February 11, 2014

Chip's 1st-and-10: Who's buying in? ... Indoor facility? ... More

1. Reading Jason Suchomel's nugget in the War Room that Charlie Strong spent 13 hours with DT Poona Ford on an unofficial visit to Louisville and served as the point person on Ford's recruitment got me thinking.

Poona Ford's high school coach went on to tell Jason Suchomel that Strong not only answered Ford's calls personally during the recruiting process but often stayed on the line for several minutes.

I'm told Strong has no plans to change that mindset when it comes to recruiting, even as the demands increase as coach at Texas.

How many head coaches do that?

Well, Nick Saban was the point person on DB Tony Brown's recruitment. Art Briles was the point person on the recruitment of RGIII, Robbie Rhoads and K.D. Cannon.

To know what makes a player tick or if football is important to him, you have to get to know that kid - know his heart and mind.

Charlie Strong has said his specialty in recruiting is finding a kid who may be ranked as a three-star with a chip on his shoulder. How does he know a kid has a chip on his shoulder?

He gets to know them. Personally.

Strong then convinces that kid he's the coach to get the best out of him and help him to a better life simply by making sure the player gets his degree.

I'm told Strong will be the point person on a handful of recruits in any given class.
So when people criticize Strong for not wanting to do excessive media or meet-and-greets with boosters, what would you rather have?

I'd rather have a coach who spends 13 hours with a recruit during an unofficial visit getting inside that kid's heart and mind, forming a bond that results in the kid going through a wall for his coach and teammates.

2. Is Strong too strong for Texas?

I've gotten this question more and more: Are Strong's expectations - wanting kids to live on campus their first three years, walking to Denius Fields for practices/workouts (no more buses) and brutal workouts - too much of a culture shock for Texas?

I'm told Strong knows where the line is with players. But the one thing he will not compromise is everyone being all in.

We've been told roughly 10 players were called in to meet with Strong and told to pick it up or pack it up. They were told if they weren't going to be all in, they should probably move on. This group included Daje Johnson and Kennedy Estelle, we're told.

And trust me when I tell you Strong and the staff want Daje Johnson to buy in and be the playmaker they know he can be. But no one's getting an exception to the demands of Strong's program.

New coaches trying to impose rules on a program is tricky. Ask Turner Gill. He tried to bring discipline to Kansas when he arrived from Buffalo and took players' cell phones away on Fridays during the football season and returned them on Sundays.

It was a mess and players never bought in.

The two changes I'm hearing are causing the most consternation are the plan to have players live on campus the first three years and the plan to have the players walk the half mile to
Denius Fields in cleats instead of being driven on buses.

Everyone seems to get the neverending circuit training workouts and the gutting of the weight room of things like a cereal bar, smoothie bar, protein bars, Gatorade and TVs. (Strong wants the weight room to be a place to work out, not hang out.)

They understand the days when Pat Moorer kicks players out of a workout and has them run forever instead.

Strong said his top priority after signing day was getting to know his current players because he barely had time to get to know them in 15-minute meetings before hitting the road recruiting. He knows the culture change requires a lot of tough love, and he has to be present with his players as they go through this change in mindset.

Strong couldn't wait to get back to his players after spending three straight weeks on the road recruiting to salvage the 2014 class.

The bonding Strong does with his players right now will have a huge influence on the buy-in of the 10 or so players on the buy-in bubble.

3. One of the knocks of former assistant coaches under Mack Brown is Mack didn't like his coaches using coarse language with the players.

Forget that under Strong.

Coaches can speak their minds to get their points across … if you follow my drift.

4. Strong was recently asked by Texas movers and shakers about his priorities for the football program in terms of capital improvements, including an indoor practice facility and a makeover of the south end of DKR.

Apparently, Strong said he didn't care if a new indoor practice facility was constructed at Denius Fields. Strong said the bubble the team has now is more than sufficient.

Strong did vote in favor of prior plans to redo the south end of DKR by getting rid of the bleachers and constructing more suites while also building new coaches' offices overlooking the field with a patio attached to Strong's office.

The indoor practice facility now appears to be on hold.

5. Give it up to CB Antwuan Davis, WR Montrel Meander and S Adrian Colbert for running track to work on their speed for football.

These guys, I hear, are all in. They must be if they doing Pat Moorer's workouts and running track.

6. The guy who is emerging in a role similar to that of Daje Johnson is Jacorey Warrick.

His offseason work has been excellent, and his short-range quickness and burst is drawing comparisons to Johnson.

Coaches would love to have both to work with.

7. Beating Oklahoma State at the beginning of the year looked like it would be an NCAA Tournament resume builder. Now, losing to the Cowboys could end up being a bad loss.

That's how lost the Cowboys are.

Marcus Smart's season seemed to turn from all-conference to all-nightmare in an 80-78 loss at Kansas on Jan. 18.

