Charlie Strong had his players guessing on Monday about everything he was looking for from his team's leadership.
And think again if anyone thought Strong was about to channel back the demands and tough love he exhibited to his team before the BYU game - when he told players they weren’t focused and were about to be embarrassed if they didn’t get their minds right.
Strong demanded much more on Monday.
He said he asked how many of his players were spending time on their own doing film study, and he didn’t see enough hands go up. He said he put up humiliating stats from last year’s BYU game all over the Texas locker room last week and expected someone to rip it all down.
No one did.
“I wanted to rip it down. But it’s kind of hard to get a read on things,” said senior cornerback Quandre Diggs. “I really didn’t know. But now we know. It’s hard to get a read on Coach Strong. You don’t want to rip stuff down and then end up with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Pat) Moorer.”
Strong repeated that his players weren’t mentally ready for Saturday’s game against BYU and didn’t regret telling them they’d get embarrassed if that didn’t change.
“At Louisville, I had ‘em go back into the locker room and come back out before a game,” said Strong, adding the UT coaching staff was more embarrassed and upset about last year's loss to BYU than the players.
"And we (the coaches) weren't even here last year," Strong said.
Senior running back Malcolm Brown said Monday Strong’s pre-game comments caught him off guard.
“I was surprised,” Brown said. “He was speaking to the whole team, so I’m not sure what he saw.”
Asked if the comments could have planted doubt amongst players already concerned about playing without their starting quarterback and three starters on the offensive line, Brown said:
“It was motivating for me. You don’t ever want to hear that from your head man,” Brown said. “I would think that would be motivating for anybody.”
Strong continued to take the blame for not having the team prepared and said he and his assistant coaches need to do a better job. He said more would be added into the offense now that coaches have a feel for what QB Tyrone Swoopes can do behind a remade offensive line.
But Strong said he refuses to make changes in other areas.
Strong was asked if defensive starters would be taken off special teams since they spent more than 35 minutes on the field against BYU (11 minutes in the 2Q alone). The defense seemed to wear out in the third quarter, when BYU scored 28 points on four straight possessions.
“If you’re out on the field too long, get off the field on third down,” Strong said. “I’m not going to take those guys off special teams. If they have the ball 11 minutes in a quarter, get ‘em off the field.”
Players expected even more physical practices this week in preparation for Saturday’s game at Jerryworld against UCLA.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks said he’d be personally gathering everyone in his position group to watch film.
“He’s been looking for someone to take control,” Hicks said of Strong. “And I think the guys have looked at it more as a team effort.
“Coach Strong has said we’re only going to go as far as our senior leaders. It’s a learning process (as to how Strong wants players to lead). We’re believing in the system and learning the process. It’s up to the seniors. We’re on our way to getting it handled.
“We take it personally. It’s on us as seniors to take ownership of the team, and we haven’t done enough.”
But it’s clear there is a difference of opinion about what is considered an acceptable performance to the players.
Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes said after Saturday’s game, “I think the offense did well. We just have to limit our mistakes. We’ll be fine moving forward.”
Swoopes, who started his first game since a 1-8 season his senior year at Class 2A Whitewright, also gave himself a “B” for his performance against BYU “just because I tried to make the least mistakes as I could.”
A few minutes later, senior CB Quandre Diggs was asked about the mindset of the team and told reporters not enough players hate losing.
“I grew up and played for teams that always won,” Diggs said. “I think some guys grew up losing and may accept it more than others.
“We don’t have enough guys who get disappointed after a loss. We don’t have enough guys who refuse to accept losing. You should hate losing.”
When asked his level of concern about kicker Nick Rose (after saying backup kicker Nick Jordan is currently injured), Strong said, “With Rose, he’s good enough to make them. It’s just a confidence thing.”
Strong was asked if he needs to be careful not to lose a team that coaches said was suffering confidence problem in the spring.
“We’re not going to lose them,” Strong said. “It’s the second game. We’re not playing at the level we can play at with the talent we have.”
But Swoopes may be the best example of how fragile player psyche has been at Texas.
Swoopes said it meant a lot when Strong told Swoopes after a shaky first half in the spring game (8-of-18 passing with 1 INT and 1 TD), “You’re a good player. Now go out there and play like it.”
Swoopes then went 9-of-12 passing in the second half.
“I thought, ‘If he believes in me, why can’t I believe in myself?’” Swoopes said.
Strong said he still hasn’t determined when suspended players RB/WR Daje Johnson, S Josh Turner, OT Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle will be back. HornsDigest.com has reported Harrison and Estelle will be out at least six games while they go through rehab. They are currently not practicing with the team.
When Strong was asked why he wouldn’t bring back any of the suspended players now because they could obviously help the team, Strong said that would defeat the purpose of everything.
“It’s a process. It’s like raising your children,” Strong said. “If you want the lesson learned and if you let them off, what lesson are you teaching them? They are going to become us. We are not going to become them.
“We have a good enough team (without them). We have more than enough.”
Charlie Strong Psychology 101 is undoubtedly going to be the toughest course Texas players have this semester.
And Longhorns' players better know they're not going to be graded on a curve.