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SA Express-News: Time to Run: Strong Trying to put Longhorns on Right Pace

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Good article, two more weeks.




Time to run: Strong trying to put Longhorns on right pace




AUSTIN — From the bottom of the hill at Pease Park to its summit, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard rises 117 feet in only three-tenths of a mile. Lately the streetlight has been on the fritz, which means that at 4:30 a.m., the steepest portion of the sidewalk is unlit.

There in the darkness, Charlie Strong doesn't mind. He knows the steps, and he isn't running to be seen, anyway. Drenched in sweat halfway up the incline, he draws his deepest breaths of the morning.


“Oh, it's a monster,†Strong says. “It's got to be one of the toughest hills in the city.â€

This is the kind of climb that causes the calves to tighten, makes the gluteus muscles burn, and sets the hamstrings on fire. It's also the kind of climb Strong doesn't need to be making anymore.

He's 54 years old, wealthier than he'd ever imagined, and the coach of one of college football's most storied programs. Even if he insists on running his minimum of five miles per day, six days per week, he could find plenty of flatter routes, at plenty of more reasonable times of the day.

But not only does Strong choose to run this dreadful hill at this ungodly hour, he chooses to save it for last. He ends his runs here because the hard part is his favorite. And the way he sees it, finishing what you started isn't supposed to be easy.

Twenty years ago, Strong decided to train for a marathon. At the time he was a defensive tackles coach at Florida, and he figured signing up for the annual Disney race would be a fun way to challenge himself.

Like many novice distance runners, he soon discovered he was making the mistake of running too fast. A friend who happened to be a running coach offered a solution. If Strong's goal was to run eight-minute miles, he could program that pace into a special watch. Every time he went faster than that, the watch would alert him.

“It would go, 'Beep! Beep! Beep!'†Strong says. “The pace is all that matters. Don't worry about how far you're going. That's not the thing. You train your body to run at a certain pace, and it remembers.â€

For a guy such as Strong, who spent 26 years as an assistant, that philosophy made sense. The idea of focusing more on the step in front of him than on the finish line appealed to him. If he could establish a sustainable work ethic and keep himself moving at the right pace, he didn't have to fret about whether he'd ever get to his destination.

So last spring, shortly after he replaced Mack Brown, it was understandable why he didn't want to talk about national championships. Every time the subject came up, whether in news conferences or on his speaking tour of the state, it was as if that old watch was going Beep! Beep! Beep! again.

All of his training was telling him things were going too fast.

When he told fans in Fort Worth he didn't expect the Longhorns to be in the College Football Playoff this year, he wasn't being negative. He was saying he preferred to focus on the next step. He still does.

“I don't want to undermine the players,†Strong says. “I don't want to shortchange them. You can never, ever say what someone can't do. If the guys play hard and compete, who knows? But we can't worry about (championships). We have to just worry about now.â€

Another lesson Strong learned during his marathon training days was to never rule out the unexpected. After the 1994 season, he received a phone call with a job offer from Notre Dame. Accepting meant he wouldn't be in Florida for the Disney race, and the cold Indiana winters would put his long-distance running routine on hold.

But sometimes you pick a different finish line.

Letting everything flow

These early mornings aren't new. One of the only men who worked with Strong during each of his four separate stints as a Florida assistant was Chris Patrick, the Gators' assistant athletic director for sports health. Patrick took pride in beating everyone else to work.

He almost never beat Strong, though.

“I don't think the guy's ever slept,†Patrick says.

Running always has been how Strong recuperates. One of the reasons he runs in the dark — between 4 and 5 a.m. every Monday through Saturday — is that the streets are quiet and no one bothers him. He runs alone, because talking would defeat the whole purpose.

“There's so many ideas going through your head,†Strong says. “The running time is just for me to kind of just let everything flow softly, and then push it out. You finish running, and you've got it all sorted. It's like, 'Whew.'â€

It also gives him credibility in the locker room. Since he took over as UT's coach, he has emphasized toughness while cutting frills. No more buses to the practice field. No more working out in the bubble on hot days. No more walking between drills.

The players might complain if they weren't convinced Strong could handle everything he's thrown at them.

“It's motivating when I'm running two miles, and I see my head coach running right up behind me,†UT cornerback Quandre Diggs says.

“Sometimes, you need that boost.â€

Sure, not everyone has embraced the extra discipline. In his first seven months on the job, Strong dismissed seven players and suspended three others. But those who remain insist everyone has received a fair shot. And those who've known Strong longest wouldn't expect anyone else.

“Charlie was the bring-it-together guy,†says Patrick, the longtime Florida trainer. “More often than not, it seemed like when there was a conflict going on between a player and a staff member and they couldn't work it out, Charlie was the one who fixed it.â€

Only rarely did Strong ever need fixing himself. One day in Gainesville, he felt his Achilles tendon pop while running down an isolated road. At first, when a man in a truck pulled over and asked if he needed help, Strong refused the offer.

Then, after it became clear he couldn't walk, he reluctantly agreed to accept a ride, but not to the hospital.

“You'd better take me to the football office,†Strong told the driver.

Ignoring the noise

At the historic Santa Rita No. 1 site on San Jacinto Boulevard, the loudspeaker never stops blaring. Even at 4 a.m., a recorded voice tells the story of the first oil well drilled on university land. As the tale goes, the well took its name from the patron saint of the impossible after a group of Catholic investors prayed to her for its success.

Strong hears the recording, but doesn't stop to listen. He's keeping his pace, slower now than 20 years ago, but still steady. He thinks about yesterday's practice. He thinks about plans for today. He thinks about his daughters, and how the oldest has a problem he needs to help solve.

He doesn't consider the impossible, nor does he enlist the help of patron saints. The terrain is flat around Santa Rita No. 1, but there are difficult hills ahead.

Strong is looking forward to them.



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Great read.  Thank you.


"He doesn't consider the impossible, nor does he enlist the help of patron saints."   I don't find this surprising.  Do any of you?  Strong appears to be so organized, so decisive, so knowledgeable, that I simply don't see him calling on anyone other than those in his inner circle for input.  He got where he is through hard work and self-discipline, and it is difficult to see him changing that now.


Your thoughts?


Hook 'em!

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BOZICH | Charlie Strong says Texas job "isn't a monster"


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Ten days until college football, 10 items to get you safely to kickoff (point-spreads added later):

1. Charlie Strong was not interested in opening a vein to the media during his four-season stay at the University of Louisville. Cooperative? Usually. Available? Sometimes. Insightful? Rarely.

Strong has taken his talents to Austin, coaching the University of Texas, a program that hungers to be included in the national football playoff every year, if not more frequently than that.

It appears that Strong is opening up a bit. He cooperated with Sports Illustrated for a upbeat profile that ran last month. And he talked to Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press for a story that has been included in the AP's preview package for the upcoming season.

The most interesting comment I saw was Strong's take on whether the Texas job is an insatiable beast, the way many have portrayed it. You've heard the talk: Strong better mix in a 14-0 during his first four years.

“It isn't a monster,†Strong said. “It's a program with all the resources you need.â€

I hope Strong is right.

I also plan to check back with Strong if his team is still parked outside the Top 25 at the end of the season.

Remember, Mack Brown was forced out after 16 seasons, even though he won a BCS title. His predecessor, John Mackovic, was booted after six seasons. David McWilliams was bounce after five.



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