College Football America was at the Big 12 Media Days on Monday and Tuesday. You’ll see our photo galleries and story links here and on our Facebook page. But today we’re bringing you the Q&A for Texas head coach Charlie Strong, who spoke to the media about his team and the 2014 season. Check back here for the rest of the Q&As from the Big 12 media days and remember that we’re putting the final touches on the College Football America 2014 Yearbook and Encyclopedia and we hope to have it on sale by the end of the month.
THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by Coach Charlie Strong, University of Texas. Your thoughts about the upcoming season.
COACH STRONG: Really excited to be at my first Big 12 Media Day. And what’s really great, there’s one true champion in a conference that’s very powerful.
Had a chance to sit out there and talk to some of the head coaches, Coach Snyder, Coach Stoops, guys that I have a lot of respect for. And just looking at this whole conference, looking at the venue, what you’ve got going, really tough home territories, try to go win football games. But very collegiate about this whole conference and what it’s trying to accomplish.
You look at the University of Texas. I have four players here with me today: Espinosa, Cedric Reed, Malcolm Brown, and Quandre Diggs. And the thing about it, these guys have all worked extremely hard. I’ve been very pleased with my football team at just how hard they work and we’ll continue to work.
And right now we’re in phase three. Beginning in a week or so it’s going to be phase four and it’s going to be preseason camp. Now, when you get into preseason camp, it’s all about building a football team and watching this football team come together.
It’s all about putting a team back into Texas. We talk about putting a team back into Texas, you talk about toughness, you talk about trust, talk about togetherness, and you talk about just becoming a team.
You can never become a team until you have toughness to you, and then you look at guys. You can’t trust one another until you can trust yourself. And it’s all just about coming together, just becoming a team that is exciting to watch.
I know this. I followed an icon in Coach Brown 16 seasons at the University of Texas, did an unbelievable job, won a National Championship. The foundation has been laid. Now it’s up to us to continue this foundation and continue to build on it.
And that’s what we’re looking at, excited. Looking at the season, looking at the beginning, the start of the season, the first three games North Texas, BYU, UCLA, three teams that won eight games or more.
It’s going to be very challenging, but we’re looking forward to it. But what’s really great is I don’t have to start that season tomorrow. I have some time. I’m looking forward to that time.
But really excited about being here, and we’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Can you assess personally and then with your coaching staff how you all feel you’ve done in in state recruiting? Because in your first press conference you said we’ve got to win the state of Texas. How you guys have done in terms of building relationships with high school coaches and with recruits?
COACH STRONG: On Friday nights we had a camp, what we called Under the Lights. What we did with that camp is we invited the juniors and seniors within the state. What we tried to do there is just make sure that we get them on campus for one more time.
And recruiting is a year long process. The great thing about it is Signing Day is not until February. But you always want to build the relationship with high school coaches because that’s where it all starts at. And we have outstanding coaches within the state, and we will continue to build those relationships.
Our coaches have broken down, and each one of them have a part of this state. They know just how critical it is, how critical it is to go recruit the top players and get them into our program.
Q. I’m sure you knew a lot about the job that you were hired for when you took it, but what have you learned about Texas and the job since you have gotten there? And maybe it’s not as big as I would think, maybe it is just coaching football at another school, but what have you learned about the job since you got there?
COACH STRONG: Well, the main thing, what’s really key, you can’t look at any job any different than anywhere else you’ve been. What’s been great for me, I’ve had an opportunity to coach at really outstanding programs, whether it be University of Florida, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Ole Miss and been the head coach of University of Louisville coming to the University of Texas. But what’s key is just make sure you surround yourself with good people.
And the mission is very simple. It will never change. We will make sure we graduate our young men. We want to make sure we go compete for championships, but we want to make sure they become a better person than they were when they came into the program.
Q. Besides the Xs and Os, what are some of the other elements that are important to the student athletes in your program?
COACH STRONG: Well, it’s all about academics. And our student athletes understand it. They’re in college to go get a degree. And it’s our job as a coaching staff. We have a great our academics are unbelievable there at University of Texas. It’s second to none. But what’s really critical, they get a degree and they’re going to walk out of there with a degree in their hand.
Q. This question is about Tyrone Swoopes. He’s not a kid you recruited, but what did you know about him coming into this year? And also what have you seen from him in the spring and from film last year? What do you expect from him for his future?
COACH STRONG: You look at Tyrone, he had a chance this spring because Ash went down with an injury to get a lot of reps in, to think about it’s still all about just developing him and developing him as a person.
