Thoughts from the weekend

  • We get three Longhorns in the Super Bowl with Earl Thomas in Seattle and Michael Huff and Quentin Jammer in Denver. Yes, Michael Huff. I didn’t know, either.
  • If I played defense for Seattle, I would change whatever I had to change as to never hear “Omaha” come out of Peyton Manning’s mouth ever again. At the very least I would just scream “Shut up!” Every time he said it.
  • I sure see A LOT of Broncos gear in Austin. A LOT. Where were all these Jeep tire covers and flags when Kyle Orton was the qb?
  • I can’t decide if Richard Sherman going insane was better or JC Copeland’s hilarity was better. I think I’m going with Copeland, because it was less crazy and more awesome, but in 24 hours we had the best two sideline interviews EVER.
  • Whose 14-4/3-2 (going into Tuesday night) with a signature win on their NCAA Tournament resume? The Texas Longhorns, that’s who. Texas upset No.9 Iowa State on Saturday, 86-76. I really like this team.
  • Waiting on word about Stacy Searels, Major Applewhite, Oscar Giles, Larry Porter, Darrell Wyatt and Bennie Wylie about their next stops. Rumors about Greg Robinson and Duane Akina  abound, and as soon as something concrete comes out we will talk about it.
  • Manny Diaz is now the DC at Louisiana Tech. Yep. All those words are true.
  • This is Strength & Conditioning Coach Pat Moorer – Looking at this photo makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I think he’s going to make me run. I don’t want to run. But I am afraid of his picture.
  • Will Pre-game change? I mean the music, the intro… All of that? I hope so.
  • Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden was on The Horn last week and, when asked by Chip Brown about the “soft” label that Texas had the last few years and whether or not he had a hand in it, his response was, more or less “I can only mold what they give me and the talent wasn’t there.” OK, coach. Whatever you say.
  • And please, let’s move on from “Jump Around!” Please?  There are other songs, songs from when these players were alive, we can use. Everyone is using it now and everyone is just ripping off Wisconsin, who has been doing it for years. We don’t need to watch grandparents jump, do we? No, we don’t. Let’s get something new.

This week we are going to wrap up the new staff and duties of the staff and talk about the expectations Charlie Strong has for the team. But first, some news about what’s going in with the Texas Longhorns


Team Stuff

Four players had surgery this week: Bryant Jackson (foot), Dalton Santos (hip), Timothy Cole (hip) and Paul Boyette (shoulder) and all four were successful. The training staff expects both Santos and Cole to return for spring practice and Boyette and Jackson will be out for spring but should be on schedule to return for two-a-days in August.  Dalton Santos apparently had that injury all year and waited until the season was over before addressing it. You are one tough dude, Dalton Santos.

Several others will miss the spring after injuries last fall: Sheroid Evans (knee), Jonathan Gray (Achilles) and Tevin Jackson (knee). Their collective return is not as concrete as their injuries were more severe, but I expect a few to be back close to the start of the season.

David Ash has been officially cleared to participate in the off-season and likely will be ready for contact by spring practice.

Spring practice, by the way, will start after Spring Break, which begins March 10th. See? Everything is changing. Until then, Coach Moorer will have them.

Speaking of Moorer, off-season is in full swing and it sucks. Stories of vomiting, trembling and shaking are making the rounds as guys are dealing with an entirely new training program.


The Staff

Here’s the new stuff since last week’s FTS came out. An addition and a title change for one here already:

Wide Receivers- Les Koenning
Offensive Coordinator- Joe Wickline


Les Koenning- Wide Receivers

The last hire of the Charlie Strong staff, Les Koenning, joins the Longhorns as the wide receivers coach. A veteran of 33 years, Koenning comes to Texas from Mississippi State, where he has been the Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach the last five years. Before Cow Bell, Koenning was the play caller for Dennis Francione at Texas A&M from 2003-7. He had previous stops at Duke, TCU, the Miami Dolphins, Rice as well as previous stops at Mississippi State (1986-9) and Texas A&M (1994-6).

A veteran that has seen it all, Koenning will coach wide outs and leave the playcalling to Joe Wickline (more on that in a minute). Just like Vance Bedford, Koenning returns to his alma mater as a coach. A wide receiver from Houston Memorial (where he played for his dad Les Koenning, Sr), Koenning was three-year letterman that graduated in 1981. A typical showoff that has to show everyone he’s smart and athletic, Koenning got his Master’s Degree in 1983 in Sports Management whilst GA-ing at Texas. And now 30 years later he’s back.

