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Charlie Strong & The Culture of Texas Football Accountability

Some thoughts from Strong's press conference yesterday.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

This post back in January detailing the cultural expectations of the new regime made a bit of a splash and none of us should be surprised that Strong has been as good as his word in trying to shift the culture.  I consider this press conference another insight into that process.  It gives some perspective into a type of coach that we're not only unaccustomed to in Austin, but also in the broader college football landscape.  Welcome to the world of egoless accountability.

Early in the press conference, Charlie relates, quite matter-of-factly, that the team "quit competing" in a late scrimmage situation.  There's no irritation about it.  He doesn't even appear to be sending a message.  It's a thing that happened.  It's a fact.  If the players don't like it, compete better.

Strong also reveals that he threw the entire team out of practice the next day when he didn't like their demeanor during stretching.  He didn't hear conversation, saw no emotion, no passion.  "Punching the clock."  So the team had to go.  They could return to the field once they found a different attitude.  Apparently, they did.

Strong doesn't bluster or posture about it - as most coaches are wont to do.  In fact, it's not even clear that he had any particular agenda to reveal that information.  It just came up.  He relates it with mild disinterest. This isn't about display and how he, the Great Man, must now raise up this program's complacent culture after years of sloth and lethargy.  He's just telling you what happened and how things are right now.

When a reporter asks Strong how the players are adjusting to having to walk to the practice fields now (they used to ride a bus) Strong chuckles before his answer, "Well, what are they going to do?  They're going to practice.  And they're not going to catch a ride."  The chuckle was answer enough.  You can almost hear the gears turning in his head - why would I care about how they "feel" on anything like that?  Strong and his staff care much more about building real relationships, inviting the players to hang out in the coach's offices, and not kissing ass on minor points in some fruitless effort to flatter the players into playing better.

Later, a reporter asks him to contrast Cedric Reed and Louisville DE Marcus Smith.  Strong details what each is best at - praising Marcus for his speed and athleticism - and concludes that "Reed is a big, strong physical guy who is very good heads up - Marcus really isn't that."  He's talking about his former Conference DPOY who is up for the NFL draft.  Strong tells the truth without punches pulled.  How many head coaches do that?

Strong's may be the ultimate football coach's coach, but his public-facing demeanor has more in common with the culture of another sport - basketball.

In basketball culture, no one bats an eye if a head coach remarks in a post game press conference that "Walton gave us nothing inside tonight and our point guard is playing a little selfishly.  And Jones was busy pouting about his third foul instead of guarding anybody."  Basketball coaches speak in "we" often enough, but you'll also hear plenty of "they." As in: "Those guys need to get it together and pull their heads out.  We practiced against that zone all week and they act like they'd never seen it."

No one finds it strange that we've assigned asymmetric expectations for appropriate coaching candor by sport.

In football culture, blame is spoken of only in aggregate terms, with individual players rarely singled out, generalities and gloss dominate the press conference, and rarely do you get a square answer on player performance without heaps of passive-aggressiveness ("I don't tell our back to fumble on the goal line"). When the script is deviated from, it's usually motivated by the head coach's ego, highlighting how the kids are subverting their awesome schemes. See Steve Spurrier.  Or they're engaging in theater and ego gratification.

Strong isn't exhibiting ego.  Look at his demeanor.  He's relating this stuff like a yogi.  He's relating things as they are and if that offends precious sensibilities, you may as well take issue with the Law of Gravity.

This is how things are.  It's not about Strong.  These are just facts.  How you square them to what you're used to or would like to hear is up to you.

Strong's message of accountability isn't just to the players and coaches.  It's to us.