WACO — First impressions are important and that’s why new University of Texas head football coach Charlie Strong made 13 of them.
Longhorn fans in Baylor territory got a chance to meet the new coach during the “Comin’ on Strong Tour’s” conclusion on Tuesday at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
“You look at all of the passion and excitement with all of our fans and just to see them come out, enjoy it and hear about the program and what’s going on with the program (is fulfilling)” Strong said.
The new head coach introduced himself to alumni and fans from around the state during the 13-city, 32-day tour of cities from El Paso to Beaumont and major alumni hubs like Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.
Longhorn Network analyst Ahmard Hall was the master of ceremonies for the Waco stop and was also joined by UT athletic director Steve Patterson, legendary women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt and even the university’s beloved mascot, Bevo XIV.
According to the UT sports information department, every stop was sold out at venues that held between 400 and 700 people.
“We have fans and it’s all about us getting the message out to our fans and letting them hear what we have to say,” Strong said.
Strong replaced Mack Brown, who stepped down after 16 years as Texas head coach. Brown led UT to two Big 12 titles, three BCS bowl wins and a national championship, but the Longhorns went 5-14 against ranked teams during the last four years.
Texas went 8-5 in Brown’s final season in Austin.
Strong came to the 40 Acres after a four-year stint at Louisville in which he amassed a 35-17 record, including bowl wins over Miami and Florida.
Despite the struggles of the last half-decade, Strong said he saw a great deal of optimism among UT fans, alumni and former players during the tour stops.
“They’re really ready to get going and that’s what’s fun,” Strong said. “But I told them that we have some time, and it’s May, so we don’t have to worry about that until September when we have that first game,” Strong said.
One of the big questions that UT has centers on the
Former Belton star David Ash came into 2013 as the starter, but played in only three games after suffering a concussion in the second game of the year against BYU and a second head injury two weeks later against Kansas State.
Ash missed the final week of spring football practice after suffering a foot injury.
“David was having an outstanding spring before he hurt his foot, but we’ve still got to get better at that position and it’s all about competing,” Strong said.
Aside from Ash, the Longhorns have sophomores Tyrone Swoopes, who had an up-and-down spring game, and Trey Holtz, who didn’t take a snap last year.
Dynamic Denton Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard will join the team next season and former USC quarterback Max Wittek was interested in transferring to Texas, but the Austin American-Statesman reported earlier this week that Texas backed away from offering Wittek a scholarship.
“You see Colt McCoy and you see Vince Young, but the quarterbacks that we have now have to be themselves and we have to make sure that we develop them,” Strong said. “We have to continue to develop and make them better with what we have.”
Duke Thomas, a former Copperas Cove Bulldawg, played in all 13 games, making 10 starts last season. He had three interceptions and three pass breakups.
He had two solo tackles in the spring game and Strong said Thomas did an unbelievable job this spring.
“He’s only going to get better,” Strong said. “Once he really learns the position and continues to improve, that’s what you want to see.”
Harker Heights standout Naashon Hughes will also vie for playing time this season after redshirting in 2013. Hughes had four solo tackles during the UT spring game.
Former Heights standout linemen Camrhon Hughes and Darius James are listed on the UT roster, but didn’t play in the spring game.
The Longhorns need to replace three starters on the offensive line and opportunities for both ex-Knights to move up the depth chart could come up in the fall.
The Strong Era kicks off Aug. 30 when UT hosts North Texas.