Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams is one of the few players that new UT strength coach Yancy McKnight has been impressed with early in offseason workouts. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Football

New Texas strength coach Yancy McKnight stressing accountability

Longhorns to be divided into three groups based on their work ethic: gold, green and 'crimson'

Posted January 20th, 2017

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With offseason workouts getting underway, Texas strength coach Yancy McKnight has ignited an intriguing parlor game.

Coach Tom Herman and McKnight divide the Longhorns into three groups — gold, green and “crimson” — based on each player’s work ethic, accountability and overall get-up-and-go.

Each player will know where they stand in Herman’s so-called “meritocracy,” and so will their teammates. Where each player lands on the pecking order could determine how they’re viewed inside the locker room.

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Gold-label players do things the right way, McKnight said Friday. “They’re mature and handle their business, and their position coach doesn’t have to chase them all over town, trying to find them for class or get them to a lift or whatever it is.

“Green guys are transitioning up,” he added. “They’re moving that way to gold, being the gold standard.”

And crimson? Well, besides labeling that player as good enough for Oklahoma and not UT, it’s something of a warning.

“If you can get to where you’re supposed to go and do all your stuff, then you get treated like a big boy,” McKnight said. “But if you can’t do those other things, like if you can’t set your alarm clock, we’re going to have somebody do it for you.

“I’m sure it gets monotonous,” he added. “Once they change their pattern of behavior, we’ll take some restrictions off of them.”

Like all strength coaches, McKnight is the de facto head coach until spring football begins in March. The former All-American offensive lineman at Division II Missouri Southern has spent his entire professional life in college weight rooms, a place where the truth always emerges.

Herman first got to know McKnight when the two were at Rice starting in 2007. McKnight followed Herman to Iowa State and stayed there for six years before joining up with Herman again at Houston in 2015.

“I was not going to take the Houston job if he would not have come with me,” Herman said on Jan. 5. He called McKnight his “soulmate when it comes to coaches.”

Houston officials said Herman cherished McKnight’s input. If UT football had a personnel flowchart, McKnight and Fernando Lovo, Herman’s chief of staff, would likely be above the nine on-field assistants, they said.

“To be able to trust someone that’s as well dialed into the science of everything and yet shares your beliefs and your ideals of how to build championships is paramount,” Herman said.

But don’t all strength coaches push their players hard?

Pat Moorer, UT’s strength coach under Charlie Strong, transformed the Longhorns into sharp, physical specimens. Even Strong admitted fans would see a “good-looking football team” prior to the 2016 season opener. Under Strong, conditioning was rarely an issue. Players were loath to get hurt, as they would have to spend a few days with Moorer in “The Pit,” a place for extra, usually grueling conditioning work.

McKnight said Friday he was already impressed with players like left tackle Connor Williams, linebacker Malik Jefferson and some of the team’s tall cornerbacks.

He knows the strength staff can’t red-line the players in the first week. New Oregon coach Willie Taggart landed in hot water when three players were hospitalized after “grueling strength and conditioning workouts,” according to The Oregonian.

McKnight said he’ll spend this week collecting performance data and then begin structured workouts next week.

“I know that our guys have been off for five weeks because they didn’t make a bowl game, probably six,” McKnight said. “So you take that into account that probably, more than likely, a lot of them haven’t been doing much. You’ve got to take that into account.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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