First-year Texas head coach Charlie Strong doesn't care about your expectations.
It's an interesting stance considering his predecessor, Mack Brown, "resigned" last December for not meeting them. But Strong, who has been a coach for 32 years and had a successful 37-15 stint at Louisville, is less concerned about wins and losses at the moment.
Texas needs to toughen up, according to Strong. That much was evident last season when the Longhorns, whose roster had plenty of 4- and 5-star talent, lost five games by an average of 22 points.
"It's all about putting a 'T' back into Texas," Strong said during Big 12 media days (via George Schroeder of USA Today). "You talk about toughness, you talk about trust, you talk about togetherness and you talk about just becoming a team."
Strong sidestepped questions about expectations this season, noting he couldn't "say just how far off we are."
"We will not know that until we go out and go compete this fall," he continued. "We still have work to do. We’re not as bad as we used to be but I’ll tell you this right now, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Strong is in the middle of a five-phase process at Texas. In April, when Strong controversially said the Horns wouldn't "be in the national championship game," his team was in the middle of "Phase Two."
That's not the definitive answer fans or media want, but Strong doesn't owe either party anything. As B/R's Adam Kramer and ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit note, 2014 is more than what shows up in the win-loss column.
Can Texas develop quarterback David Ash, who was officially named the starter this week? Can the defense, loaded with talent, finally stop dual-threat quarterbacks? Can the offensive line come together quickly? These are all important questions that mostly had negative answers under Brown.
Improvement on any of those fronts would be a welcome sight that go beyond wins.
Listening to Texas' veteran players, though, there's an urgency beyond simply improving.
"I only have five months left [in my collegiate career]," said Horns center Dominic Espinosa. "I have to buy in."
Strong took it a step further.
"You can break those down by weeks," he said. "You tell your seniors that they have 12 opportunities left."
Defensive end Cedric Reed echoed that sentiment, saying, "We all know we have a limited time."
So, too, did cornerback Quandre Diggs, who didn't mince words to ESPN's Max Olson:
I told Coach Strong that I just feel like we had guys on the team that just didn't love football the way they should. That's something that I've always sensed since I've been here: We had guys that just didn't love football. If you don't love football, you don't need to be a part of this university or a part of this team. That's just something I feel greatly and strong about.
Heck, if it was up to me and Coach Strong asked me, I'd help him weed guys out.
Strong's decision to bring Diggs, Espinosa, Reed and running back Malcolm Brown to media days wasn't a coincidence. This is it for a group that hasn't won so much as a Big 12 title. Their tone was more blunt, angrier. It's only seven months in, and already it's clear this is no longer a Mack Brown team.
"We're mad," Espinosa said.
The players want to atone for what has been an underachieving past four years. Strong sees things from a bigger picture. Brown was the head coach at Texas for 16 years. While Strong insists Brown is still welcome around the program, putting his own stamp on things could take time.
With the 15th-toughest schedule in the country, according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, that may mean another year without a Big 12 title.
But if this group of seniors can lay the foundation—the "product," as Strong calls it—for the new Texas, titles could start coming sooner rather than later.
Strong and his players are on the same page there.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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