With more than the eyes of Texas upon him - more like every eye in the Big 12 - there was Strong with his players at Big 12 Media Days Tuesday.
The last coach to speak, Strong was also the most anticipated. Camera men tripped over each other for a shot of his entrance.
The suit said Texas' new $5 million man.
His menacing game face with forehead veins pulsing while walking from interview to interview, almost as if looking to cold-cock someone, seemed more like the former walk-on defensive back at Central Arkansas with the mantra "everything is earned."
It was get-out-of-my-F-ing-way intensity.
And then as soon as he sat down in front of whatever reporter(s) for the next interview, that road rage glare gave way to a Magic Johnson smile, the easy laugh, the charm.
One of the funnier moments to follow came when Strong was asked about using fear as a motivational tool, and Strong smiled and said, "Just look at me. I don't think they get afraid of me at all."
Then, as soon as that interview was over, the game face was back until he sat down for the next round of questions.
When he finally got to the 90-minute closing session with all the coaches and players from Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas gathered in one, giant ballroom, Strong walked in looking like he was ready to line people up for some gassers.
But then the Big 12's most notable shaved head on top of rock shoulders settled behind a pyramid of microphones, and Strong answered everything ranging from questions about the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry (“I was a part of Florida-Georgia, but they tell me this one’s even bigger.”) to how social media will be the downfall of society (“There’s no accountability to it, and it’s all our young people do. There’s no credibility to it. You can make something up, and it takes off. And sometimes people’s lives are ruined. I don’t read it. But young people do, and if a young man who works hard has a bad game, we don’t need to go post everywhere, ‘Look at him, he can’t play.’ We all have bad days, but this stuff gets taken out of context by young people.”)
Along the way, he talked about how much he respects the job Art Briles has done at Baylor and Bob Stoops has done at Oklahoma and why he has recruits do up-downs at Texas camps (“I know they’re not ours, but if they’re going to spend the money to come to our camp, they’re going to get coached up, just as we coach our own players.”).
On a critical ESPN.com article that said Strong failed to connect with a coaches clinic in San Angelo this summer, Strong said, “You can’t worry about what people say. I have to get a team ready to win some games. And when we do that, we’ll see how we’re judged.”
On why his players need to listen to him about everything from creating a closer team by living on campus to sitting in the first two rows of class with no hats, headphones or jewelry on: “A lot of kids are from a single-parent house, where that parent works, so they’ve raised themselves or think they have.
“So when they’re placed in a disciplined environment, it can be hard for them to catch on. I tell them, ‘I have been your age. You have not been my age. So listen. Don’t fight it. I’m not giving you bad advice. I’m trying to prepare you for later. So listen.’”
On whether freshman QB Jerrod Heard could play this season, “I have no idea. He didn’t go through the spring, so I haven’t even seen him play yet. But he’ll be given a chance to compete.”
On how recruiting in Texas is going, “You’ve got to give them a product they can see. And they haven’t seen our product yet.”
On what would make for a successful season, “A team that plays hard, plays with a lot of passion and excitement and is fun to watch.”
On when he goes from breaking down his team to building players back up, “We’ll still be breaking them down at the start of fall camp, because there’s work to be done. But we’ll know when to pull off and get ‘em back.”
On offensive lineman Rami Hammad fasting from sun up to sun down (not even water) from June 28 to July 28 because of his Muslim beliefs in observance of Ramadan, “We never questioned his religious beliefs. And whatever he’s needed to get done, he’s gotten done.”
On the challenge of stopping the explosive offenses in the Big 12, “I haven’t just totally broken down those offenses yet. But we will and then we’ll have to show we can stop them.”
In the closing minutes of the hour-and-a-half session, Strong looked over at his football media relations director John Bianco and asked, “Am I good John? I need to go to the restroom.”
“Two more minutes,” Bianco said smiling.
“I can make it two more minutes,” Strong said.
Reporters quickly fired more questions at Strong. Nearly six minutes later, Strong asked Bianco again, “Am I good John?”
“You’re good,” Bianco said.
As soon as Strong stood up, the game face was back.
Then it was off to Bristol, Conn., for several more rounds of questions in what is known as ESPN’s Car Wash on Wednesday.
Media is a necessary part of the job and Strong knows it. At times, he seems to enjoy it. But he’s no different from the likes of Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, all of whom want to reveal as little as possible outside their team and inner circle before returning to their football bunkers.
Strong’s bunker is Moncrief-Neuhaus, Texas’ football complex, where Strong has taken the electronic key card locks off the coaches’ offices so players can always come see him and hang out. It’s where Strong and strength coach Pat Moorer push players to new limits but also where Strong laughs and jokes with his guys.