Up until that point, Smart and OSU had been managing the loss of C Michael Cobbins to a season-ending Achilles injury suffered against Robert Morris on Dec. 30 just fine.

In fact, in the four games right after Cobbins' injury, when the Cowboys went 3-1 with the only loss coming at Kansas State, Smart averaged 20.3 ppg on 45.1 percent shooting and 9.5 rebounds.

It was the loss to Kansas where Smart seemed to lose his composure and allowed his season to come unraveled.

There had been animosity between OSU and KU since the Cowboys went to Allen Fieldhouse and ended the Jayhawks' 33-game, home win streak last season. Smart celebrated by doing a backflip on the court, captured on video and replayed by Bill Self leading up to the meeting on Jan. 18.

Also, Smart said before the season Kansas' Andrew Wiggins had yet to earn all the preseason attention Wiggins was getting.

When they finally got on the court together, Smart was off. He finished 3-of-14 shooting (0-of-6 from 3-point range). Even though Smart finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals, Smart was never the same after that loss.

And it wasn't like Wiggins outplayed Smart that day. Wiggins was worse, much worse (1-of-5 shooting, 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers).

But Smart never climbed out of that 3-of-14 shooting slump at KU. Oklahoma State has lost 5 of its last 6 games - at KU, WVU (the only win), at OU, Baylor, Iowa St and at Tech.

In that stretch, Smart shot 25 of 79 (31.6 percent), 5 of 37 from 3-point range (.135), posted 36 rebs (6.0 rpg) with 28 assists, 18 turnovers and 10 steals.

Now, Smart will sit for three games (at Texas, home vs OU, at Baylor). Those close to Smart say he's never been in a slump like this one. And certainly nothing close to this in his time at OSU.

So to Smart I would say: Slumps happens to everyone. Get over it. Move on. Snap out of it. And put away the antennae ears when it comes to opposing fans - no matter what they say. Don't swing down. You have the NBA future. They don't.

If Smart doesn't snap out of it following this 3-game suspension, Travis Ford's job security could become a question.

This team is too talented to miss the NCAA Tournament. And, depending on how OSU handles life without Smart the next three games, March could have the wrong kind of initials (NIT … or gawd forbid … CBI).

8. As progressive as sports has been in helping to break barriers in race relations, whether it was the likes of Roosevelt Leaks at Texas, Jerry LeVias at SMU or Jackie Robinson in baseball - sports has remained in the closet when it comes to sexual orientation.

The decision of Michael Sam to announce he's gay heading into the NFL Draft should help to demystify the notion that players who are gay would ruin team chemistry.

Sam is proof of the opposite. He came out to his teammates at Mizzou before the season, and he went on to a breakout year (11.5 sacks, SEC Defensive Player of the Year), as did the Tigers in winning the SEC East title.

No matter your beliefs about a gay lifestyle, we all know there have been gay football players in the NFL who chose to keep their lifestyle a secret.

Again, no matter your beliefs about a gay lifestyle, 16 states and the District of Columbia, recognize same-sex marriages, including benefits for those couples. The military has confronted sexual orientation.

But it's been taboo in men's professional team sports. Only after careers are winding down or over have athletes come out.

Sam appears ready to carry the weight of becoming the first openly gay male athlete before embarking on a professional career in team sports.

Now, we'll see if an NFL team values his talents enough to draft him and all the publicity (and potential media distraction) that comes along with Sam.

9. OK, indulge me for just a second on SMU basketball.

Yes, I attended SMU, and I take a small bit of pride in the Mustangs' earning a Top 25 ranking this week (after blowing out No. 7 Cincinnati) for the first time since 1984-85 (that was before even I attended!).

I've always felt the one program that should be competitive at SMU is basketball because it's located in a recruiting hotbed in Dallas. The renovated Moody Coliseum looks great on TV. Can't wait to check it out in person.

Can't believe it took 73-year-old Larry Brown … yes THAT Larry Brown, of all people … to get the SMU community to pull it off.

Hell, Larry Brown was a young man the last time SMU was ranked in basketball.

Maybe the most frightening fact of this look-back at SMU basketball - aside from how plain-and-simply awful SMU hoops has been the past 30 years thanks to the impeccable coaching of the likes of Mike Dement (9 seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth from 1995-2004) and Matt Doherty (80-109 in 6 seasons from 2005-06 through 2011-12) - is that Dave Bliss was coach the last time SMU was ranked.

Yeah, that Dave Bliss.

10. Olympics …

Sochi bad, it's good.

I've loved these Olympics even more because of their complete dysfunction, whether it be the are-you-kidding-me? toilet layouts, Bob Costas' pink eyes or all the Russian corruption jokes.

Now, come on Julia Mancuso, ice dancers, curlers, lugers, skeletoneers, bobsledders, USA hockey and the Flying Tomato (love Shaun White)!

By the way, anyone seen our bobsled team that was stuck in the elevator?

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