“Charlie Strong has dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.”
Anyone that follows the Texas Longhorns knows that phrase all too well; rightfully so – we’ve heard it nine times now. There are nine different names that could fill the blank. Many were names that were heard on the highlights of Texas games in 2013. Joe Bergeron. Kendall Sanders. The list goes on.
But, that monotonous phrase is more than just a grim indicator of Texas’ lack of depth this season. Those words carry with them the foreshadowing of changed players, a changed football program, and maybe, hopefully, a changed sports culture.
From the moment Strong became the Texas head coach in January, his every action has been point-blank. Whether it’s his candid post-game press, or the way he released nine players in just eight months, Charlie Strong gets to the point. There is no better example of this than the five rules Strong expects his team to follow. Honesty, no drugs, no guns, no stealing, and treat women with respect. The rules are not arbitrary, and have been engrained in students since pre-school. But, Charlie Strong wrote them down, stood by them, and reminded the sport of basic values it had let slip away.
His straightforward approach, specifically with discipline, has predominantly garnered respect from players, fans, and even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. And if there’s ever a man who could use a crash-course on gaining respect and credibility, he’s Roger Goodell.
In wake of widespread criticism of the NFL’s handling of domestic violence, especially in the case of former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice, there was this opposing parallel going on. While Charlie Strong was being praised for not conceding his standards, the commissioner was blindly, fumbling around to find his. The biggest sports league in the country looked weak, and an unranked college team looked strong. In an attempt to gain back the public’s trust, the league began a tour to educate itself, and ultimately improve an outdated NFL conduct policy. Due to the sports’ respect for Strong, one of their first stops was Austin, Texas.
But, the meeting was about much more than Strong’s list of five core values. Let’s be honest, the commissioner of a multi-billion industry wouldn’t schedule a meeting just to talk about a list he could’ve found on Twitter. So why is Strong’s opinion so significant? Because he chooses character over talent, in a sport full of teams, college and professional, that don’t.
Despite the recent problems league-wide, the NFL is not the root of the problem. These issues and sense of entitlement grow over time. If the leniency continues from a young age, into college, the player is more likely to act out as a professional. The league’s Vice President Troy Vincent said they discussed the importance of establishing moral fundamentals before players get to the NFL. Strong said he told them, “If you take someone with bad character and give them a lot of money, that just accentuates the problem.”
“His expectations of these young men to work as a team, his focus on academics and being involved in the community are clear in his message,” said Vincent. “He reminds these young men to remember who they are and who they represent, and to make all of those people proud. Visiting with him was inspiring. It just reiterates that this is the value of football. It develops young men. He’s teaching life lessons, character and values through football.”
There are clearly fundamental issues within the NFL and college football. But, hopefully speaking with Charlie Strong was the first of many steps toward improvement. In order for that to happen, the college-level and pro-level have to be on the same page. If college coaches start cracking down on low-character individuals, the NFL will begin to reap the rewards of having a group of higher character players. We can hope that other players see more dismissed players, like the Joe Bergeron’s and the Kendall Sander’s of the world, and begin to wise up.
Charlie Strong began coaching the Longhorns with a goal of putting the toughness back in Texas. Imagine the impact if the rest of society realized what Strong had – that “toughness” is not synonymous with crime, or hitting a woman, but is in fact, the exact opposite.