The two reasons why Texas' football program is struggling under Charlie Strong
Speculation about Charlie Strong's future at Texas has intensified with his team's woes, but Strong won't blame his predecessor. "I never will ever say it was Mack Brown's fault," Strong told reporters Monday. "It wasn't his fault. It is on me."
But numerous coaches who have faced Texas this season and are familiar with the Longhorns aren't as diplomatic about Strong's 1–4 start entering Saturday's game against No. 10 Oklahoma in Dallas. They point the finger at Brown and his former staff for the lack of talented upperclassmen and an attitude of entitlement that's resulted in public clashes with younger players recruited by Strong.
"In two years, Charlie could not have f----- that place up," a coach tells The Inside Read. "It was already f---- up before."
The latter was clear by the time Brown's 16-year tenure at Texas had puttered to mediocrity when he left at the end of the 2013 season. The Longhorns were never the same after their loss to Alabama in the 2009 national championship game and declined with every additional year Brown was allowed to stay.
"Mack knew the s--- going on, he just didn't want to own up to it," another coach says. "He knows what he left."
And that's a Texas-sized mess for Strong, at least in the eyes of coaches. In cleaning it up with his disciplined, blue-collar approach, he dismissed nearly a dozen players in his first season in Austin.
That's why many coaches still can't believe Strong was able to will the Longhorns to a 6–7 record last season that included a loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. "(University of Texas) kids have always been entitled," another coach says. "They've been given everything. They're usually four- and five-star recruits that don't feel like they have to work. They just thought they could show up."
That's been changing under Strong, although the scoreboard hasn't reflected it this season. Texas has played one of the nation's toughest schedules (the opponents in the Longhorns' first five games have a combined 21-4 record). Although Strong abruptly made wide receivers coach Jay Norvell his offensive play-caller after the season-opening loss at Notre Dame, opposing coaches insist Strong's schemes on both sides of the football are sound.
"They're just not nearly as talented as they used to be," a coach says.
It's apparent the Longhorns' most talented players are mainly those Strong signed in his first two recruiting classes. Offensively, coaches rattle off freshman wide receiver John Burt, sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman as well as freshmen offensive linemen Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe as the best at their respective positions for the Longhorns. Defensively, it's freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson along with freshmen cornerbacks Kris Boyd, Davante Davis and Holton Hill.
The best quarterback on the roster is redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard, but coaches attribute his immense struggles the last two games to opponents' crowding the box defensively to restrict his dual-threat ability. With enough video of Heard finally in action, the opposition has discovered he can't complete the intermediate passes needed to exploit those defensive schemes.
"That's no secret," one of the coaches says.
Neither is the void of talent among upperclassmen. It's so bad the Longhorns' have become a punch line among NFL scouts, who joke they now make the trip to Austin for Sixth Street instead of The Forty Acres.
Senior cornerback Duke Thomas is considered Strong's best senior because of how hard he plays but is unlikely to make an NFL roster. It's widely believed Texas won't have a player selected in the NFL draft for the second time in three years after its 76-year streak was snapped in 2014.
"None of the older guys are going to the NFL, so you can tell most of them really don't care," one of the coaches says.
To make matters worse, there appears to be a lack of leadership among the players, a role usually filled by upperclassmen. "(Texas) doesn't have any dogs," one of the coaches says. "They don't have anyone that will stand up and say, 'F--- this bull----, let's go kick these f------' a--."
The rift between Texas's underclassmen and upperclassmen is so evident that coaches could sense the animosity well before it spilled over publicly in recent weeks. They see confidence in the Longhorns' younger players, but not the older ones.
"The upperclassmen are killing everything," one of the coaches says. "The freshmen just want to play. They're balling their a---- off."
It's all created a toxic environment for Strong in his uphill battle to make the Longhorns the best Big 12 team in Texas. Texas's proud faithful don't fully comprehend the Grand Canyon-sized gap Strong must make up to be able to compete with Baylor and TCU, according to coaches.
One coach who reviewed Texas's embarrassing 50-7 loss to TCU last Saturday still can't comprehend how Brown didn't offer scholarships to Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin and receiver Josh Doctson.
"They're the difference-makers," the coach says. "Why doesn't Texas have those two guys?"
The coach then started laughing. He already knew the answer and wasn't as polite as Strong about it.
"Mack," the coach says. "Brown."
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates back at home in Boise
Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates likes to compare the way he bowls to how he attacks opponents. "I'm aggressive," Yates tells The Inside Read. "I want to hit those pins as hard as possible."
It's that type of mentality that has made Boise State one of the nation's top defenses this season. The Broncos are seventh in total defense (260.2 yards per game), eighth in scoring defense (12.4 points per game) and fifth in turnovers gained (13).
They've done it with Yates' 4-2-5 scheme that focuses on stopping the run and challenges opposing quarterbacks to beat his defense through the air. It's a philosophy that's quietly made the 38-year-old Yates one of college football's top young defensive minds.
It's also why he's sure to be mentioned for higher-profile defensive coordinator positions and possibly head-coaching jobs in the months ahead. "It's all about putting your guys in position to make plays," Yates says. "You want them to believe in what you do."
Last season, Boise State ranked 48th in the nation in total defense (375.5 yards per game) and 63rd in scoring defense (26.3 points per game) in Yates' first year as defensive coordinator. It was the first time he had ever had complete defensive control.
But while the Broncos had a 12-2 record and won the Fiesta Bowl last season, they did it with banged up secondary that surrendered too may explosive plays. All but one defensive starter are back from a year ago and the secondary is healthier, which has resulted in fewer big plays this season. "I think the guys also now have a better understanding of how I call games and what we expect," Yates says.
This is Yates's third stint at Boise State. He was the Broncos' cornerbacks coach from 2003-05 before former coach Chris Petersen had Yates then coach the entire secondary for the next six years. A Los Angeles native, Yates played defensive back at Boise State from 1996-99 after a year at Pacific, which disbanded its football team after he redshirted as a freshman.
His previous tenure with the Broncos ended in 2012 when he left to become Texas A&M's co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. He was hired to his current position when Broncos coach Bryan Harsin took over last season.
It's a welcome return for Yates. He helped recruit many of the Broncos' current players from his territory in Southern California. Boise is also where Yates met his wife, Melanie, and their two children were born. The couple is back living in the house they kept after moving away.
"It's all made my job a lot easier," Yates says.
With Yates once again at Boise State, he's considering re-joining the bowling league he used to play in during the off-season. His parents exposed him to the sport at an early age and they too played in leagues. Yates's interest in bowling increased as a teenager once he learned to hook the ball. His best average in a series is 191 and his best single-game is 281.
He laughs recalling how teams he competed against in the league had matching shirts and some players had two bags with three balls in each. "They take it serious now," Yates says. "It was fun for us."
Yates owns two bowling balls. One is multi-colored that came with the name "Hot Sauce," and the other is purple that he calls "Kobe" in honor of his beloved Los Angeles Lakers' star guard Kobe Bryant.
"I'm a kingpin," Yates says with a laugh.
That's becoming apparent not just on the lanes, but also the sideline.
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