $5 million-a-year expectations and a spotlight that will shine bright if he beats North Texas on Saturday night, and burn white hot if he loses.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Strong said. “I don’t feel pressure at all.”
Strong has been preparing for games as a coach for a long time, but his 30 years on the sidelines include only three seasons as a head coach. His only previous job leading a program was a successful three-year run at Louisville where national expectations are not the same as they are at Texas.
And Saturday seemed a long way off back in January day when Strong was introduced to a room so heavily packed with media that his daughter gasped and said, “Oh my God, look at all those cameras.”
Since then, Strong has toured the state to meet fans and run his team through spring drills and preseason training camp. He’s suspended players, kicked others off the team and molded the rest into the squad that will hit the field in search of the program’s first 10-win season and Big 12 title since 2009.
“I never thought this week would come,” Strong said.
There is work still left to do.
Strong noted he’s still tinkering with the offensive line and secondary, and said a lineup and depth chart won’t be released before midweek. He also said three suspended players — offensive lineman Desmond Harrison, safety Josh Turner and wide receiver Daje Johnson, all potential starters — will sit out the opener and suggested they could miss another game after that.
Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, who had been counted on to be a reliable target for quarterback David Ash, is likely a game-time decision whether he can play after sitting out much of training camp with a hamstring injury.
Strong has talked about bringing a culture change to Texas and ending any sense of entitlement. After eight months of talking about it, his players say they are ready to show it on the field.
“Go out and beat guys down,” senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do, and that’s what we plan on doing.”