Charlie Strong walked into a 9th floor of Bellmont Hall press conference for the first time as Texas’ football coach.
It won’t be the last; Texas’ weekly football pressers take place in the same room during the fall.
I’ve never seen this Centennial Room so crowded. Strong’s first appearance played out to a packed house.
In fact, more people came to say hello to Charlie Strong today then to say goodbye to Mack Brown, on Dec. 15.
Strong walked into the room at 11:03, to a hushed silence and a small entourage of cameras. Texas men’s athletic director Steve Patterson introduced him, briefly going over the process that led to the hire. “We really feel great about Charlie,” Patterson said, who added that Texas wanted a great leader, a great recruiter, a great coach and a teacher who’d help his players develop.
At 11:06, Texas President Bill Powers had his turn, going over Strong’s background and accomplishments, touting his strong history at Louisville in regards to academics in his football program, and said “he’s the right person to represent our university on the field.”
“What a hire we made,” Powers said.
At 11:09, Powers officially welcomed Strong to Texas, to a applause.
Strong opened with a joke. It worked: “I thought all this cold weather might keep the media away,” a shot at his reputation of not being the most media-friendly football coach.
Strong said he wanted to leave Louisville’s program in a stronger position than it was when he got there. Mission accomplished. Louisville has gone 23-3 the last two years. But in a weaker conference than Strong will have to navigate in the Big 12.
“As a program that’s won four national titles, it’s time to put the program back on the national stage,” Strong said.
Strong recalled meeting Mack Brown five years ago at a state high school coaches event, and Darrell Royal was there too. Strong acknowledged Edith Royal, who was here today.
He praised Brown, saying he spoke to Mack on Sunday night and told him he was always welcome in the program.
Strong said he’s devoted to making Austin the “state capital” of Texas football. Are you listening, Texas A&M and Baylor?
And he thanked his bosses, Patterson and Powers, and said the program will always strive for excellence on the field and off the field.
Then, the questions:
How would you like the local media to address you?
It’s just “Charlie.” “Coach.” “Coach Strong.” If things happen to go bad, just don’t say “Hey.”
What was your mindset as you thought about taking this job?
I was sitting at a university where I already had a great job where I was. This is the best of the best. When you have that opportunity to go to the best, you’ve got to put your name in and just see where it’s going to take you.
On whether he’s ready to coach a program like Texas:
What I was able to do, in Louisville, I had the chance to prove myself. When I think of that job, I think back to all the great coaches I’ve worked with — Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, Urban Meyer, Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, Lou Holtz at South Carolina. When I walked into that job at Louisville, I wasn’t nervous at all because they had prepared me for that.
On the state of the Texas program:
I think Coach Brown’s left this program in great condition. It’s still about recruiting. This program is in great shape.
What does he want recruits in the state of Texas to know about him?
My mentality is always going to be a physical and a mental toughness. You’ve got to build your program on toughness. They have to understand that as we do get our staff together, it is about the player, and they’re going to do everything that we ask them to do.”
On whether there will be changes on the coaching staff:
The timeline is to get this staff together. I want to make sure that when I go into that first team meeting, a large majority of my staff is on board. A lot of times when you make a coaching change, you want to make sure the players are comfortable. There’s going to be coaching changes, so even when that happens, you still represent this university.
His thoughts on this team:
You always look at the personality of a head coach, and I know what Coach Brown is all about. It is a team of integrity and character, on and off the field, and one that represents the university in the right way.
On how well he’ll recruit in Texas, after his recruiting success in Florida:
It’s two different situations there. When I was at Louisville, in the state of Kentucky, there weren’t many players in that state. In this state, we don’t have to worry about it. This is a hotbed of recruiting, where so many great high school players come out. This door will always be open to high school coaches, and I want them to be a part of it. This is their team. We represent the entire state.
His thoughts on going from coaching at a basketball school to being the big fish:
Rick Pitino and I had a great relationship, so he never made me feel like we were second fiddle to the basketball program. This is a big program here, but what helps me here also is having been at the University of Florida.
