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January 22, 2014
1st-and-10: Strong's bad cop, Ash, Diaz, Holmes, more ...
1. I was told there are very clear roles in Charlie Strong's program: the strength staff will play the role of bad cop, tearing the team down. The coaches will play the role of building the players back up.
The off-season conditioning program is aimed at pushing every single player to physical exhaustion. And then starting over the next day and going further.
I'm told there's a reason Charlie Strong made sure to meet with every single player on the team in 15-minute increments before the off-season conditioning program began last week: he wanted to make a personal connection with players before they started going through Pat Moorer's gauntlet.
Moorer's workouts are based on tempo - the equivalent of circuit training in the weight room - going from station to station quickly, pumping out lots of reps and constantly having to reach new repetition goals set by Moorer and his staff.
If you fail to reach those goals, you'll be expected to reach them later in the workout or the next day. For those who fail, and even for those who don't, there is other grueling conditioning, including Moorer's notorious "mat drills."
The mat drills involve one-on-one competition between two players in everything from wrestling, to one-on-one tug of war or pushup and situp wars until one player drops.
Charts in the weight room make it very well known who is meeting the standards, who isn't and who is winning the most mat drills.
"There's a lot of throwing up," said a source close to the situation. "It's all about building toughness and competitiveness. Guys are getting pushed in every way possible right now to know the culture is changing."
2. Charlie Strong hasn't had time to get in the weight room with the players at this point. He's too busy recruiting. But he will ultimately get in there and let guys hear about it if they can't bench as much as he can (350 pounds).
"If the old man can do it, why can't you?" Strong has been known to say. And he'll stay on guys until steam comes out of that player.
3. Austin High football coach Mike Rosenthal, an All-American offensive lineman at Notre Dame who played eight years in the NFL, vividly remembers a defensive assistant named Charlie Strong his senior year at ND during an off-season workout under coach Lou Holtz.
Every position group had to run a mile within a certain time limit. And Strong, the defensive line coach, was running with every position group.
"The offensive line ran, then the defensive line, then the tight ends, linebackers, running backs, safeties, corners, receivers - he probably ran a half-marathon that day," Rosenthal said. "You kept waiting for him to stop. But he ran with every group and was at the front of the pack.
"That was Coach Strong, though. He's going to be in shape with big guns and be there with the kids.
"I remember him in the weight room. He would work out with us. He would do his own workout and talk smack with the players and say, 'I'm stronger than you guys. I'm tougher than you guys, and I could whip any of you guys at any time.'
"And I think that's what you see now - a toughness in all of his teams, whether it was as the defensive coordinator at Florida or at Louisville.
"I just remember him always having a bond with all the kids and always having a smile on his face. He was tough and hard core, but you knew he cared about you and you knew he was trying to get the best out of you."
4. Mike Rosenthal smiled when he heard about some of the mandates Charlie Strong is imposing at Texas, including players living on campus their first three years and sitting in the first two rows in class.
"We had those same rules under Lou Holtz at Notre Dame," Rosenthal said. "And what it does is build that team mentality and playing for each other."
Urban Meyer was also an assistant coach under Lou Holtz at Notre Dame (receivers) and has also imposed those rules at each of the schools where Meyer has been a head coach.
The latest wrinkle to Strong's expectations for his players is prohibiting them from throwing up the Horns until they have earned that right and truly appreciate what it means to represent Texas.
"Charlie is just trying to put his stamp on the program," Rosenthal said. "I think it's a necessary part of getting guys to really sense change and to get them to buy in.
"But I think Charlie is a great fit for Texas and will bring an accountability and toughness to the program that will be in his own image. His players will love playing for him."
5. Strong's former players say he's a good recruiter because he connects with players and families at every level.
His two master's degrees hammer home the emphasis on education he demands from all his student-athletes. He points to his ability to turn around Louisville's Academic Progress Rate (APR) , which resulted in three scholarships being cut because it plummeted to 896, well below the 925 minimum before Strong arrived.
Louisville had 15 of Strong's former players graduate early in December, including QB Teddy Bridgewater. Now, the Cardinals will have an APR hovering near a perfect score of 1000 this spring, school officials say.
And when it comes to reaching kids from low, socio-economic backgrounds, Strong is one of them. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in northeast Arkansas and beat the odds to get where he is.
The fact he looks like he could do cover shoots for Muscle & Fitness magazine, has an easy-going smile but preaches discipline, accountability and toughness is what players and parents want to hear.
"He's an amazing recruiter," said former Florida QB Chris Leak, who was recruited to Gainesville by Strong. "You can't believe how direct he is. If he says it, he means it. He's a high-character guy with high integrity, and he's someone you can trust.
"He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen, and he has the courage to make the hard decisions.
"The relationships he has with his players end up going way beyond football. To a lot of guys, he's like a father figure, and guys just love playing for him."
6. The Joe Wickline hire was critical in getting the mindset on offense just the way Strong wants it. Wickline and Strong go back to their days together at Florida under Ron Zook from 2002-2004.
