LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Questions surrounded the decision Charlie Strong made to leave the University of Louisville to coach football at Texas last January.
The first question was not about Strong's ability to coach football. His work here proved there was little to question.
No, the first question was about Strong's ability to handle coaching football at Texas, where every fan is an offensive coordinator, every trip to the convenience store is a photo opp and every 10-2 season is two games short of minimum expectations.
Strong's UT debut is Aug. 30 vs. North Texas, a game that will be carried on the Longhorn Network, but his record is already 1-0.
He is winning the public relations game. Reports from Big 12 football media days in Dallas indicate that Strong was a hit, delivering praise to former Texas coach Mack Brown while also addressing the discipline he continues to grind into a program that some had compared to a country club.
Strong has also turned to a friendly voice in the national media, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, to tell the story of his growth from a kid who grew up in a house with 15 people in rural Arkansas to a coach making $5 million at one of the five best college football jobs in America.
Subscribers will start receiving their copies on Wednesday, but I've read the piece, which is titled, "Big Meets Strong," and will share five of the highlights here. The story is more about Strong's upbringing, work ethic and challenge at Texas than the work he did at Louisville in four seasons.
(Sports Illustrated is also working on a story about Strong's replacement at U of L, Bobby Petrino.)
*Strong was asked if he believes race was the primary factor when he was turned down for more than a dozen head coaching positions before U of L athletic director Tom Jurich hired him to replace Steve Kragthorpe after the 2009 season.
"I didn't get hired because they didn't feel like I was (the best) candidate for their position," Strong said. "But I think everybody wanted to make it about race … I can't change who I am. For me to get where I've gotten is because I've been that person and stayed true."
*Strong also downplayed the narrative that his interracial marriage was an obstacle to his career advancement.
"If that’s who you love, that's who you love," Strong said about his 19-year marriage to his wife, Vikki. "If you start worrying about the outside and you let them run their life and your marriage, well, that's what they really want to do."
*Strong said he learned his sense of discipline from his mother, Delois Ramey, and aunt Cardia Ramey, who raised a combined 13 children, many sleeping two to a bed in Batesville, Ark. They had three foundational principles:
1. If it's not yours, don't take it.
2. If it's not nice, don't say it.
3. If you know it's not right, don't do it.
*Strong was initially reluctant to leave a graduate assistant coaching position at Henderson State for a similar job at the University of Florida. In fact, he told Henderson coach Sporty Carpenter that he did not want to leave.
"I’m not going to the University of Florida," Strong said. "Coach, I've never lived outside Arkansas."
*Although Strong has downplayed the idea that Texas will contend nationally this season, he conceded that has taken over a program with considerable individual talent.
"We have a lot of individual talent here," he said. "It’s super. I'm glad we do. But the only way our talent will ever show is if we come together as a team."