AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — For 16 years, Mack Brown led the Texas Longhorns, reviving a dormant program into a powerhouse that won one national championship and played for another.
Now it’s Charlie Strong’s turn.
Hired away from Louisville when Brown was pushed out of after four sub-par seasons, Strong’s first Longhorns team takes the field Saturday night against North Texas, a bowl team last season that is expected to contend for the Conference USA title.
Strong has had eight months to break down and rebuild a program that hasn’t won a Big 12 title since 2009, restore toughness and shed what he called a sense of entitlement that had crept in. He has kicked players off the team, suspended others and turned to last season’s injured quarterback, David Ash, to lead his offense.
“It’s about us putting a ‘T’ back into Texas. It’s still about just toughness, it’s about trust, it’s about just being a total team,” Strong said.
Brown dragged an injury-riddled team into the final game last season with a chance to the win the conference title, but a 30-10 loss to Baylor essentially shut the door on his Texas career. He was pushed out a week later, but was allowed to coach Texas in the Alamo Bowl, a punchless 30-7 loss to Oregon.
Texas turned to Strong, who seemed destined to be a career assistant until finally given his first head-coaching job at Louisville. A 37-16 record over four seasons there catapulted him to Texas, where he is the first black head coach of a men’s sports program in school history.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotion on Saturday, I know that. Just running through the tunnel is going to be something special,” Strong said.
Some things to watch when Texas faces North Texas:
STRONG: Texas fans will be watching everything he does, from how he runs out with the team to whether he knows the words of the song “The Eyes of Texas” when its’ over. Will he smile and clap a lot like Brown did, or does he scowl? At a place like Texas, Strong is under the microscope if he wins and most especially if he loses.
ASH’S HEAD: Ash missed most of last season with concussion symptoms and he faced serious questions at home whether he should continue playing. Ash insists he never seriously considered giving up football. Ash says he’s learning how to avoid hits, but 100,000 fans will be watch to see how he gets up if he gets popped by North Texas.
ASH’S TARGETS: Ash needs a breakout receiver. Jaxon Shipley who catches a lot of balls but rarely scores touchdowns, has been cleared to play after a training camp hamstring injury. Marcus Johnson displayed big-play ability in 2013 but tapered off the second half of the season.
NORTH TEXAS QB: A title contender in Conference USA, the Mean Green has a new quarterback in junior college transfer Josh Greer. He’ll be protected by a veteran offensive line, but how he handles his first start in front of 100,000 fans will likely determine whether North Texas can make a game of it.
TEXAS HELMETS: Yes, Texas players will have the burnt-orange Longhorn decals on their helmet. Strong created a stir in training camp by saying they had to “earn the right” to wear the school’s multimillion-dollar brand, and said this week they’ve done that.
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