It has been a long offseason, but the time has finally come for Texas head coach Charlie Strong to focus more on the wins and losses, and less on the duties away from the football field.
"I never thought this week would come, but I'm really excited that it's game week," Strong said at his Monday press conference. "Just sitting there in January, and now to finally get to this time, it is a lot of emotion. But you try to set it aside because you still have to go get a football team prepared and ready to play."
The road to game week seemed like a never-ending journey for Strong. Whether it was getting adjusted to the extra attention, going on a 12-city publicity tour across the state of Texas or dismissing seven players for violating his rules, the offseason has been anything but ordinary for the Longhorns' leader.
The Beginning of the Road
When Strong was hired to rebuild the Texas football program, he may not have understood the amount of attention that would soon follow his every move.
"I walked in that door and I was like, 'Oh my God! Where did all of these people come from?'" Strong said of his introductory press conference to ESPN's Hannah Storm. "There were like 40 cameras there. I was walking with my oldest daughter, Hailee, and she turned to me and said, 'Oh my God, Dad!' And I said, 'Just keep walking. Everything will be fine.'"
Strong went from being No. 2 on the head coach totem pole, behind Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, to having all eyes of the college football nation staring at him.
Most people familiar with college football are aware of the amount of attention that follows coaches at schools like the University of Texas, but that did not make it any easier for Strong to adjust.
"I was hoping if I brought this cold weather with me that it would block out a lot of the media coming here today, but I see that didn't work," Strong joked at his introductory press conference.
Strong now seems more comfortable in front of the media compared to his first day on the job. But overcoming his shock of media exposure is nothing compared to the task he set out for himself on Jan. 6.
"I can't wait to get started because at the University of Texas, I want to make sure that we build and represent the tradition and history of this great program. We will work like it's 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-inches to make sure our Texas Exes are happy with the product we put on the field. A program that has won four national titles, it's time to put the program back on the national stage."
Finding the Right Guys for the Job
|Texas Longhorns Coaching Staff|
|Title||Name||Years on Staff|
|Head Coach||Charlie Strong||1|
|Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach||Joe Wickline||1|
|Defensive Coordinator||Vance Bedford||1|
|Quarterbacks Coach||Shawn Watson||1|
|Running Backs Coach||Tommie Robinson||1|
|Wide Receivers Coach||Les Koenning||1|
|Tight Ends Coach||Bruce Chambers||17|
|Defensive Line Coach||Chris Rumph||1|
|Strength and Conditioning Coach||Pat Moorer||1|
Strong went right to work after his introductory press conference. He searched far and wide for the right guys who could help him in putting Texas football back on the national stage.
He made it a point to bring in his own staff and only kept one coach from the previous regime.
Two of the most important hires were bringing his offensive and defensive coordinators from Louisville. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford jumped at the opportunity to come and coach at Texas, which holds a special place in his heart since he was a Longhorn football player between 1977 and 1981.
And Bedford's lengthy list of building successful defenses made him the perfect guy for the job.
Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson spent time coaching in the Big 12 before making the move to Louisville. Watson is most recently recognized for coaching 2014 first-round NFL draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.
Putting together an elite staff was not the easiest job for Strong, but he feels as if he found the perfect guys to help him on the journey of bringing Texas football back to prominence.
"This is a staff that knows what it is all about," Strong said. "We are teachers, we're role models, we're going to motivate, lead and we are family men. You want the players to look at a coach and say how someday, if they don't end up being an engineer or a doctor, they could go be a coach and emulate the man standing in front of them. I am just so happy that we are aboard and finally completed it."
Most Texas players welcomed the new staff and new rules with open arms, but it was evident from the first spring practice that the days of lounging around and not competing were a thing of the past.
"The first five periods I was winded and I realized that this is going to be real," senior defensive end Cedric Reed said of the increase in intensity in spring practice. "Everybody was looking at me saying that we are going to have to turn it up a notch."
Putting the "T" Back in Texas
Strong came up with a motto prior to the start of spring practice: Put the "T" back in Texas.
He was not referring to the actual letter "T", but what the "T" needs to stand for moving forward.