On his relationship with Steve Patterson:
We had a chance to just sit down and talk, and had a conversation. I knew what he was looking for, and I told him I was that guy. We’re going to have a great working relationship. We both have the same vision and both want the same thing.
On his earliest memories of the Longhorns:
I grew up in Arkansas, and I remember Coach Holtz and I speaking and remembering the games Texas and Arkansas played. And (former Longhorns defensive back) Vance Bedford on my staff talked about playing with Earl Campbell and all the great players who have come here. And that’s what’s special. You have a chance to be a part of a program with all those lettermen, and their blood and sweat and passion and their discipline and what they wanted for this program, and now I can just add another brick to it. The bricks are there.
On what he said at his first Texas sports staff meeting this morning:
Everybody works together. I don’t want anyone to ever think that football is king. I said this morning at the staff meeting, “Listen, I am here for you. I want to lean on you and I want you to lean on me.” A lot of times, coaches feel like their egos are bigger than the university.
On whether he’d want to schedule Texas A&M again:
You would love to, because those two schools have played for a number of years. But it’s hard now with the different conferences. You’re asking for a lot of big games to be played, and a lot of schools don’t want to see that happen right now (because of the new playoff system).
On what kind of offense he wants:
You want an up-tempo offense, one that’s very aggressive, an offense that can score points. But it’s also about physical toughness. Can you go run the football?
On whether he’s looking forward to having defensive input:
It’s a really good Big 12 for offense, and you see just the points that are generated. The only experience I ever had in a national championship game, in 2008 Florida played Oklahoma and Sam Bradford was the quarterback. I remember the first play, I said oh my God, we can’t stop these guys, this is going to be a shootout. But then we kept watching and watching, and ended up beating them 24-14 when they’d been averaging 50-plus points all season. You have to get prepared and make sure that your players have a great game plan when they line up. But there are some great offenses (in the Big 12). Look at Coach Gundy at Oklahoma State and Coach Briles at Baylor. This will be a big challenge.
On what his goals are for players:
Just continue to build on the tradition. One, get a degree and you will always have options in life. Two, let’s go win football games and championships. Three, let’s leave as a better person. You have to develop the right attitude.
On what he told Mack Brown on Sunday night:
I said Coach, I’ve always respected you over the years, I remember coming in years ago and speaking at your clinic, and what you’ve built I just want to build on. I want you to feel welcome in this program, anytime you want to come to practice. You ran your program, now I have to run mine. He said, ‘You are who you are because of what you’ve done, so just continue doing it. Don’t try to be like me.'”
On whether he’ll still wear a turtleneck on gamedays in the Texas weather:
It depends on just how hot it is that day. But I’ll tell you, that turtleneck is very thin. It kind of keeps me cool.
On his thoughts on whether he was truly Texas’ first choice:
I could have been the 15th choice, and I’m so happy to be the head coach. Whatever choice I was, I’m the head football coach.
On what goes through his mind when he hears the word “soft.”
You just manage it the right way. You build toughness.
On who’ll stay or doesn’t stay on his new Texas staff:
We have that meeting set up for either today or tomorrow. You have to have Texas ties, because you want a recruiter who knows this state. You want to make sure the coaches on this staff have Texas ties. I want to make sure I control this state, and then we’ll just cherry-pick states. I want the high school coaches to understand that when we leave this state, (it’s because) I want the best players.
On his thoughts about recruiting:
Let’s not get caught up in the five-stars. Let’s not get caught up in the four-stars. … What happens to a lot of times is programs like this, we get so caught up in the stars. Just go be a football player. A lot of times what happens when you get a lot of five- and four-stars and they don’t pan out, all of a sudden you didn’t develop him.
On his thoughts for the future:
It’s been great, and I look forward to working and it’s going to be a fun ride, and I’m extremely happy and proud to be the head football coach at the University of Texas.
And then, 41 minutes later, Strong closed his press conference to more applause from the back of the room.
Now, excuse me while I go off and secure the domain rights to www.stronghorns.com.
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