AUSTIN, Texas — New Texas coach Charlie Strong wasted no time delivering fans a bit of the honesty he demands from his players.
Way back in April, on the first stop of a statewide introductory tour, Strong told Longhorns fans Texas “will not be in the national championship game.”
Wait. What? Talk about a culture change. Strong promised one and he plans to deliver.
Until Texas sheds its entitlement image — even after four years of mediocre football — it can’t expect to play for any kind of trophies.
Few outside of Texas would presume the Longhorns could even argue their way into the Top 25 after four years without a Big 12 title and a paltry 18-17 record in league play. Those results ended the 16-year tenure of Mack Brown and when Strong was hired from Louisville, he promised a return to championship form the first day he was on campus.
But that little bit of no-title truth-telling a few months later ruffled some Texas fans who always want their team to shoot for the moon, regardless of whether they’ve got the boosters to simply fire a pea-shooter.
That wasn’t the sort of culture change they’d been expecting. But that’s Strong, who demands honesty from his players and is willing to deliver it to the fans, even when it hurts.
“The culture we stepped into is you look at a team, a group of seniors that hasn’t had a double-digit winning season since they’ve been here,” Strong said. “You can’t feel entitled because you’re at the University of Texas, that ‘I have arrived.’ At no point have we arrived.”
Five things to know about 2014 Longhorns:
ASH INJURIES — Quarterback situation is a fragile position considering starter David Ash’s injury history and the lack of experience behind him on the bench. Ash missed most of last season with concussion symptoms but says his head is clear now and he’s ready to play.
There’s a steep drop off if Ash he gets hurt again. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes was shaky in the spring game and freshman Jerrod Heard is the only other scholarship quarterback.
CATCHING THE BALL — Whoever’s throwing the ball needs someone to catch it. Jaxon Shipley had 56 catches last season but injured a hamstring in training camp and when he’ll return is unknown. Kendall Sanders, who caught 37 passes in 2013, was kicked off the team after a felony sexual assault arrest in July. The Longhorns signed five freshman receivers who could be pressed into early playing time.
BUILDING THE DEFENSE — Texas had one of the worst defenses in school history in 2013 and the 550 yards rushing surrendered to BYU was a national embarrassment Strong still uses to motivate a turnaround. Strong’s steady rise from assistant to head coach was built on defense as he was defensive coordinator for two national championships at Florida.
The strength will be up front with a line anchored by defensive tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. Senior Linebacker Jordan Hicks, who missed most of the last two seasons with injuries, also returns.
SUSPENSIONS — Like Sanders, Montrel Meander was booted after a sexual assault charge stemming from the same incident. Strong also released backup running backs Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet after team rules violations and he also suspended three other potential starters for at least one game: offensive lineman Desmond Harrison, wide receiver/running back Daje Johnson and safety Josh Turner. The discipline served as a wakeup call for the rest of the team to get in line or get lost.
RUNNING BACKS — The strength of the offense rests on the healthy legs of running backs Malcolm Brown and Jonathan Gray. Brown rushed for a team-high 904 yards last season and nine touchdowns. Gray added 780 yards and average 4.9 yards per carry, but torn an Achilles tendon late in the season. Gray was cleared to return to practice in time for training camp.