They've long talked about coaching together if the situation was right.
Texas was the right situation.
And when you look at Oklahoma State's offenses the past nine years, you see the one constant to all that balance and success is Wickline.
2013: 39.1 ppg; 171.9 ypg rush; 4.4 ypc; 276.8 ypg pass; Desmond Roland 811 yds, 4.6 ypc, 13 TDs
Offensive coordinator: Mike Yurcich
2012: 45.7 ppg; 215 ypg rush; 5.4 ypc; 332 ypg pass; Joseph Randle, 1,417 yds, 5.2 ypc, 14 TD
Offensive coordinator: Todd Monken
2011: 48.7 ppg; 159 ypg rush; 5.3 ypc; 387 ypg pass; Joseph Randle, 1,216 yds, 5.8 ypc, 24 TD
Offensive coordinator: Todd Monken
2010: 44.2 ppg; 174 ypg rush; 5.0 ypc; 346 ypg pass; Kendall Hunter 271-1,548 yds, 5.7 ypc, 16 TD
Offensive coordinator: Dana Holgorsen
2009: 28.4 ppg; 188 ypg rush; 4.4 ypc; 179 ypg pass; Keith Toston 227-1,218 yds, 5.4 ypc, 11 TD
Offensive coordinator: Gunter Brewer
2008: 40.8 ppg; 245 ypg rush; 5.5 ypc; 242 ypg pass; Kendall Hunter 241-1,555 yds, 6.5 ypc, 16 TD
Offensive coordinator: Gunter Brewer
2007: 34.6 ppg; 243 ypg rush; 5.3 ypc; 243 ypg pass; Dantrell Savage 223-1,272 yds, 5.7 ypc, 9 TD
Offensive coordinator: Larry Fedora
2006: 35.2 ppg; 208 ypg rush; 5.2 ypc; 202 ypg pass; Dantrell Savage126-820 yds, 6.5 ypc, 8 TD
Offensive coordinator: Larry Fedora
2005: 20.2 ppg; 154 ypg rush; 3.9 ypc; 170.9 ypg pass; Mike Hamilton 193-961 yds, 5.0 ypc, 1 TD
Offensive coordinator: Larry Fedora
MY TAKE: A key Oklahoma State official told me Wickline was the reason OSU was able to have a revolving door at OC and not have any dropoff. That official said losing Wickline was a huge blow to the Cowboys' offensive success.
The Oklahoman had a story Monday citing multiple sources saying Mike Gundy wanted to fire Wickline after the 2012 season. That's not what I was told by OSU officials in charge over there. They are very dubious of that story.
"Texas' offense just got a whole lot better," the OSU official said.
Now we will watch Wickline and Gundy go head-to-head, just like everyone will be measuring the resumes of Strong and Art Briles from this point forward because of Briles' candidacy for the UT job.
(And Strong gets to face another UT candidate - UCLA's Jim Mora - next season.)
7. The recruitment of OG Alex Anderson from New Orleans Landry-Walker might be a solid example of how Charlie Strong will recruit.
Strong said when he was hired he doesn't pay attention to the number of stars next to a recruit's name but instead looks for football players with a chip on their shoulder.
And that's exactly what Anderson appears to be - a three-star offensive guard whom Joe Wickline wants because of Anderson's nasty, intense style of play.
"They said they like the ability I have," Anderson told OB's Jason Suchomel. "The reason he really loves me is the aggressiveness that I have and play with - my nasty streak. He's said he hasn't seen that in a lot of linemen. He said I have a really aggressive style of play and he likes that."
Strong said at his introductory press conference on Jan. 6: "Let's not get caught up in the five stars. Let's not get caught up in the four stars. Let's get caught up in the football players."
8. What do you expect from a guy named John Holmes?
Kansas is a monster and will undoubtedly win its 10th straight Big 12 title. Heck, the Big 12 could end up being a monster. Anyone think seven teams could end up getting in? (Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, OU ... and Baylor if the Bears, who have lost 3-of-4, can figure things out after beating Kentucky earlier this year.)
Texas is becoming the team no one wants to face after a gutsy, 67-64 victory over K-State Tuesday sealed on a 3-pointer from Jonathan Holmes at the buzzer.
The final two minutes looked like this:
Holmes steal, gets fouled (makes 1 of 2 FTs) Prince Ibeh blocks K-State leading scorer Thomas Gipson (24 points on 10-of-18 shooting) with 1:25 left Javan Felix buries a clutch, fadeaway jumper with the shot clock winding down with 58 seconds left, putting UT up 64-60.
A miss by Felix with 33 seconds left and Texas up two - 64-62 - resulted in a scramble to the other end that culminated with Cameron Ridley's 5th foul with 15 seconds left.
KSU's Shane Southwell missed both free throws, Holmes controlled the rebound and got the ball to Felix (23 points), the team's best FT shooter (83 percent), who was fouled with 11.7 seconds to play. Make two and it's ballgame.
