Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices, which wrapped up earlier this month, as well as what they mean for the summer and beyond.
AUSTIN, Texas -- What matters is the stuff we don't see and can't see.
Charlie Strong closed the doors during his first spring at Texas. No media at practice, not that that’s uncommon. But no parents of the players, either. A couple YouTube videos of high-intensity drills every so often were scraps to feed a hungry fan base.
Strong held regular news conferences, of course, but otherwise privacy was his priority. And he was right to take that approach, because these were crucial months.
“Buy-in” is a buzzword that has become cliché after coaching changes, but when you undergo a change as dramatic as the one the Longhorns endured this offseason, it’s meaningful. Mack Brown had a way of doing things. Strong and his staff aren’t looking for more of the same.
That’s why there were days like April 1, when Strong refused to throw up his hands and accept an unsatisfying scrimmage. Guys weren’t competing, he said, so he threw down the hammer.
“I stop practice and we start it over,” Strong said then. “I stopped it and told them how I felt about it. … I sent them back to the gate and told them to come back in with a different attitude.”
How many times did Strong demand a do-over this spring? Only his players and staffers know. But such measures aren’t for show -- they speak to the restart this team needed.
Even after spring ball ended the signs kept coming that, in these new times, the Longhorns don’t yet know their place. Steve Edmond showed it with his disrespect for Big 12 champion Baylor. And a faction of Texas’ fan base showed it with their outrage over Strong casually acknowledging his team probably won’t win the national championship in 2014.
Texas has enough talent to reload this fall, but also a mentality and reputation that still must be rebuilt.
Coaches say Quandre Diggs has the right mentality. The senior cornerback is as respected and outspoken a player as the Longhorns have, a three-year starter who always has played with a chip on his shoulder.
He sums up a Charlie Strong practice with four descriptions: Tough, grueling, long and a lot of contact. Just how he likes it. Everything is earned.
“I feel like no guy should have a place on this team,” Diggs said. “No guy should just be able to settle. It is a new staff and guys should be hungry to show the staff the type of players they are.”
The new head coach will construct a two-deep around guys like Diggs who provide the intensity and consistency this staff demands. Those are two traits that were missing in this program in recent years. If you want to play, prove it.
Strong knows there will be some players who don’t get it. He said his staff will meet with every single player exiting spring ball and tell them exactly where they stand. As he put it, the 5 percent that might not buy in won’t run his team.
“I would say a large majority of this team understands and they know what is expected of them,” Strong said after the spring game.
Spring isn’t the only proving ground, just the first one. Strong’s standards of hard work and competition are a requirement, not a request. The players who figure that out will thrive.
And Texas is going to find out who those players are this summer.
“People can say what they want to say, but we'll keep it behind closed doors and continue to grind,” Diggs said. “This summer we're going to have one of the toughest offseasons, if not the toughest summer, in the country.
“We're just going to continue to grind and not say too much. Talk is cheap.”