You look at him, he’s very athletic. He can throw the football, but also he can run with the ball. So we have to be smart about it in how we use him. He’s going to be able to go compete not only with Ash but then you get the freshman Jerrod Heard.
There’s going to be competition in that position. He understands he’s just got to get better and better.
Q. You enter the program with a lot of high expectations. How far away do you think you guys might be for competing for a national title?
COACH STRONG: Well, what I always talk about I’ve been a part of two National Championships. The place that I won it at we never talked about going and winning a National Championship. Because you know what happens. One day you wake up, you’re the national champion. It’s all about our players going out, competing each and every day. And then there’s expectations everywhere.
You expect them to have expectations at University of Texas because you’re looking at a premier program. But it’s all about our players and just making sure we go compete. We as a coaching staff need to make sure the preparation is there.
We have to make sure that because when you get caught up in the expectations, I don’t ever want to put pressure on our team, on our players at all. I just want them to go out and just go to work each and every day.
Q. We were talking about National Championship. A while back you mentioned that you wouldn’t win the National Championship; kind of irritated the fan base. What have you learn about the Texas fan base, and have you patched things up, if they needed to be patched up?
COACH STRONG: At the time I made that statement we were just in phase two. I break our program down into five phases. The first phase is we started January where guys come and go to work right away. It’s all about just building and reshaping the bodies. And phase two is spring practice. We get to work on fundamentals and technique and just watch guys go execute, put the plan in, just watch them go execute the plan.
And then phase three is where we get back into summer condition. But we just completed phase two, and I said after looking at phase two, we’re not going to go compete for a championship, not looking at phase two, because we had a lot of work to do.
If you think about it, we were not a healthy football team at that time. But we still have some work to do. I can’t say just how far off we are and that we will not know that until we go compete this fall. But we still have work to do.
Now, we’re not as bad as we used to be. I’ll tell you this: We still have a lot of work to do just making sure we continue to move forward in that area, in all areas of the game, within not only just offense/defense but also with our special teams.
Q. How much of a benefit has it been having a guy like Joe Wickline in the program who has had experience in the Big 12 and obviously had success?
COACH STRONG: It’s always good when you go hire staff and you look at just getting the right people within your program. And a lot of times guys know a lot of Xs and Os but it’s all just about developing a player.
Joe and I go we’ve coached together at two different places. But just with him being within his conference and knowing the conference, he’s been a great asset. We haven’t had a chance to sit down talk about in the venues because we’re just so concerned about getting our team ready to go play. But I’ll tell you this: When we get into conference play, he’ll be someone to just go lean on.
Q. What are the primary motivating factors that you use and how much is fear one of them?
COACH STRONG: I don’t think I fear anyone. Just look at me. I don’t think they get afraid of me at all. But when you talk about motivation, you always look at just different just how can we get something to lean your hat on, where you get the players, where they understand just how important it is.
And I know some of you heard so much about he said that you can’t hook ’em, he took the hook ’em away from the team. But what I want them to understand, it’s all about pride and it is all about pride within the program, where we throw up our hook ’em, it’s going to mean something to us. And the players have to understand.
In the locker room right now, I have the hook ’em, it’s right in the middle of the locker room. And I have it’s roped off where they can’t even walk on it. And the only time it will be removed is on game day. On game day when we come into the locker room, we stand on the hook ’em, we’re going to go play and go play with pride and play for one another. It’s just some of the different things you try to do to get the team motivated and get them going.
Q. Number one, can you elaborate a little bit more about the areas you need to move forward in, what you’re happy with on your team, what I guess the fans can expect? And, secondly, what is the status of Joe Bergeron?
COACH STRONG: Well, I can elaborate from the personnel side of it. If you look at it, quarterback position, David Ash was cleared the other day. When Ash is healthy, he played very well.
What I did was I went back and I looked at all our games from the last season where I looked at setting the offensive side first. I studied the defensive side. And I looked at the special teams. Very pleased with the way Ash played when he was healthy.
Look at the running back position, you have Malcolm Brown, who is here right now; J. Gray has been cleared and he’ll be ready when fall camp starts. And then you get Joe Bergeron. He’ll be back in the mix, has done everything we’ve asked him to do, not only academically but just showing up doing those little things.
When you take something away from a player sometimes and when you take something away that they really enjoy doing, then you can see a lot of change, and that changes very quickly if it’s important to them.
