Head coach Charlie Strong isn’t waiting around for change. He’s said this season is about winning, and he’ll do whatever it takes to put that wheel in motion. Strong sent a shock wave through the program when he relieved assistant head for offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson of his play-calling duties in favor of wide receivers coach Jay Norvell after one game. Since Watson took over Texas’ offense last season, the team has struggled to move the ball, resulting in regular three-and-outs and a consistently tired Longhorn defense. After another abysmal performance in the season opener against then-No. 11 Notre Dame, Strong had finally seen enough.
“It’s about productivity and we just need better and we have to do better,” Strong said. “It’s about building the program and building it the right away.”
The blowout against the Fighting Irish was far from what Strong was expecting heading into the season. From the coaching staff to the players, the Longhorns preached that Texas fans would see improvement from last year’s 6-7 team. While the staff change was made because of poor on-field results, it signals that Strong’s patience is dwindling. Strong emphasized that the Longhorns can’t afford another down year with so many supporters expecting them to win games. Now, with three straight blowouts going back to last season, the pressure to turn the ship around keeps mounting.
“After last week, that was not the Texas standard,” senior running back Johnathan Gray said. “I think as a team, we know that. We are just trying to get this team back on track, and we’ve got to step up to the plate, and bring it.”
Texas also faces pressure to perform in regards to recruiting. Strong said that he has used the Longhorns’ new spread offense as a selling point to recruits this offseason, and those recruits are expecting to see positive changes on the field. With the current lack of execution, Strong admitted that it’s fair for those recruits to ask questions. In the state of Texas alone, the Longhorns are competing with several top-25 ranked programs in No. 3 TCU, No. 4 Baylor and No. 16 Texas A&M for the same talent pool. According to 247Sports, the Longhorns still finished with the top-ranked recruiting class in the state this offseason, but the team emphasizes that winning is key for maintaining that momentum.
“At the end of the day, sometimes you have to win,” freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “You have to put your foot down and win.”
Aside from the pressure of winning and recruiting, Strong’s urgency to win also stems from his goals as a competitor. Despite having talented rosters, the Longhorns haven’t flexed their muscles on the national stage in several years. While many are already counting out the Longhorns after their brutal season opener, Strong still has his sights set on big accomplishments.
“Our goal is to win the conference championship,” Strong said. “But we have to go play well and we have to compete and go move the football.”
Strong’s decision to shake up his coaching staff is resonating through the program. Everyone in the program knows they are being held accountable for their mistakes and there’s no more leniency for poor performance. The motivation is there, but now it’s about producing on the field.