By Steve Lansdale
Texas football head coach Charlie Strong met the media Tuesday as part of the Big 12 Conference’s Media Day in Dallas. A year into his tenure at the helm of the Texas program, Strong addressed a number of topics about his team and the upcoming 2015 season.
“Last year, (with a record of) 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, (and) 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.”
Q: When preseason camp starts, what do you want to see out of Tyrone (Swoopes) and Jerrod (Heard)?
A: “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.
… 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 (quarterback) Tim Tebow, you had (receiver) Percy Harvin lined up, (tight end) Aaron Hernandez lined up, you had (receiver) Riley Cooper outside. You had (running back Chris) 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 (Johnathan) 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.”
Q: From what you've seen over the summer, and what (strength and conditioning) Coach (Pat) Moorer has seen (while) working with the guys, do you believe you have more guys or have found more guys who are just as mad about the end of last season as you were?
A: “Well, they all want to change it because now that … and I was talking to the senior group, and during their whole career, they have never had a double-digit winning season. So it's more about them. They want to show that what it's all about and what the university is all about and just how they want to go out and compete.
But it's happening, and I talk to Coach Moorer all the time. I always ask him what's the pulse of the team, how they're doing, how they're acting, and he said now you're beginning to see more guys step up. But you know what? When you're at a place like here, it should be like that. We shouldn't even have to have this conversation. It should get where each and every year, we talk about competing.”
Q: … Last year you dismissed the nine players during your offseason prior to your first season, and you talked about this earlier — you brought up that new set of rules … How has this culture changed in the locker room? And has it had the effect that you want it to have?
A: “Well, it wasn't so much. Let me say this: it wasn't so much new rules. Coach (Mack) Brown did an unbelievable job, (but) 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?”
Q: How tough was it (in) your first year, coming in as a defensive coach by trade, and having to deal with the high-powered offenses like Baylor? And is there a temptation this year to take more chances offensively?
A: “What happens is, it depends on your personnel. So when you talk about the Baylors and the TCUs, just defensively, you had to get aligned — you have to get lined up. So when you talk about chances, if you feel like you can't score on offense, you can't take too many chances because now you've got to sit back and just hope you can keep them from scoring.
But just learning those offenses and just making sure that on defense we just don't … it doesn't become a mismatch game, because a lot of times, that's what it is. They're looking for mismatches. So instead we can throw the ball to the outside, make a guy miss, get it one-on-one in (the) open field and see if you can get him on the ground. But just defensively, I thought (defensive coordinator) Vance (Bedford) did a really good job of just going in and just game-planning. When you talk about chances, if you can't score, then it's really tough on you.”