"I asked a recruit, 'When you think of Texas, what do you think of?' And he gave me his answer and I said, 'Hm, I need to find a way to get that "T" back,'" Strong said of the origin of his motto.
"You always want a tough team, whether it being mental or physical. And you talk about trust, and you want guys to trust one another. When you care about someone, you want to trust them. And as you develop a togetherness, you become a football team. That's what we're looking for when we're trying to get that "T" back. We have a way to go, but we will get it back eventually."
One member of the staff who has helped the Longhorns put the "T" back in Texas is strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer.
Moorer is easily one of the most intimidating people you will ever meet, and that's exactly what Strong needed to help him on this journey.
"The only thing I need to do is stand him up here because he never smiles. He's very intimidating," Strong said of Moorer. "When you lose a football game, I always say, 'How did we lose that game? Were we in great shape? Were we tough enough? Was it physical toughness?' Your program has to be built on physical toughness, and it starts in the weight room."
The offseason strength program looks to have paid off for the Longhorns.
"Just being with Coach Moorer in one offseason, it is amazing to see what happened," Reed said. "I put on about 10 to 15 pounds, and I can definitely feel it out on the field. It hasn't slowed me down a bit. I can see plays more now. I think I am a better player than I was last year."
But not every Longhorn bought in to what Strong was selling, which resulted in serious consequences for those players.
No-Nonsense Strong Is a Man of Consequences
Strong made it clear from the moment he arrived in Austin that he wants a specific type of player representing the university. He wants guys who do not break the law, who go to class and abide by his five core values—treat women with respect, honesty, no drugs, no weapons and no stealing.
If a player breaks any of those rules, there will be consequences.
It did not take a very long time for Strong to begin to weed out the players who were not willing to buy in to his rules. Strong dismissed junior fullback Chet Moss and junior defensive back Leroy Scott for violating team rules in February.
He followed up on the discipline when he required senior running back Joe Bergeron to miss spring practice to focus on academics, according to Orangebloods.com (subscription required). Bergeron did everything Strong asked of him and returned to the team for summer workouts, but his stay did not last long.
The coach banned four players from the Texas football facility Moncrief for the entire summer due to not following his guidelines, which was just another way of proving he is not messing around.
"I told the guys right away, 'If you don't want to be a part of this football team, break a core value,'" Strong said at Big 12 media days. "'That's you telling me that you don't want to be here.' Starter or no starter."
Two days after Strong made that statement, three football players did things to tell Strong they did not want to be a part of his program.
Orangebloods.com reported that Strong dismissed Bergeron, sophomore running back Jalen Overstreet and redshirt freshman defensive back Chevoski Collins for violating one of his five core values. He dismissed junior wide receiver Kendall Sanders and redshirt freshman wide receiver Montrel Meander due to a pending charge of alleged sexual assault.
He also suspended junior wide receiver Daje Johnson, senior offensive lineman Desmond Harrison and senior safety Josh Turner for violating team rules.
Strong's no-nonsense approach may rub some people the wrong way. But many players have praised their coach for following through on what he has said and have no issues with the way he divvies out discipline.
"It's stuff that you need in football, so I'm guessing everybody would want that," senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "It's not even just with football; it is with things in life that you are going to have to deal with. All of those things go hand in hand in life to make you a better person. That's Coach Strong's job, to make us better men each and every day. All of those things go hand in hand, and we are just going to continue to grind and continue to grow."
A New Chapter Begins Saturday
After a whirlwind offseason, the time has finally come for Strong to put the first-year hurdles behind him, and do what he was brought to Austin to do: Put Texas football back on the national stage.
It will not be an easy task to achieve in his first season, and he knows that. Strong has said he does not expect Texas to compete for a national title this year.
But what he does expect to see is continued progress from his Longhorns, and for his seniors to finish things out the right way.
"We know we're nowhere near where we should be. We had a lot of work in three weeks, and we want to get better each and every day," Strong said. "When I look at this team and you just think about leadership, and that's what it's all about with this group of seniors. ... I told them, 'I know when you guys signed on it was all about re-establishing a foundation in this program. Now you have a chance to get that done your senior year.'"
The Strong era officially begins Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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