When head coach Charlie Strong first outlined his five core values, Texas safety Josh Turner understood them to be a solid guideline for him and his teammates — a set of rules to help steer the football team in the right direction.
It wasn’t until the senior, who likely doesn’t have a future in football, went out into the real world that he realized Strong’s values apply outside the bounds of the 40 Acres, too.
“[He] came to me the other day and said, ‘Coach, I interviewed for an internship,’” Strong said. “The guy who was talking to him, he was talking about core values. He was talking about just leadership ability. Josh [Turner] said, ‘When you step out in the real world, that’s really what’s going to happen to you.’”
It’s a small anecdote, but it’s a great example of the positive impact Strong has had on his players off the field, even if his first season at the helm has been a disappointment on it.
When he first arrived in Austin, Strong’s players were hesitant to buy into what he was selling.
Here he was, the new guy in town, telling them how to behave and challenging them in ways they had never been challenged by the previous staff. He quickly removed several players from the team, many of whom had established strong bonds with their teammates, who were certainly upset to see them go.
But as the season wore on and the new head coach has had a chance to develop relationships with each of his players, the student-athletes have grown to understand the method behind his madness.
“[The] first couple months, everything surprised me about Coach Strong, but now nothing he does surprises me,” senior defensive end Cedric Reed said. “Guys he is helping out right now, I thought it would take Dr. Phil to get through to them. But Coach Strong is helping them out, and I’m pretty sure it will help in the long run.”
In an era of collegiate sports when many coaches talk about the importance of academics and life outside football, it’s uncommon to find one who actually cares about anything more than wins and losses.
Given what his players have had to say about him over the past couple weeks, it appears Strong may be one of the rare few.
“He just tries to point guys in the right direction,” senior receiver John Harris said. “Make sure they go to class, get their education — everything that matters once you’re done with football whether you’re going to the next level or if you go get a job.”
More than anything, Strong and his staff have made themselves available to the players. They embrace an open door policy, which has encouraged players to come by and discuss everything from a given week’s game plan to their career goals.
“You can go up and speak to the coaches whenever you want,” Harris said. “The door is always open. They’re just fun to talk to. Outside of my teammates, they’re like big kids to us.”
So far, the on-field product hasn’t lived up to expectations, as Strong continues to stress that a five-loss season won’t be tolerated at the University of Texas.
But off the field, it is clear the new regime is making strides, and, according to Strong, that’s far more important than anything that goes on inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
“I never feel like winning isn’t important, but I also want to make sure you develop the young person too,” Strong said. “They have to understand that, once you leave here, then there’s issues. If you don’t know how to handle it while you’re in college, you will never be able to handle it once you leave here.”