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Sunday, January 5, 2014
Texas commits respond to Strong hire

By Damon Sayles

Charlie Strong has officially been named Mack Brown’s successor at Texas. It’s a move that appears to get thumbs up from many of his future athletes.

As 2014 Texas recruits waited to hear who would be their future head coach, many of them were hoping for the right fit. Strong’s résumé -- 23-3 in his past two seasons at Louisville, 3-1 in four bowl game appearances and an outstanding recruiting reputation -- says he fits the bill.

In short, Strong gets it, and while Texas commits had the utmost respect for Brown, they now feel they’re in good hands.

“I think he can do pretty good there,” four-star offensive lineman Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper) said. “I don’t think anyone can live up to what Mack did, but he’ll come in and do big things.

"Bring it on, man! 'Hook ‘Em all day!'”

Terrell Cuney
Four-star center Terrell Cuney is excited about the future of Texas football under Charlie Strong.
Strong was 37-15 in four seasons at Louisville. In 2012, he led the Cardinals to an 11-2 season, including a 33-23 victory over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In 2013, Louisville finished 12-1 and dominated Miami 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28.

Strong is considered a defensive-minded coach, and defensive help was something the Longhorns could have used early in the 2013 season. Texas went through a coaching change when it let then-defensive coordinator Manny Diaz go after his group allowed 550 rushing yards and nearly 700 yards of total offense in a loss to BYU on Sept. 7.

While ESPN 300 cornerback Arrion Springs (San Antonio/Roosevelt) is fully committed to Oregon -- he chose the Ducks over Texas in the summer -- he views the hire as a great opportunity for the program to return to the national juggernaut it’s been in past seasons.

“It’s a good hire for them. They needed a really good coach, and he’s really turned Louisville around,” Springs said. “Hopefully, he’ll get Texas turned around, too.”

As good of a head coach as he’s been, Strong has been an even better recruiter. Thirty-six players on the Louisville roster came from Florida, one of college football recruiting’s hotbeds. Arguably the biggest name of all was quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has declared for the NFL draft.

Now Strong gets a shot at another huge recruiting epicenter -- the state of Texas. One player who said he will give Strong a chance is the program’s future quarterback, ESPN 300 dual-threat option Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer).

“I’m not reopening my recruitment. I’m just keeping my eyes open,” Heard said. “I’m fully committed to the University of Texas. I’m excited to see the new coach. That’s a great hire. He’s a great guy, and I can’t wait to play for him.”

There hasn’t been a lot of negative comments about Strong, but a couple of players are concerned about whether or not their commitments will hold true. Four-star receiver Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln) said he is still solid with the Longhorns. However, the chance of Texas losing receivers coach Darrell Wyatt and the small possibility of Strong and his staff potentially wanting to pass him over keeps Porter in contact with other programs as insurance.

“I’m still committed, but I’m keeping my options open. In two months, [Strong] might not want me, who knows?” said Porter, who has a TCU offer (he was committed to TCU before flipping to Texas) and high interest from UCLA. “I have to look out for what’s best for me. I don’t see why he shouldn’t want me, but you’ve got to keep it in the back of your head.

“The past two seasons, he had winning seasons. He runs the spread offense, and he throws the ball a lot. I can see myself fitting in.”

While most of the commits are firm in their pledges, a couple of players are still on the fence. ESPN 300 linebacker Otaro Alaka (Houston/Cypress Falls) was a huge fan of Brown and said he would strongly consider reopening his process if Brown stepped down. Texas A&M has been pursuing Alaka heavily.

Another player to watch is Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren), a four-star defensive tackle. Lealaimatafao, who considers himself a soft Texas commit, is a fan of the Strong hire, but he still has one more official visit to take before his final decision on Jan. 28.

“He’s one of the great defensive coordinators in the game. He was there when Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer were at Florida, so I know that’s part of his background,” said Lealaimatafao, who will visit Oregon the weekend of Jan. 17. “He changed that program around. I don’t really know him, but he’s a good coach.”

For the most part, it looks as though the Longhorns will keep the nucleus of their 2014 class, which features Heard and ESPN 300 athletes in defensive end Derick Roberson (San Antonio/Brennan), wide receiver Armanti Foreman (Texas City, Texas/Texas City), cornerback Jermaine Roberts (New Orleans/St. Augustine), athlete Lorenzo Joe (Abilene, Texas/Cooper) and running back Donald “Duke” Catalon (Houston/Eisenhower).

Now it’s just time for Strong to build new relationships and prepare for what will be a much-anticipated 2014 season.