Monday, at his first media availability as Texas head coach, Charlie Strong performed the first duty of any new head coach: he won the press conference. Strong paid homage to historical Texas greatness, promised to pound the pavement on the recruiting trail and add toughness to a program that most feel has lacked that over the past several years.
But it wasn't just what Strong said. It was also how he said it. The new coach, who many said might lack the overt personality to handle the media demands of the job had reporters laughing at his very first comment, when he spoke to a room extra-stuffed with television cameras, reporters and boosters.
"I was hoping I brought this cold weather with me that it would block out a lot of the media coming here today, and I see that didn't work," Strong quipped.
Strong went on to thank Texas media and fans for their patience, stating that it was important for him to meet with Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich in person to tell him that he was leaving.
"He gave me my first opportunity four years ago, and I wanted to pay respect to him and leave the right way," Strong said.
Strong talked up Louisville and those around the program, while at the same time voicing his excitement for his new job.
"I can't wait to get started because at the University of Texas, I want to make sure that we build and represent the tradition and the history of this great program," Strong said. "We will work like it's fourth-and-one or fourth-and-inches more than that and make sure our Texas Exes are so happy with the product that we put on the field. A program that has won four national titles, it's time to put the program back on the national stage.
"I will ask the Longhorn football team to believe and trust in one another," Strong continued later. "We're going to create a family atmosphere here. We're going to be a program that has the right attitude. We'll have the right commitment. It will be a program that's built on accountability and responsibility. It will be a program that will represent not only this great university, but it will represent the great national stage."Strong called the job the top one percent of one percent of jobs, and said that when such a job comes open, "you have to put your name in it and see where it's going to take you."
Strong has yet to meet with the players, and said he wants to wait until his staff is mostly assembled to do so. He said he wanted to stress to them that he wants to see them grow and develop both on and off the field, and that he wants to meet with the players individually and talk about each person's goals.
Strong said he hopes to have his staff in place by the end of the recruiting dead period. He said he has "had some thoughts" on potential coaches who could follow him from Louisville, but said he didn't want to get into that yet.
Strong said that former Texas coach Mack Brown left the program in "great shape," and said he needed to continue to build on what Brown left. One area where he could stand to improve is by instilling a tougher mentality.
"The mentality is always going to be physical and mental toughness," Strong said. "You have to build your program on toughness. That's where all the successful programs, that's what they do. It's all about toughness. Players understand that. If you are a disciplined program and you prepare them the right ways and they have the right focus, that won't be an issue. But they have to understand that what we have to build on when we do get our staff together, it's going to be about the players and they'll do everything we ask them to do."
As for recruiting, Strong said: "Let's not get caught up in the five stars, let's not get caught up in the four stars. Let's get caught up in the football players."
"Nationally, the Texas high school coaches are king," Strong said. "My staff and I will be committed to closing the borders on this great state and making them realize that this is their program. We'll recruit with fire, and we'll recruit with passion. We're devoted to making Austin the state capitol for college football as well as the state capitol of this state."
Strong's press conference performance — and the way he projects as Longhorn coach — fell into line with what Texas athletics director Steve Patterson said he wanted in a new coach, and what he though Strong brought to the table.
"We really feel great about Charlie and the way he really fits our selection criteria," Patterson said. "We wanted somebody who was bright and an ethical leader, somebody who was physically and mentally tough, somebody who could really recruit and evaluate talent. Then once that talent is here, somebody who is a great coach and teacher who can really help our young football players grow both on the field and off.
"We wanted to make sure we had somebody who had charisma and personality, and really can project that personality through all the various media," Patterson said. "I think you'll find Charlie does that."
"He's the right person to represent our university on the field, on the campus, in the community, in the living rooms of potential recruits," added UT President Bill Powers. "He's the right person to carry on the winning tradition that we have here, winning with integrity that was cultivated by Darrell Royal, DeLoss Dodds, Mack Brown; he is the right person."
Not everyone was happy about the hire. Texas mega booster Red McCombs, never shy about sharing his opinion, went on ESPN San Antonio radio and blasted the hire, stating that Strong shouldn't be more than a position coach or coordinator for the Longhorns.
But in a way, that makes the hire more right. What McCombs seemed to be really stewing over was his lack of control in the hiring process — he wanted Jon Gruden and felt as though he was frozen out by Patterson and Powers — which would represent a positive step in the right direction. Texas has been too booster-driven in the past, and if Strong is going to come in and represent the winds of culture change, he needs to do so knowing that he has complete autonomy of his football program, with Patterson and Powers doing their best to provide shielding.
Monday, Strong touched on that when he was asked whether he felt a sense of pressure from taking over the Texas job.
"No, because if you surround yourselves with the right people — you have an outstanding president here, outstanding athletic director, you have the support staff — when you have the right support around you, there is no pressure," Strong said. "When you're not prepared, yeah, there is pressure. It's all about being surrounded with the right people, with the outstanding coaching staff, it won't be any pressure. Go recruit the right people and continue to build on something great, and then that pressure eases for you."
The key is that he must be allowed to build that, with as little outside influence at all. Texas has long been considered among college football's greatest jobs, with one of the few knocks being all of the noise that comes with the position, from the excess booster glad-handing to the Longhorn Network and other media obligations.
"Well, I know I'm going to be a football coach first," Strong said. "So we're going to have our football program, and then we can handle wherever someone else needs it. If I have the time, I'm going to do it. I have enough support staff around me and people working with me where they're going to lead me in the right direction.
"But let's make sure we get this football program going," Strong said. "I think everyone's more interested in that than anything else."
In that way, Strong may understand the Texas job better than most think. Lose, and all the media availability in the world, all the kissing babies and everything on the periphery won't matter. Win, and win at a high level, and everything else will come along.
That's not to say that Strong is the type to alienate those around him. In fact, one of the traits that Patterson cited about him was the fact that he would uphold the traditions and spirit of the university. One of his first calls after taking the position was to his predecessor, Mack Brown, inviting the former coach to practice whenever he wanted to come. But Strong was brought in to be a shot to the system, and he and Brown talked about making the Texas program his own.
"You ran your program and now I have to run mine," Strong said. "This has to be my program. [Brown] said it himself, he said, 'don't try to be like me.' He said 'you are who you are because of what you've done and just continue to be who you are.'"