AUSTIN -- For the second time in a three-year stretch, Texas officials spent the morning of college football's national championship game unveiling a plan to reshape its program in efforts to return to the contest as a participant.
As the buzz built for Monday's BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif., new coach Charlie Strong stood behind a dais on the ninth floor of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and explained how he planned to lead the Longhorns back to relevance on the national landscape.
Texas fans can only hope Strong's plan has more staying power than the one laid out in 2011 by predecessor Mack Brown, who spent the morning before that championship game introducing what he billed as a pair of program-turning play-callers: Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz.
Because neither coordinator lived up to Brown's 2011 billing, Strong officially began work Monday as Brown's successor following a four-year stint at Louisville that included a 37-15 record, capped by two Big East conference championships (2011, 2012) and a 23-3 mark over the past two seasons.
Strong, 53, becomes the first African-American coach to oversee a major men's sports program at Texas. His first order of business, Strong said is to build a program based on "physical and mental toughness," with minimal focus on recruiting rankings of prospects.
"Let's not get caught up in the 5-stars. Let's not get caught up in the 4-stars. Let's get caught up in the football players," said Strong, whose predecessor earned the nickname "Coach February" for his heralded recruiting hauls but struggled in recent years to translate that to on-field success. Texas finished 30-21 in Brown's last four seasons and did not win as much as a Big 12 title in that stretch after claiming a BCS national title in 2005 and competing for another one in 2009.
Strong made it clear that he is not bothered by perceptions that he was not the school's first choice in the hiring process after months of speculation surfaced about boosters trying to woo Alabama coach Nick Saban, among others.
"I could have been the 15th choice," Strong said. "I'm just so glad to be the new coach. Whatever choice I was, I'm the head football coach."
Strong agreed to a five-year contract, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson confirmed. Patterson said Strong's salary "will be in the range" of $5 million annually, pending final approval from the school's board of regents.
Although Strong downplayed the significance of becoming UT's first black football coach, stressing that "I'm just a football coach," university president Bill Powers called Strong's hire a "very important moment" for the school.
"We've got the right football coach. All the things we were looking for are embodied in Charlie Strong," Powers said. "It is important that we be a diverse university. We're educating our students to be living in a diverse world. And in all aspects of what we do ... it's important that we reflect the diversity of our state and our country. So I think this is a very important moment for our university."
Strong said he met Sunday with Brown and gave him a blanket invitation to be a regular presence at Texas practices. But he made it clear that he will seek to eliminate the "soft" label that has been attached to the program based on Brown's ability to win only two Big 12 titles in 16 seasons at the school despite some of the nation's best facilities.
He stressed that Brown has left the program in good shape, based on 19 returning starters from last year's 8-5 team, and that his primary charge will be to build on the existing foundation by making some personal tweaks.
"If you build toughness, you'll get it right," Strong said. "The bricks are there. I just need to put another brick on top of it. Texas ... it's the top of the line. When you have an opportunity to go to the best, you have to put your name on it."
As of Monday, Charlie Strong is the new name in charge of the Longhorns' football program.
Original headline: Strong embraces new job at Texas
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OCTOBER 30, 2014
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