If anyone indeed owns Charlie Strong’s now-famous #Letsride catchphrase, the Texas coach appears to have a solid claim himself.
Strong was first presented with the idea in February 2014, according to former UT staffer Bob Shipley. That’s a full year before Horns Digest recruiting writer Jason Higdon applied for two federal trademarks and began selling #Letsride T-shirts.
“Every staff meeting Charlie had — and apparently he did this at Louisville, too — instead of saying ‘Let’s go’ or ‘Get after it’ to signify the end of the meeting, he said, ‘Let’s ride,’” Shipley said. Shipley is the father of Jordan and Jaxon Shipley, two of the most prolific receivers in UT history.
Shipley, recruiting director Mike Giglio and recruiting assistant Stefan Schmidt were brainstorming ways for UT to better harness social media, Shipley recalled. After all, it worked for the competition. Every time Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin tweeted #YESSIR, it caused a stir.
“I said, ‘Hey, let’s ride,’” said Shipley, now the head coach at Belton. “We presented it to coach Strong, and he really liked it. Really, I just put a hashtag on it. It was his saying, and we started using it.”
— Charlie Strong (@CoachStrong_) February 22, 2014
Higdon, who touts his access to the UT football program on his message board, claimed Tuesday that he would never risk his “golden ticket.” However, the Georgia-based writer now owns the federal trademark to the phrase “#Letsride” and has begun selling T-shirts with color schemes resembling what’s available at UT bookstores. The shirts also feature another phrase used by Strong recently — #Believe.
Higdon has not responded to interview requests from the American-Statesman. Early Tuesday, however, he responded to a post on the Horns Digest message board asking what his UT sources would think of his #Letsride trademark and actions.
“I already know what those people think and have known for over a year,” Higdon wrote. “No one in there (sic) right mind would risk a golden ticket my friend. Trust me on that sir, that will never happen.”
Asked about Higdon’s comments, a UT spokesman said Tuesday, “No one in football was aware that someone was trying to brand it elsewhere.”
Craig Westemeier, who oversees the UT athletics trademark and patent portfolio, has not responded to interview requests. In a statement, Texas athletic director Mike Perrin struck a cautious tone.
“When we become aware of trademark, branding, endorsement or similar matters, we go through a process,” Perrin said. “We gather information and background to determine what action is appropriate on our part. Sometime we continue to monitor the matter to see where it goes — sometime we take no action. What path we choose is based on the circumstances we see.”
Strong’s #Letsride catchphrase has become one of the program’s signatures. Every time the Longhorns land a new recruit, he tweets out a short comment that usually ends with #Letsride.
It’s unclear whether Higdon would put up legal roadblocks if UT wanted to keep using the phrase. Gene Pierson, an Austin-based trademark attorney, said “both sides would have an argument.”
“In this case, if somebody was using the slogan, it appears consumers would think of Charlie Strong or that Charlie Strong was advocating the brand,” Pierson said. “People would say, ‘Oh, look, this is associated with the UT football program.’ But typically, trademarks are there to protect against consumer confusion.”
Texas officials found themselves in a trademark battle last spring after hiring basketball coach Shaka Smart away from Virginia Commonwealth. Someone representing the UT System Board of Regents filed a trademark request for use of the word “Havoc,” something long associated with VCU basketball.
Texas later abandoned its trademark filing after VCU officials threatened a legal battle.
By trying to profit off Strong’s catchphrase, Higdon could be pushing up against the line of what defines a booster. The NCAA defines a booster as someone who promotes university athletics, among other things.
As part of his daily job with Horns Digest, Higdon actively calls UT recruits and inquires whether they are interested in joining the Longhorns. Texas officials have practically no control over who unaffiliated media outlets hire to cover the team.
“I hope he makes a lot of money since he trademarked it,” Shipley said. “But the hashtag #Letsride was not his idea.”