WACO — Politicians give the same canned speeches on the stump, so it’s rare when candidates don’t improve as the campaign rolls along. It’d be alarming if they didn’t.
Texas coach Charlie Strong looks and sounds like a completely different person, too, now that the 13-city Comin’ On Strong Tour has reached its final stop.
When the tour started in Fort Worth on April 21, Strong looked nervous talking to the crowd at Joe T. Garcia’s, a famous Tex-Mex joint that has welcomed UT coaches for years. He rarely looked up while signing autographed posters in robotic fashion and accidentally blurted out, “We will not be in the national championship game.”
The moment those words left his mouth, Strong wanted to take it back. You could see it on his face. But it was out there, sparking a national firestorm and actually generating some positive heat. Here was a coach unafraid to tell those highfaluting Texas fans the truth!, columnists screamed.
He tweaked that message the next night in Dallas, and again the following nights in Houston and Tyler. The next week, Strong left that issue behind and moved on, all the while gaining confidence about selling his vision and his message.
Fast forward to Tuesday night, almost exactly one month later. The man who showed up in Waco was smiling with fans as he posed for pictures. He was laughing, engaging and looked completely at ease being the head coach at the University of Texas.
“Early on, it was quite clear to see that this was new for coach Strong, and you could see the nervous energy when he spoke and obviously when he was addressing the crowd,” said former Longhorns defensive back Ahmad Brooks, who emceed many of the tour events.
“Toward the end of the tour, he got much more comfortable,” Brooks said. “He’s cracked more jokes. He’s certainly been more friendly in terms of how it appears to the outside with the autograph session. And most importantly, he’s just getting more comfortable with being the head coach here.”
Strong has been to practically every corner of the state and seen firsthand what he calls the “pride and the passion” of the fan base. He’s promised the fans his players will graduate and they’ll play hard on fall Saturdays.
Coaches usually take some vacation time in June and early July. It wouldn’t be surprising if Strong doesn’t make another big public appearance until Big 12 media days on July 21-22. From that point on, he’ll be front and center for the entire college football universe to see.
“I don’t think you can hide publicly around here,” Strong said. “There are never any stops.”
Not where Texas football is concerned, anyway. No there aren’t.
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