Charlie Strong's poor first impression
SAN ANGELO, Texas -- A 20-minute slot for new Texas head coach Charlie Strong stood out on the three-day schedule at the recent coaching clinic at Angelo State -- one of my stops on a recent mid-June trip through Texas. The clinic is a 40-year tradition for the state’s high school coaches to learn from their college counterpart and was one of his first outings in front of a large number of the state’s high school coaches. I was intrigued to hear what Strong’s message would be in one of his first outings in front of a large number of high school coaches.
Part of the intrigue stemmed from the perception -- held by many of his peers and even those who know him well –- that Strong is something of an introvert, and that the social aspect of the UT job might not be his, ahem, strong suit.
Those in attendance didn't seem impressed by Strong’s time on the stage. Maybe it was coincidence, but someone let out a loud laugh just as Strong wrapped.
"I think everyone was shocked. It was that bad," one coach told me later.
"It made me miss Mack," one joked.
Another: "If I was the coach at Texas, I would act like I had bigger balls than that."
Strong spoke so rapidly, jamming one sentence on top of another as if he were playing verbal Tetris, that you would have thought he had two minutes, not 20. It was difficult to follow his train of thought or discern the central points being made.
The bulk of the address sounded like something more suited for parents or boosters than people who also coach for a living.
An example: He said he intended to "put the ‘T’ back in Texas" with "toughness, trust, togetherness and teamwork."
Or the primary mission being, "We want to see young men graduate," and "We want to win championships," because "there’s nothing more fun than a championship."
I jotted "LOL" in my notebook when he told coaches "either you’re growing or you’re dying."
What does it all mean for Strong in his first year at Texas? That’s where we begin my Texas Takeaways, which include FSU’s impressive new defensive coordinator, insight behind the Lane Kiffin hire and more.
Not a Strong impression
In the most connective moment of his speech, Strong closed by inviting coaches to visit campus, and he actually acknowledged the situation. It might have been a nice place to start; it was the only portion that didn’t feel rehearsed or cliché-ridden.
"We are the premier university in this state," he said. "I know you’re all watching to see what happens. We have some work to do. We’re going to get that done because of the staff we have."
Beyond that genuine close, Strong seemed to miss his target audience. What’s worse, I was later told that Strong irritated the clinic’s leadership -- including former NFL coach Wade Phillips, whose family is coaching royalty in the state -- by bolting just after his allotted time.
Whether he felt socially uncomfortable or did not care to hang around, it was seen as a slight by those running the show and those who had traveled to the West Texas town.
"He obviously didn’t want to be here," one coach told me. "If he did, he sure as hell didn't show it."
So what’s it all mean?
Well, it isn’t an indictment of Strong or what he will do at Texas. The guy has a track record of being an outstanding football coach, and most college coaches believe he’ll fare well in Austin because of his X’s and O’s acumen.
But those 20 minutes did highlight some of those questions that coaches and college football observers had when he was hired for one of the most visible gigs in the country. They knew he would not be a Mack Brown-level ambassador, but they wondered if he could up his social game. San Angelo seemed to indicate he still isn’t interested in messing with that side of the job.
It’s undoubtedly a story worth monitoring.
I mean, I couldn’t help but wonder how Baylor’s Art Briles or Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin -- the hottest recruiting coaches going in the state -- would have handled the same room.
Speaking might not be Strong’s gift. So be it. But not coming early or hanging around for a few minutes to shake hands and meet UT’s de facto minor league coaches? That makes you wonder how he’s going to connect with those theoretically supplying his next batch of players.
Don’t take my word for it.
"It ended up being good for Art and Kevin," one coach told me. "How does that happen?
In the end, it was just one day, and Strong will have plenty of other chances with the state’s coaches. But it was an odd impression to make.
Who knows? Maybe he intends to just keep recruiting Florida kids to build his Texas roster.