Texas coach Charlie Strong was hired to bring an immediate change to the Longhorns' football fortunes. He is wasting no time in creating a culture of discipline and responsibility. He has moved rapidly in dismissing seven incumbent players from the program for violation of team rules. His dramatic wake-up call sends a message to players, administration and alums that a new day has come for Longhorn football.
Strong and his coaches met with the team this spring and outlined their expectations. He then met with key players and 2014 seniors and laid out his five core values:
2) Treating Women With Respect
3) No Drugs
4) No Stealing
5) No Weapons
There is an expectation that these are values that athletes would embrace anyway, so it is evidence of how far the standards at the Texas football program had dropped. He has also made requirements for the players to attend all classes and sit in the first two rows with no headphones or texting, and to take notes. Missing classes results in punishment, and repeated misses impose punishment on the player's whole position unit.
Coach Strong told the players they could not live off campus until their senior year -- and then only if they earned it. They are to live together in an athletic dorm and become a true team and impose accountability on one another. The air-conditioned bus that took them a quarter mile to the practice facility is no more; they will walk.
There will be no flashing of the Hook'em Horns symbol until the team earns it again. Earrings will not be allowed in the football building. Strong is imbuing his team with the ethos that its focus is winning and graduating. Anything else is insignificant. He has told them they have no time for re-building -- the expectation is that they win now.
Will players in 2014 accept these restrictive rules when they have the ability to transfer? I think so. Athletes respond well to discipline and structure. In 1995, coach Tom Coughlin applied military rules to his newly formed Jacksonville Jaguars team. He made them wear full uniforms in meetings. These were professionals, some in their late 30s. In their second year they went to the playoffs. The theory was that it was more effective to start with tight discipline and ease off with success than to try and institute discipline in a dysfunctional environment.
Coach Strong is also helped by his track record. His Louisville Cardinals went 11-2 in 2012 and won the Sugar Bowl. In 2013, they improved that record at 12-1 and won the Russell Athletic Bowl. Clearly, Strong knows how to win. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson presided over a resurgence in the Arizona State football program and knows how to rebuild. How they will perform on the field in the coming years is an unknown, but it won't take long for "Hook 'Em Horns" to resound again in Texas.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.