Although head coach Charlie Strong first came to Texas in January, he understands traditions that date back long before his arrival. Texas historically secures winning records, glides smoothly to bowl eligibility and even spends many weeks in the top-25 rankings. As Texas’ winning percentage continues to plummet following the program’s first shutout in a decade, Strong says he needs to reevaluate.
“We’re sitting there at 3-5, and that’s just not acceptable in this program,” Strong said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing. That will never be the standard of this program.”
The “standard” of this program is a reality that players and coaches alike are trying to reconcile. They know that the inconsistencies plaguing Texas aren’t the standard, but, under a new coaching staff, the Longhorns look to redefine what that standard actually is. Redshirt junior center Taylor Doyle says Joe Wickline, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, gives the players one interpretation.
“Go out there and play tough football — you have to be perfect,” Doyle said to summarize Wickline’s advice. “There’s no room for any errors as far as who you have to block.”
If perfection is the standard, the Longhorns know they haven’t reached it. Doyle attributes the struggles to “growing pains,” as new players and coaches adjust to the program. In contrast, senior cornerback Quandre Diggs doesn’t think growing pains sufficiently characterize the shortcomings. Instead, he believes some of his teammates don’t buy into Strong’s program, and, until they do, the team won’t succeed.
“Hopefully, a light clicks for some people, and it all comes together,” Diggs said.
For Diggs, the light never turns off. He says he clings to optimism, hope and faith because he doesn’t see another way. He tries to balance the optimism with realism but doesn’t believe the two mind-sets conflict.
“I don’t ever go into a game and think I’m going to lose,” Diggs said. “Why would I do that? I might as well not practice.”
Even with the practice, Texas faces a historically bad team. The Longhorns hadn’t sustained a shutout in the past 132 competitions, and their offense currently ranks No. 109 in the country, averaging 348.3 yards per game. Now, the Longhorns look to avoid another historic milestone: missing bowl eligibility for just the second time since 1997. Senior linebacker Jordan Hicks, who played for Texas in 2010, the only other bowl-free year, says he doesn’t want to graduate during that decline.
“I don’t want to be a part of a class that started off not going and ends not going [to a bowl game],” Hicks said. “I don’t feel like that class would’ve done its part in making Texas better.”
For players like Hicks, Doyle and Diggs, the only things each one says he can do is practice hard and try to motivate his teammates. Strong, too, is determined to rebound and won’t be content with the status quo.
“You’re always learning as a head coach,” Strong said. “When players start trusting you, you’re able to get done what you need to get done. Me, personally, I don’t think I’ve done a great job because if I had, we wouldn’t be sitting here at 3-5.