Felix missed both.
Southwell hit a runner with 5.8 seconds left to tie the game 64-64.
And then Texas called two timeouts, the second with 1.9 ticks on the clock before finding Holmes in the right corner for the game-winning 3. Just like you'd draw it up.
But what do you expect from a guy named John Holmes with the money shot? (I know, I know, boooooo. Tired. Played. Low-hanging fruit. Literally. Couldn't resist. Just sayin.)
Texas is now 15-4 and 4-2 in Big 12 play with four straight wins (over Texas Tech, at West Virginia, No. 8 Iowa State and K-State).
Next up: a road trip to reeling Baylor (1-4 in B12 play), which started 12-1 with a win over then-No.3 Kentucky but has lost three of its last four.
The next home game for Rick Barnes' junkyard dogs is Feb 1 against the Jayhawks.
This could be fun.
9. The NFL playoffs and Super Bowl 48
Peyton Manning is doing things at age 37 that just don't happen. You don't turn 37 after four neck surgeries and break Drew Brees' single-season passing yards record and Tom Brady's single-season TD passes record and then turn Bill Belichick into a collection of mumbles and drool.
With that being said, I think the Seattle Seahawks will pick off Manning three times and return two for touchdowns (Earl Thomas gets one of those pick-sixes) in the second coming of the Ice Bowl in New Jersey in 10 days.
10. The TMZ in me and other musings
A) I was ready for Richard Sherman to just go Evil Kneivel, Muhammad Ali, Rick Flair, Floyd Mayweather and after vowing to torment Michael Crabtree "for the rest of his career," I was ready for Sherman to start working on Peyton Manning, Wes Welker or Knowshon Moreno.
Why not? It seems to be a natural role for him. And if the role fits, roll with it.
B) Michelle Beadle is coming back to ESPN in March. Welcome home Beadle. I found your canceled show on NBC Sports by accident twice.
C) Good for Manny Diaz to get a defensive coordinator gig with Skip Holtz at La Tech to rebuild his career. Diaz's pedestrian scheme was completely figured out by the Big 12.
But it wasn't all Diaz's fault at Texas. The complete whiffs in LB recruiting from 2008-10 (with the exception of Emmanuel Acho and Jordan Hicks) didn't help him. All he ended up with in 2012-13 was Hicks, who couldn't stay healthy.
D) I'm told Stacy Searels will be the offensive line coach at Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer. There's still talk of Greg Robinson and Duane Akina ending up at Cal on Sonny Dykes' staff. Sounding more and more like Major Applewhite might take the year off from football in 2014.
E) NFL coaching jobs are getting filled. Love that Mike Zimmer got the Vikings job. Hated that Zimmer didn't end up in Detroit, where he would have been perfect and probably would have made the Lions into a Super Bowl contender in Year 1.
Instead, the Lions stupidly hire an offensive coach, when they have an offense that can basically run itself, when a defensive coach with Zimmer's unrelenting demand for accountability and discipline could have been the answer for Suh, Fairley, Ansah and company.
F) I'm way behind on my movies. But I bumped into the movie "Killer Joe" on HBO the other night with Matthew McConaughey. What the hell was that?
G) I have to say, I also bumped into the 30-for-30 "Survive and Advance" on Jim Valvano and the 1983 NC State title team and watched it for the umpteenth time. It never gets old.
I still can't get over NC State trailing in the final minute of 7 of its final 9 victories, earning the nickname "Cardiac Pack" and overcoming Akeem Olajuwon's 20 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks in the title game.
If you've never seen it, it will move you. Truly move you - especially considering Valvano lost his battle with cancer and Lorenzo Charles, who hit the game-winning shot to take down Phi Slamma Jamma, died in 2011 when the bus he was driving careened off a highway near Raleigh, N.C., and crashed.
By the way, Hakeem Olajuwon turned 51 on Tuesday.
H) My favorite matchup of the Super Bowl next week will be "Pot Roast" (Denver DT Terrance Knighton) vs "Beast Mode" (Marshawn Lynch). It doesn't get any better than that.
Well, except that Earl Thomas is posting on OB about how he can't sleep because he's going to the Super Bowl.
Congrats to Earl, one of my favorite people to cover in my 22 years covering the program. From him playing the saxophone at halftime in his marching band in his football uniform in high school to helping his family recover from the devastation of having their home destroyed by Hurricane Rita.
Earl is truly an inspiration and a joy to watch. And you know how special he is by the reverence others have in talking about him. Get Kenny Vaccaro talking about Earl Thomas and you hear one complete bad ass on the field talking with awe about another complete bad ass on the field.
Here's to Earl's pick-six in Super Bowl 48.
I) David Ash coming back from a head injury (that caused him to miss not only most of 2013 but also a ton of class time) and getting cleared for off-season workouts and spring ball.
Is this a good thing or a scary thing?
I'm not sure yet.
Just hope Ash and his family make decisions about his future knowing the effects of these head injuries can resurface later in a brutal way.