Our offensive line, we have to do a better job in the area where we have to protect the quarterback. Can’t allow the quarterback to open up his seams for running backs to go run.
Need a playmaker at wide receiver. Need someone that can catch a five yard hitch and turn it into just a big play where you go yards after a catch with YAC yardage.
On the defensive side, very pleased with our defensive front when you look at Malcolm Brown, you look at Tank, you look at Cedric Reed, who is also here, and Shiro Davis and Billy. You look at guys who were starters last season for us on the defensive side.
If you’re ever going to be good in this game, you have to be good up front when you look at the offensive line and defensive line because if you can’t move people on offense, you can’t stop people on defense, it’s going to be very long days for you.
Linebacker position I like to see us get better. You have Steve Edmond and Santos. And the good thing about it, you know you have guys that have played at that position so we can just get guys to just go play. And when I look at the middle linebacker position, I look at that guy as just being a leader of the defense. And that’s what I want to see with Santos and Steve Edmond.
And then Hicks is going to be back. He’s healthy now. Get Hicks back. And get Jinkens on the outside.
The secondary, you look at it, you looking at Diggs, who is here right now, you look at the other side with Duke Thomas, Mykkele, Josh Turner, all players three of them are starters, one has played a lot.
So you’re always looking to improve. And what you guys have to understand is that you can’t ever get comfortable; you can never be pleased. It’s about improvement, and we have to get that each and every day.
Q. We talked a little bit about your motivating factors, and we know erasing the soft label was something that you were adamant about when you got here. Now that you’ve seen guys throughout the summer, what kind of development have you seen in their toughness? Are you happy with where they’re at, and have you seen the change you wanted to see?
COACH STRONG: I only want to go by what our strength coach says. Unbelievable strength coach. Coach Moorer worked our players extremely hard. They’ve done everything they’ve asked of them. When you talk about toughness, you have to not only talk about it but you have to practice it. And that’s what we felt like we did in spring practice when you look at three on threes and you look at one on ones and you look at the goal line.
It’s a toughness. A lot of times when people talk about toughness, it’s not physically where you’re always trying to just beat them down. It’s a toughness to just go do the right thing. Go to class. Just go do the little things. It’s having that type of toughness.
Within our program, we know this: That we have to continue to get better, some areas that we have to improve on. And you look at just overall how hard our guys work. And what we really see here in another week or so if this team is going to be one of those teams that is just going to respond.
I just know this: Just from their attitude right now, I think that we’re going to find us a different football team, just because of their attitude and just their work ethic and how hard they’ve worked.
Q. First of all, Coach Chambers, tight ends, can you talk about his impact, and he’s been here right here in the Metroplex? And of course the pressure of being able to be in history in the state of Texas representing African Americans, can you talk a little bit about that as well?
COACH STRONG: I say this: There’s tall shoulders that I stand on and there’s people that have paved the way for me, and I’ve been given this opportunity. It’s been a great opportunity. But it’s because of a lot of hard work from other people also. And I’m just so fortunate to be in the position.
I don’t ever look at it as a pressure because I know if you prepare, you have the right preparation, then you’re going to overcome all type of pressure.
Bruce Chambers is a great addition to our coaching staff. He’s the only holdover I have from the coaching staff which was right here, was a head coach and assistant here at Dallas Carter. Does a great job of recruiting the city.
Bruce is an unbelievable coach. And not only he’s an unbelievable coach, he’s a good person.
Q. You talked earlier about being able to visit with Coach Snyder and Stoops, two coaches you respect. Can you talk about your relationship with Coach Stoops and what it means to you to be in a conference with a couple of coaches you respect?
COACH STRONG: When I was at the University of Florida, so actually I was leaving and Coach Stoops was coming in, so we had a chance to just visit at that time. We had a chance to meet one another. And he ended up coming to Florida. I ended up going off to Notre Dame.
But you have a lot of respect not only for those two coaches but you just look at the job. Oklahoma State, what he’s done. Coach Briles has done an unbelievable job at Baylor look at his quarterback with Petty and what they have. Coach Weis is getting going there at Kansas.
But it’s unbelievable coaches within this conference, and we have a lot of respect. And not only that, just seeing the work and seeing the product that they’ve put on the field.
It’s all about the product you put on the field and it’s a product that’s been amazing because you look at what Oklahoma did, Alabama in the Bowl game.
So the work from all these coaches and what they’ve done and the respect they have for one another is just truly amazing. I’m so happy to be a part of it.