When Steve Patterson accepted the Athletic Director position at the University of Texas earlier this year, one of his primary missions was to restore the greatness of the Longhorn football program. He knew that the culture needed dramatic restructuring. He found exactly the right head football coach to execute the makeover in former Louisville head coach, Charlie Strong. Strong has issued a wakeup call from spring ball by sending a dramatic message to the players, administration, and alums that a new era has come for Texas football.
Strong started by dismissing seven players from the team for violation of team rules. He and his coaches met with the squad in the spring and followed up with seniors and key leaders. He expressed five core values: 1) Honesty 2) Treating woman with respect 3) No drugs 4) No stealing and 5) No weapons. The fact he felt it necessary to tell elite athletes to follow these common sense maxims shows how far the atmosphere had plunged. He re-emphasized academic requirements. Athletes are to attend all classes, sit in the first few rows, take notes, and no headphones or texting. Missing class results in collective punishment for the player’s whole unit.
Coach Strong has also taken steps to create team unity. Players are now not allowed to live off-campus until their senior years – and then only if they earn it. They are required to live together in athletic dorms, build relationships with each other, and impose accountability on each other. The air conditioned bus that took them a quarter mile to the field is gone. Earrings in the football building are gone. No horns on the helmet, no flashing “Hook ‘em horns” until they earn it. Strong is injecting two goals into his team – winning and graduating. Are they rebuilding? No. They are being told they have no time to rebuild – they have to win now.
Will contemporary athletes who have the ability to transfer accept this Draconian approach? I think so. My forty years working with athletes taught me that athletes respond well to discipline and structure. In fact, they flourish in it. The NFL was aghast when Tom Coughlin, the then-head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, had players wear full uniforms in meetings and never remove their helmets. That expansion team went to the playoffs in their second year. It is much easier to establish discipline and standards and then ease off once the players are accountable.
Strong brings a resume of success. Louisville went 11-2 in 2012 and won the Sugar Bowl. Last season they improved to 12-1 and won the Russell Athletic Bowl. Athletic Director Steve Patterson resurrected the Arizona State football program. It won’t take long for “Hook ‘em Horns” to be displayed proudly again.