June 30, 2014

Holtz on Strong: He'll win

There have been plenty of questions engulfing University of Texas football followers since Charlie Strong was hired to replace Mack Brown earlier this year.

Does Strong have the ability to turn around the Longhorns? Can he make Texas into a national title contender again? Will he be able to successfully recruit the top high school players in Texas? Is there any chance Strong's previous success in the Big East will transfer to the Big 12?

All of those questions are valid.

Strong is a proven winner, but taking on a new challenge. Many supporters of the Longhorns are taking a wait-and-see approach before anointing Strong as their program's savior. Some want to see results right away. Others are willing to give Strong time.

ESPN college football analyst Lou Holtz does not believe anyone can fairly evaluate Strong as a coach until he has one important component at Texas.

"I wouldn't put any expectations on him until he finds a quarterback," Holtz said. "You tell me he has a quarterback and we'll talk about it, but if you don't have a quarterback, hell, let's just hope you show up for all 12 games."

Holtz is correct.

Longhorns quarterback David Ash is probably Strong's best option this season. However, Ash's career has been plagued with injuries, including a fractured left foot that prevented him from making it to the end of spring practice this year. Ash's injury required surgery.

Prior to Ash's recent injury, he was limited to three games last season due to a concussion. He finished with 760 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions prior to getting hurt. Ash has 4,538 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in three years.

Strong's other options are sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard, but both players are unproven.

Of course, Holtz can accurately assess Strong. He arguably knows him better than any other coach.

Holtz mentored Strong at Notre Dame and South Carolina. Strong was a defensive line coach at Notre Dame and Holtz's defensive coordinator at South Carolina. Both men stay in touch, and it explains why Holtz believes Strong can handle the task ahead.

"Let's remember this," Holtz said. "When you go a school that has a chance every year to win the national championship, like Texas, you bet your bottom dollar there's going to be pressure on you, but that's why you go there. You go there so you can win the national championship. That's his goal. That's his expectations. The expectation in the Big East was to win the Big East. He did that. He'll live it (the expectations at Texas). He knows what he's getting into. That's why he went there.

"He wanted to play against the best. He wanted to compete against Bobby Stoops. He wanted to compete against a Bill Snyder. He isn't going to be in awe or intimidated."

So far, Strong has been criticized more than embraced.

Texas A&M has enjoyed a lot of recruiting success this offseason. The Aggies currently have verbal commitments from 10 players with four-star rankings by Rivals.com, while Strong has not made a recruiting splash yet.

Strong has three commitments from four-star players, but several notable recruits have bypassed Austin en route to another program.

However, Holtz is not a big believer of the high school ranking system.

"I was in that conference," Holtz said. "I competed against Texas and A&M and the rest of them when I was at the University of Arkansas. Many years ago, somebody did a study over five or 10 years, and here's what they found out. Over 50 percent of the 100 blue-chip athletes they had every year, less than 50 percent earned a letter in college. I do not pay attention to three stars, four stars, five stars. Much of that came down to if we offered a scholarship to somebody at Notre Dame who was unknown, all of a sudden he became a five-star, and everybody else was trying to recruit him. One parent said to me one time, 'Just offer my son a scholarship. He won't take it. Just offer him because then 30 others will come in and offer him.' That's how recruiting goes."

Holtz also explained why believes Texas A&M has more in-state recruiting momentum than Strong's program so far.

"A&M had Johnny Manziel and they're on a roll," Holtz said. "There is no more Johnny Manziel. Why would a good, outstanding defensive player want to go to A&M? Just look up the stats and what they've done the last couple of years on defense. You have to look for pluses you have. Texas has a lot going for it. A&M has always had a good program. So has Texas. He's recruiting against the people he's playing against. He'll recruit to beat Oklahoma."

Holtz believes Strong will win at Texas, but in a different way.

A recent ESPN article anonymously quoted high school coaches who were very critical of Strong. The first-year coach was picked apart for speaking too fast, not evoking belief in his program and appearing like he did not want to be at the coaching clinic. None of the coaches were willing to be quoted on-the-record, which means nobody felt strongly enough about his viewpoints to be held accountable.

Holtz did not address the article, but the former coach's description of Strong's personality explains why his business-like approach differs from Brown's charismatic personality.

"He (Strong) is very well organized," Holtz said. "He has a great drive to succeed. Just the sense of pride he has. He gets to know his players. He gives them discipline, he gives them toughness, he gives them direction, but he also gives them compassion when they need it the most. When people need love and understanding the most is usually when they deserved it the least. He'll pick a guy up when he's down, but he'll also make him the best on the field, off the field, and in the classroom.

"I have nothing but the greatest respect for Charlie Strong. Urban Meyer (former Florida coach) will tell you he missed him greatly when Charlie left to be the head coach at Louisville. I missed him greatly when he left me as my defensive coordinator. He just has a pulse. He's an excellent recruiter. He's a no-nonsense guy. He's not gimmicky. He's not slogans. He just believes in doing it the right way … People think he's not great with the media. He's a people person. He gets along great with people as long as you have something you want to do or something to (report). If you go to interview him, and you aren't prepared and you don't know anything, or you go in with an agenda that you want a story to come out a certain way, instead of going in and saying let's see where this story leads, you're going to have problems with Charlie Strong."

Strong will ultimately be judged by his success on the field, not his ability to captivate an audience.

Holtz believes Strong will win in Texas.

That is the answer every Longhorn fan wants to hear.

"He's a player's coach from the time he was with me at Notre Dame and my defensive coordinator at South Carolina," Holtz said. "He's a winner, he's a competitor, and has a great relationship with his players. He's tough. He's demanding, but he's very fair."


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