“They’ll do their impressions of me,” Strong said. “We have that kind of a relationship.”
But Moncrief-Neuhaus is also where he recently banned four players for unacceptable behavior.
Those players are believed to be two players who accepted a meal from an agent (self-reported to the NCAA by Texas) and two players questioned in connection with an alleged sexual assault. They are not suspended, just isolated with strength coach Pat Moorer, doing different workouts and not taking part in team activities and can become subject to more random drug tests.
About the sexual assault investigation, Strong said “it’s ongoing so those players are away from the team.” Strong said the players weren’t suspended because there have been no charges filed. Sources told HornsDigest.com the three involved - a female student and two UT football players - knew each other and that the players maintain everything was consensual.
HD has not revealed the identities of the football players because no charges have been filed.
With regard to the self-reported agent violation involving two players, Strong said, “That’s a compliance issue.”
Strong has indicated all of his players (including the four players banned from Moncrief) will be back with the team for fall camp, starting Aug. 4, as long as they continue to earn their way back.
Breaking Charlie Strong’s core values will test his patience the most. Those values: 1) Honesty 2) Treat women with respect 3) No drugs 4) No stealing and 5) No guns.
“If you don’t want to be a part of this football team, then break a core value, starter or no starter,” Strong said.
Strong has already kicked two players off the team, including safety Leroy Scott, a potential starter.
Strong is all about his players - turning them into more accountable men, tough enough to handle anything, including all the opponents on the football schedule.
“When I recruit, I make three promises: One, that he will get a degree. Two, that he will play for championships and, three, that he will become a better man,” Strong said. “Everything we do is built around those three things.”
And he’s clearly betting on himself and his coaching staff at every turn.
The football bunker is exactly where most Texas fans wanted the replacement for Mack Brown to be.
On Friday night, there was Strong and his coaching staff having some of the top recruits in Texas and in the country doing up-downs when they didn’t perform as they were told.
“When we coach kids at camp, we coach them as we coach our players,” Strong said. “We’re not going to waste their money to come to our camp and not coach them up.”
One of the players getting a healthy dose of up-downs and criticism from defensive line coach Chris Rumph was former Baylor commitment Louis Brown, a 2015 defensive end who committed to Texas on Monday.
If Brown didn’t like the coaching he got, he wouldn’t have committed to Texas. And if Brown didn’t like the coaching he got, Strong wouldn’t want him at Texas.
Other coaches will use the rugged camp experience against Strong. Those coaches have recruits do a mild workout and then take them to the pool - like summer camp. Not football camp. But Strong does things his way. And is unapologetic. If someone tries to recruit against him because it, he could not care less. He plans to let the results do the talking.
When a recruit Texas wants is less-than-enthusiastic about the Longhorns, Strong and his staff tell the recruit to hold off on committing elsewhere until they see Texas’ product.
The word we’re hearing at HornsDigest.com is that OLB Malik Jefferson, the state’s top prospect for 2015 who is scheduled to visit Texas this weekend, is seriously considering Texas over A&M because he’s starting to believe Strong and Co. have the better coaching staff to prepare a linebacker for the NFL.
Strong is a defensive-minded coach who just put two defensive players in the NFL as first-round draft picks after they arrived at Louisville as three-star prospects - S Calvin Pryor and DE Marcus Smith. Smith arrived as a QB.
A commitment from Jefferson, of Mesquite Poteet, may never come.
But if it does, that would be the kind of recruiting momentum in the state and nationally that could change the game for Strong and Co. It would be reminiscent of Mack Brown’s wooing Cory Redding to Texas in 1999. When Redding committed, it started a parade of bad asses who wanted to play with a bad ass like Redding.
That’s the way it works. Just ask Kevin Sumlin. A&M’s recruiting momentum started with guys wanting to play with Johnny Manziel or who wanted to play like Manziel or maybe now live every aspect of life like Manziel.
“Some are going to like Baylor, and Art Briles has done a tremendous job at Baylor,” Strong said. “Some are going to like Oklahoma and Bob Stoops, who I have a lot of respect for. Others are going to like Texas A&M. It has to be the right fit for the young man. And there are enough good players to go around.”
Strong believes if he takes care of the details in getting in the hearts and minds of his players to create a tougher, nastier, more united, more detail-oriented team, everything (including the winning and recruiting) will take care of itself.
“I was a part of two national championship teams at Florida, and we never talked about the number of wins or losses before those seasons,” Strong said. “We just got lost in the hard work. And that’s what we have to do here.”
It’s fourth-and-1 time around the Texas football bunker.