5 Qs UT Fans Want Charlie Strong To Answer

If we could pour truth serum in Charlie Strong, here are 5 questions Texas fans have been asking me - that they'd probably want to ask him:

1. What's the philosophy at quarterback after Tyrone Swoopes' 5 turnover game against TCU to end a 6-6 regular season?

MY TAKE: Swoopes is a great kid. He put in the work. He's done his best. But he's not an alpha and lacks the presence, leadership and toughness to be a high-level quarterback at a high-level program like Texas.

Those are intangible qualities that should be evident by now in a quarterback at Texas.

Coaches simplified the offense to the point where they eliminated a lot of the shifting and motion before the snap, just to help Swoopes call plays at the line.

There were times they signaled in the play, and he still needed the signal again, and they either had a delay or were forced to ball a timeout. He's in his second year.

At the same point in their careers, Major Applewhite had won at Nebraska (in 1998), ending NU's 47-game, home winning streak; Vince Young in 2003 had beaten three ranked teams (Kansas State, Nebraska and Oklahoma State); and Colt McCoy in 2006 had beaten ranked Oklahoma and Nebraska teams).

The coaches worked with him on looking off defensive backs. You have to control those guys with your eyes. If you don't do that, you might as well be throwing it to the other team. And Swoopes still stares down his receivers.

It's not his fault he had no competition. David Ash went down in Week 1. And Max Wittek got kicked out of USC (for some kind of assault, I'm told), and ended up walking on at Hawaii. So these were the cards Strong was dealt. In some ways, it's a relief UT made it through the season without Swoopes getting hurt.

But Jerrod Heard is a read-option guy who is still learning how to be a pro-style guy. And it doesn't appear that Strong will change his offensive philosophy. Strong is going to recruit guys to his system.

Strong said of his players' adapting to his core values before the season, "They will become us. We will not become them." And it seems like that extends to on the field philosophies as well.

A tough offensive line that will impose its will in the run game is a must for Strong as well as a quarterback who can play-action pass behind that line.

Strong appears of the belief that if it takes two to three years to install his philosophies - off the field and on it - so be it. He'll win his way or no way.

Shawn Watson said he'd look at the junior college market, the graduate transfer market and do everything in his power to have four scholarship quarterbacks in the QB room as soon as possible. Strong said from Day 1 that's what he wants (4 schollie QBs at all times), and he'll get there.

Swoopes needs competition, which will accelerate his learning curve. UT didn't have even the hint of that this season. Swoopes knew Heard wasn't playing. And Heard knew Heard wasn't playing. That meant there was no sense of urgency going on. And every position needs to have the fear of job loss.

Strong benched all kinds of players this season, even when UT was paper thin. Adrian Colbert and Darius James were benched. Texas suspended Daje Johnson. If Strong could have benched Swoopes, at times, especially in the TCU game, he would have.

The coaches tried to build Swoopes' confidence at every turn. But Strong has to know Swoopes isn't an alpha.

The concern with Strong is he always believes his defense will win the game, and that he only needs a QB who can protect the ball and give him about 28 points per game. Strong can't believe Swoopes is the long-term answer.

If UT can't land a JUCO it believes in, Swoopes might be the short-term answer early in 2015 - until Heard or, gulp, Zach Gentry is ready. But this coaching staff doesn't like playing true freshmen QBs. Understandably. And Gentry is not planning on enrolling early.

A quarterback at Texas can't carry himself the way Swoopes carried himself this season, especially in the TCU game. Period. Swoopes was projected as a TE if Max Wittek and David Ash had handled the QB chores. But Swoopes' fear of contact and jittery feet in the pocket make you wonder if he could handle the TE position.

Again, Swoopes is a great kid and a hard worker. But to see J.T. Barrett, a 2014 QB from the state of Texas putting up Heisman-type numbers at Ohio State this season, tells you that Swoopes just isn't processing the QB position fast enough. And Swoopes seems to lack the killer instinct and fire that all high-level QBs have.

Texas can't be caught in a guessing game at QB going forward. This coaching staff has to know they have their man of the future come National Signing Day. Or Strong could start getting caught in the same cycle of no offensive identity that led to Will Muschamp's demise at Florida.

Most everyone agrees Strong has three years to get the arrow pointed back to the Top 10. And everyone has already seen Strong and his staff can coach a Top 10 type defense. All the questions about Strong as a head coach will come on offense and on special teams.

The sooner those question marks get answered, the sooner Strong and the Longhorns get back to playing for championships.

2. What do you really think of Shawn Watson?

MY TAKE: I know Charlie Strong spoke with Clemson's Chad Morris and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman before retaining Shawn Watson.

Morris had a $5 million buyout. Herman, who was looking for a head-coaching gig in 1-2 years, ultimately wanted to coach Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett instead of David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes.

So Strong retained Watson. Watson was pissed Strong made him wait. But Watson has been a really good soldier for Strong.

