By Wendell Barnhouse
AUSTIN, Texas – Of the 20 coaching changes at FBS schools, it's hard to argue that the one transition that is most compelling occurred at Texas.
After 16 ultra-successful seasons that included a national championship and nine seasons with double-digit victories, the time arrived for Mack Brown and UT to part ways. The school hired Charlie Strong, the first African-American head coach in school history. The times on The 40 Acres are a'changin'.
Since being hired in December, Strong has resolutely set about changing the culture of the football program. A perception of entitlement and softness has been replaced with a tough approach and the need to earn privileges. The Longhorns practiced in helmets without emblems and Strong has yet to allow players to throw the "hook 'em" sign.
"It's all about each and every day just getting better and working hard," Strong said. "That whole attitude has to change; we know that as a football team. This program will never change - the culture won't change - until the attitude of the players change. That's what we're seeking to do each and every day."
Starting with Saturday's opener against North Texas, the product of the new regime will show up on the field.
A program like Texas will always have talent but this roster is lacking experience and depth at running back and wide receiver. That's because Strong dismissed seven scholarship players for various transgressions. The new coach has set a standard that he expects to be met.
"You work for what you get," said senior cornerback Quandre Diggs, an outspoken supporter of Strong's approach. "That's just the way life is. In life you're never going to be given something. You're always going to have to work for it. That's something we took for granted being at the University of Texas. We were given a lot."
Since losing to Alabama in the national championship game for the 2009 season, Texas is a pedestrian 30-21. The Longhorns are picked by the media to finish fourth in the Big 12 and matching last season's eight victories appears to be a reasonable goal.
Texas should have a salty defense but the main strength of the offense lies at running back with senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray perhaps the best duo in the Big 12. However, the offensive line is in flux and Jaxon Shipley – currently battling a hamstring injury – is the only reliable wide receiver.
The key to this season's offense will be junior quarterback David Ash. He missed all but three games last season with concussion issues and missed the last week of spring practice with a broken foot. Remaining healthy is just one challenge.
Strong's message to Ash: "I tell him all the time, 'We just need you to manage and help us run this football team.' That's going to continue to grow on him."
That's one of several messages Strong has been hammering during his nine months on the job.
"It's all about putting a 'T' back into Texas," Strong has said often. "You talk about toughness, you talk about trust, you talk about togetherness and you talk about just becoming a team."
Coach: Charlie Strong, first season at Texas, fifth season overall.
2013: 8-5 overall, 7-2 in Big 12.
Bowl: Lost to Oregon 30-7 in Alamo Bowl.
Returning starters: 7 on offense, 9 on defense.
Key players: Junior QB David Ash, soph. QB Tyrone Swoopes, senior RB Malcolm Brown, junior RB Johnathan Gray, senior WR Jaxon Shipley, junior Daje' Johnson, junior Marcus Johnson, senior C Dominic Espinosa, senior DE Cedric Reed, senior DT Desmond Jackson, senior LB Jordan Hicks, senior CB Quandre Diggs, senior S Mykkele Thompson.
Three Points To Ponder
1. Big 12 teams that average less than 30 points a game are in danger of being left behind by the Conference's scoring machines. The Longhorns averaged 29.3 per game last season. This year's team needs to find four new starters on the offensive line and there are similar holes to fill in the receiving unit. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray are each capable of gaining 1,000 yards but there is no experience beyond those two.
2. The defense returns nine starters but there are question marks at linebacker and in the secondary. Veteran linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond have had injury issues and both were sidelined last season. Corner back Quandre Diggs and safety Mykkele Thompson are seniors but there needs to be contributions from inexperienced players to add depth and fill out the other two starting spots.
3. Anthony Fera handled the kicking (20-of-22 on field goals) and punting (40.7 yards per attempt) last season so replacing him will be a challenge. Over the last 15 to 20 seasons, Texas has had accurate and clutch kickers but that position is definitely uncertain heading into 2014. Junior Nick Rose (a former walk-on who has handled kickoffs the last two seasons) has been named the kicker, besting sophomore Nick Jordan. Rose hasn't attempted a field goal in a game. Senior Will Russ will handle punting.
Texas senior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson:
"I'm tired of everybody saying that Texas' defense is soft. That's the No. 1 thing I've been hearing. We aren't really that worried about it, but to call it 'soft' after all of the hard work we've put in, I just feel like we have more to prove this year than we did in previous years."
Numbers To Note
No Texas coach has posted a losing season in his debut since Dana Bible went 2-6-1 in 1937. Since then, seven first-year coaches have combined for a 56-22-1 record in their debut seasons. … In the four losses last season, Texas gave up 44, 40 and (twice) 30 points. … The Longhorns three nonconference foes - North Texas (9-4), BYU (8-5) and UCLA (10-3) were a combined 27-12 last season and all three won their bowl game. … Five of the Longhorns' first six games against bowl teams that won at least eight games last season (North Texas, Brigham Young, UCLA, Baylor, OU). … In Colt McCoy's four seasons, he had 112 touchdown passes and 45 interceptions. In the four years post-McCoy, UT quarterbacks have thrown for 65 touchdowns and 58 interceptions.
|Aug. 30||North Texas|
|Sept. 13||UCLA (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)|
|Sept. 27||at Kansas*|
|Oct. 11||Oklahoma* (Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas)|
|Oct. 18||at Iowa State*|
|Oct. 25||at Kansas State*|
|Nov. 1||at Texas Tech*|
|Nov. 8||West Virginia*|
|Nov. 15||at Oklahoma State*|