He brings a wealth of knowledge about offenses, techniques and work habits that he’s going to instill on the Horns. I thought Darrell Wyatt did an excellent job and I think Koenning will continue that. An added  benefit is he’s been an OC, as has quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, so the new OC has peers to bounce ideas off of if need be. Oh, he is a MONSTER recruiter. Monster. He’s going to be to the offensive side of the ball what cornerbacks coach Chris Vaughn will be to the defensive side of the ball.

Say, who is the Offensive Coordinator, anyway? What an excellent question and an even better segue.


Joe Wickline- Offensive Coordinator

Why it’s Joe Wickline, everyone! The offensive line coach that was recently hired. And now we are done!

There have been reports that Texas is naming Wickline OC because they don’t want to pay his $600k buyout. See, if Wickline were to make a lateral move, the new school he leaves for owes Oklahoma State $600,000. If he leaves for a Coordinator position, then there is no buyout. Some think Texas will have Shawn Watson; the OC with Strong at Louisville, calling the plays and the title for Wickline is simply cosmetic and a workaround to avoid that hefty buyout.  I don’t know anything other than what I see, but Charlie Strong’s no-nonsense approach about everything else leads me to the conclusion that’s garbage. I don’t see Texas dancing around like this for an amount they could come up with by cleaning out the dustbusters at Bellmont. Charlie Strong said in his press conference last week that Joe Wickline would be  calling plays, so that tells me that Joe Wickline is calling plays. End of story.

We discussed this last week, but it’s worth another mention now that Wickline is calling plays: the one constant in the Oklahoma State offense in their revolving door of OC’s has been Joe Wickline.  It didn’t matter who lined up at quarterback, how fast they snapped the ball or where the receivers lined up, the game plan was run the ball first to set up the pass. They did this well.  Very well. Joseph Randle and Tatum Bell are both in the NFL now and the Cowboys seem to churn out running backs, offensive linemen and big rushing yards annually despite who leaves. That’s good news.

I expect this offense will look a lot like Oklahoma State’s offense, which is run-heavy and run often. With David Ash’s  health still somewhat of a question Texas is as green as a granny smith apple at quarterback. The two listed quarterbacks right now, outside of Ash, are incoming freshman Jerrod Heard and “sophomore” Tyrone Swoopes. I saw “sophomore” because I don’t think you can write that word without apostrophes considering he had about 10 real game snaps in 2013. Wickline has seen all the intricacies of the Gundy/Fedora/Monken/Yurcich offenses and has experience designing the running game from his time at Florida. He has two OC’s on his staff to lean on in Koenning and Watson for input and advice and the three of them are going to have Texas ready to go. With a veteran running back corps, expect to see Texas focus on the ground game; but don’t expect it to be I formation, off-tackle stuff. Watch for Texas to spread the defense out with multiple wide outs, clearing out the middle, and having the quarterback in the shotgun and running the zone read, maximizing the quarterback’s athletic ability and opening up wide outs downfield as defenses focus on the running game. The question will be the formations and packages Texas runs it out of, won’t it? I can’t wait to see it. And, by the way, if David Ash stays healthy you get an experienced, athletic quarterback calling the shots.

This is good thing, people. A very good thing. This is a guy who’s been successful at a very high level and there is no reason to think things will change at Texas. I expect the offense to be fine.

So there you go, the staff is complete. Charlie Strong has assembled a football-first staff that knows the game, knows what he wants and has the ability, recruiting-wise, to go get the personnel to make their system work.

On last thing: don’t expect Texas to be all over every five-star recruit. This staff, Wickline in particular, isn’t concerned with high school awards. They are looking for football players that fit their system, have an edge to them and aren’t afraid of hard work. Sometimes that is the five-star blue chip, and sometimes it’s the other guy that’s been overlooked. There is plan in place, and that plan is to feed the system and develop/shape the players when they get here.

Speaking of the plan, Charlie Strong laid his out to the team in the first meeting. Let’s take a look.


The Rules

Viper said in Top Gun, after Maverick and Goose went below the hard deck to take out Jester, the following “…Rules of engagement are written for your safety and for that of your team. They are not flexible, nor am I. Either obey them or you are history. Is that clear?”

That’s basically what Charlie Strong did to the Texas Longhorns when laid out the new guidelines for the football team. Here they are:

  • Players will attend all of their classes and sit in the front two rows of all of their classes. GAs, academic folks, position coaches will be checking constantly now.
  • No headphones in class. No texting in class. Sit up and take notes.
  • If a player misses a class, he runs until it hurts. If he misses two classes, his entire position unit runs. If he misses three, the position coach runs. The position coaches don’t want to run.
  • No earrings in the football building. No drugs. No stealing. No guns. Treat women with respect.
  • Players may not live off campus anymore, unless they’re a senior who hits certain academic standards. The University will buy out the leases for every player currently living off campus and put them in the athletic dorm.
  • The team will all live together, eat together, suffer together, and hang out together. They will become a true team and learn to impose accountability on each other. The cliques are over.
  • There’s no time for a rebuild. “I don’t have time for that.” The expectation is that Texas wins now.
  • Players will learn that they would rather practice than milk a minor injury.
  • The focus is on winning and graduating. Anything extraneous to that is a distraction and will be stamped out or removed.
  • Strong met individually with seniors and key leaders and re-emphasized that the plan is to win now. They can lead the new culture or be run over by it.

