This weekend marks one year since Charlie Strong got a reputation he does not feel he deserves and one he wishes would go away.
Over a two-day period – last July 24 and 25 – Strong dismissed four players for violating rules that the first-year coach had established for his Texas football program, and suspended two others with whom he’d later cut ties.
That those players had been charged with committing heinous acts (sexual assault) or had repeatedly violated the coach’s five core values seemed to matter little in a narrative depicting Strong as something of a ruthless, over-the-top disciplinarian.
Some coaches are criticized for disciplining lightly, including Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, who fielded some tough questions this week at Big 12 media days about his decision to reinstate running back Joe Mixon, a five-star talent who was suspended all of last season for physically assaulting a female.
Last year, Strong was being criticized by some for being too tough. The man just couldn’t win.
This week in Dallas, Strong admitted that coaches at other schools have cast him as something of a tyrant to recruits, as if somehow his core values – honesty, treating women with respect, and no drugs, guns or stealing – are unreasonable demands of a college student.
Many things irritated Strong during his 6-7 rookie season at Texas, including injuries, a botched coin flip against UCLA and poor quarterback play. But he also was miffed by the way he was portrayed by some.
“I don’t understand why such a big deal was made about that, ” Strong said. “I still don’t. I get shocked thinking about it.”
Things reached a crescendo in September, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, whose image had been suffering over his own handling of domestic abuse in the league, traveled to Austin and met with Strong to pick his brain. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, also made the trip, and Vincent recently returned to Austin to bring his son to Texas’ Under The Lights camp.
“It made for good headlines because the national perception was that, hey, he’s running everybody off, and it’s so funny because they had no idea because they were not in our program, ” Strong said. “They did not see what was happening.”
On July 25, 2014, Strong bid farewell to running backs Joe Bergeron – a senior who had rushed for nearly 1,400 yards with 25 touchdowns in his career – Jalen Overstreet, and safeties Chevoski Collins and Josh Turner. He’d later reinstate Turner, who was buried on Texas’ depth chart throughout his senior season.
A day earlier, Strong also indefinitely suspended wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander for their roles in an alleged sexual assault on campus the month before. Sanders, a productive pass-catcher in his time at Texas, was later dismissed, as was Meander. Both are awaiting trials this fall.
Before long, Strong also would jettison reserve linebacker Deoundrei Davis and offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle, who would have started and brought stability to a porous unit. After Estelle’s dismissal, the noise surrounding Strong got so loud that the coach held an impromptu press conference to explain his decisions. The following day, the American-Statesman reported that drug tests imposed under Strong had almost doubled compared to recent seasons at Texas.
In the end, Strong had kicked off 10 players – including the spring departures of safety Leroy Scott and fullback Chet Moss, and offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, who remained suspended for the entire year. He also suspended wide receiver Daje Johnson for the first four games of the season.
“When you’ve been given every opportunity after every opportunity, at some point you have to take a stand for what you really believe in, ” Strong said. “A coach told me long ago to never coach to avoid confrontation. When you do that, you allow your players to do whatever they want.”
This offseason has been mostly quiet, apart from Johnson’s ill-fated decision to release the rap song “Dealer, ” which was about drug trafficking. Strong ordered him to remove it from his Twitter account, but it doesn’t sound like he will face any further discipline.
Strong did not respond directly to a question about whether any players will miss the season opener at Notre Dame.
“I hope no one misses Notre Dame, ” he said. “I’m going to need them and anyone else I can get.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at 512-445-3958.