And let's be honest, Watson didn't have much to work with this season, so getting all heated up about Strong replacing Watson or saying Watson didn't do a good job isn't really fair. Not under the circumstances Watson inherited.

The Max Wittek graduate-transfer from USC fell apart in May (when he was kicked out of school for violating the student conduct code while taking 22 hours to graduate with two years of eligibility left. He has since walked on at Hawaii and will have one season left in 2015).

There were the dismissals of Joe Bergeron, WR Kendall Sanders and WR Montrel Meander, followed by the suspensions of Kennedy Estelle (ultimately dismissed), Desmond Harrison and Daje Johnson.

In Game 1, David Ash and C Dom Espinosa suffered season-ending injuries.

So Watson was working with a QB the staff was projecting as a TE after spring ball. You think Strong was joking about where he had Swoopes projected after the spring in his West Virginia post-game comments?

So Watson deserves a lot of credit for bringing Swoopes along as much as he did. But the knock on Watson has always been game-planning and play-calling when he's short-handed.

One of his former players told me, "When Shawn thinks he has the clear advantage, he's loose as a goose, comes up with a great plan and calls a great game. But when he doesn't think he has the advantage, he tries to do everything perfectly, presses and loses his feel."

Watson reminds me a lot of Greg Davis in that way. Davis was considered one of the great QB coaches in all of college football, just like Shawn Watson.

But when it came to game-planning and gameday play-calling, at times, both can over think things and rely too heavily on down-and-distance tendencies from cut-ups instead of simply watching how a game is unfolding and exploiting a soft spot in the defense based on personnel matchups.

Great QB coaches. Too programmed as game-planners or play-callers, at times.

But Strong saw how Watson brought along Teddy Bridgewater, and Strong doesn't think he needs that much from his offense - just about 28 points per game. And Strong has to know Watson was working with a QB this season who was limited.

I think you have to wait to truly judge Watson until he's working with a QB this coaching staff recruited.

3. Will there be changes to the coaching staff?

MY TAKE: If Bruce Chambers doesn't own the Dallas-Fort Worth area in recruiting (and it's pretty apparent he doesn't), it's time to move on.

Go hire someone like Mark Smith, the coach at LD Bell High School, who has coached all over the Metroplex and, as head of the North Texas Coaches Association, knows every coach in the Metroplex and would be a tireless recruiter the way Texas A&M WR coach David Beaty is for the Aggies.

I know Strong’s former DL coach, Clint Hurtt, was a recruiting machine for Strong at Louisville, pulling a ton of kids out of the Miami area, including Bridgewater. But Hurtt was slapped with a 2-year show-cause for sanctions against Miami (Fla) while Hurtt was there – and the show-cause doesn’t go away until October of 2015. Plus, Hurtt was Strong's DL coach, and Strong already has one of the best DL coaches in Chris Rumph.

What Strong does need is a coach who can turn Texas' special teams into a plus instead of the negative it was this season. Strong said from the beginning secondary coach Chris Vaughn, the most inexperienced coach on the staff, would be in charge of special teams.

Special teams were a disaster. For example, Texas is dead last - No. 125 of 125 - in kick return defense, giving up 30.1 yards per kick return.

Texas should never be last nationally in any statistical category. That's completely unacceptable.

Texas was 95th in punt return defense, allowing 9.7 yards per return. And the Longhorns had an ineffective return game, finishing 113th in kick returns (18.7 ypr) and 59th in punt returns (8.24 ypr).

Simple math tells us any time you're giving up more yards in returns than you are gaining, you're getting killed in field position because of special teams.

4. What’s the philosophy on connecting with Texas high school coaches?

MY TAKE: Strong keeps his circle tight. Right now, he feels like he’s better off connecting with the actual recruit and the recruit’s family.

Strong has always felt if he makes a connection with the player and the family, that’s THE most important relationship. He trusts his assistants to find the talent and not rely on HS coaches to tell him who the talent is. But at some point, having the high school coaches pointing out the talent can’t hurt.

Right now, Texas has Scout’s 15th-rated class in the country, the highest of all the Big 12 teams (West Virginia is next at No. 18).

If the Horns land some of their big targets down the stretch, UT will be in the Top 10. Not exactly a time to panic. Many high school coaches I’ve talked to like the way Strong runs UT’s program, regardless if he kisses their rings or not.

I’m not going to panic over this issue as some are. Not yet. Let's see how this class finishes out before we hit the panic button.

Mack's reliance on the Texas high school coaches for talent was a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, Mack felt obligated to take a kid from a certain HS coach's program here and there, even if the kid wasn't a difference maker.

What Strong needs on his staff is a recruiter who will go into Dallas-Fort Worth and dominate. That’s been long overdue at UT.

5. How long before Texas is back in the Top 10?

MY TAKE: Texas needs an alpha at QB and almost wholesale replacements on the offensive line (with the exception of Kent Perkins) before we can even discuss the issue.

Every coach has to have his program coming together and pointed upward by Year 3.

So, UT needs to have that arrow pointed firmly upward by the end of next year and ready for liftoff in Year 3.


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