Did I tell you everything was going to change? We just took 180, folks. I have some thoughts on these rules.

First of all, they are supposed to shock and startle. These are severe and they are severe for a reason: Texas had lost its way. Guys were comfortable. The Texas football program had turned into a very warm, very cozy bed on a very cold day. Charlie Strong and his staff, through these rules, are going to be the alarm clock to get everyone up and moving around. He’s coming on Strong (get it? Strong?) for a reason: he can ease up on some of these rules as things progress, allowing more freedom to the players as they prove worthy and trustworthy. But it’s impossible to start lenient and try and become militant after the fact- ask Mack Brown. You give an inch, most will take a mile. So you know what? No inches. Not even centimeters will be given. Find your way or find the door, gentleman, because there is no gray area. The black-and-white of it will immediately tell the staff who is buying in and who isn’t and for those that aren’t, bad things.

Some of this stuff is common sense/parent advice to me, but not everyone has one or both of those things and I often forget these are teenagers. You sit in the first two rows so they know you’re there. And in the first two rows you really can’t jack around, because the teacher can see you, right? No headphones in class? No texting in class? It’s been a while since I was in school, but if I were the teacher I’d flip my lid if someone was texting in class. Like toss their phone mad. Does a coach really need to tell voting-aged kids that they can’t wear headphones in class? Wait, I take that back. I run into too many 20-somethings that can’t have a conversation with anyone because they are locked in on their screen and/or have ear buds in. And a lot of them seem to have lost the ability to engage other humans without being completely awkward. Super annoying to see what looks like a totally normal person turn into Bill Belichick at a press conference when someone asks them how their day is going.  Never mind, Coach. I guess you have to do that now, don’t you? Put your phones down every once and a while and pay attention to the world going on around you, kids.  I guess this is the 2014 version of “You kids and your Rock & Roll music!” Sorry for the rant.

I would rather play an entire football game against another team by myself than have my position coach run for me because of something I did. Seriously, you could do anything you want to me instead of that. It’s brilliant and terrifying all at the same time and if one coach comes even remotely close to running for his player missing class, I’ll be shocked.

The whole “play together, live together” thing Charlie Strong is instilling is huge to me. HUGE. If you ever read anything I write, you know I’m big on chemistry. I annually call for the offensive line to do something to show solidarity- Civil War beards, tattoos, mohawks, bleach it blonde, shave it all off, whatever. It’s a simple act that shows you, and your unit, care enough about that bond to override everything else, including what parents and girlfriends think. I call for this annually because I never saw it happen, never saw that unity. Now it will be there. These guys are going to be as close as anyone can be now and they aren’t going to have any choice but to develop those bonds and that chemistry. It will be hard for some guys because there were cliques on the team. You go back to the first real signs of a problem in 2010 and you can see the cliques now. With guys living all over town, many together under one roof and clustered in the same area, you definitely had different groups. That’s not going to happen now. Everyone will have their better friends on the team, but the days of guys not really knowing or interacting with each other are over. And that is a wonderful thing for the Texas Longhorns.

Maybe the biggest takeaway from the all the rules is the final statement Charlie Strong made to the seniors and leaders- be part of the culture change or get run over by it. There is no grace period, no honeymoon. This thing is moving forward NOW and it isn’t waiting for anyone. Charlie Strong is not setting Texas up for a subpar year with any talk of “rebuilding” or anything. The goal is to win NOW. Winning now means things change immediately, this moment. There is no time to spend coddling guys and easing them into this. There is no time allowed or given for people not interested in the common goal: winning rings. Winning rings means getting the best people in the best position to succeed. It means pushing them past the limits they previously knew to see who the best are and sometimes it means culling the herd to remove those interested in other things and not focusing on that common goal. Players must be accountable for the actions, and the rules ensure that.

That warm, cozy bed is gone, folks. Do not mourn its loss. It had no business being anywhere close to a college football program. It has been replaced with Charlie Strong’s rules. The Rules have not been implemented as a punishment to the team, but rather a new way that things will be done. It is completely their choice to participate or move along, but those that participate are going to be pushed both on and off the field this off-season and the result is going to be the mentally and physically tough football team that everyone has been waiting to see for years.

It is all changing, and it is wonderful.

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