Don’t Sleep on Charlie Strong

There is no doubt that the University of Texas is going through some major growing pains this season. A program used to contending for national championships and Big 12 titles is unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of being a .500 program. During the Mack Brown era, Longhorn fans enjoyed 10 win seasons and BCS games galore, but it is clear that will take time under Charlie Strong.

When Texas hired Charlie Strong, whether they knew it or not, they were committing to much more than just a football coach. In both programs in which Strong has been the coach (Louisville and now Texas), it has been about much more than just playing football –  it has been about creating a culture change.

In the post-Steve Kragthorpe era at Louisville, Strong dealt with lack of discipline, low GPA, and an overall lack of morale among the program. His desires were to do more than just win, but also to create a truly respectable and sustainable program out of a mediocre program at best.

In Kragthorpe’s last year, the team’s GPA was sub-par at best, the team had gone 15-21 in three years, and their season finale against Rutgers drew a meager 23,000 fans. Compare those numbers to Strong’s recent stint at Louisville, where the team had 39 players playing at above a 3.0 GPA, including seven perfect 4.0 GPAs, and home games drew an average attendance of 52,000 fans to each game. Let’s not forget Louisville’s 23-3 record in his last two seasons there, including a BCS Bowl win against no. 3 Florida.

So far, Texas is off to a rough start with Strong that is similar to the one he had at Louisville. His first two years at Louisville saw 7-6 records, but the win-loss columns were not indicative of the true impact Strong had made on the Cardinal’s program. Steady progress was noticeable, and fan confidence in the man who had studied under football giants Lou Holtz and Urban Meyer was clearly leaving his mark.

The Longhorns’ stumbling out of the gate can not be entirely attributed to Strong though. Apathy among players and losing his starting quarterback for the year to recurring concussions has not helped his cause much. His first two seasons at UofL saw a change in the types of players being recruited, and their wins lacked while Strong was coaching players he did not recruit himself. Strong has dismissed nine – yes, nine – players from the team so far this season. He’s made it abundantly clear that the team will not only be successful, but they will do it the right way.

Texas shouldn’t be concerned for at least an off season or two. The old cliché expression goes, “things are going to get worse before they get better.” The statement is only a cliché for one simple reason: it holds water in nearly all contexts. This is a perfect statement to live by if you’re a Longhorn fan for the next year or so, and you want your team to commit to a full teardown before a full rebuild. However, there’s no need to be overly concerned. Win or lose, Texas has one of the best and most loyal fan bases in the country. Whether the team is winning at a .500 level, or if they’re playoff bound, there’s no doubt that there will be 100,000 people wearing burnt orange at nearly every game.

There’s no doubt either that in time, UT will be playing meaningful football in the winter and Strong is the catalyst to make it happen.

*Section Photo credit to Cooper Neill, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Brendan Maloney, USA Today Sports

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