STILLWATER — A package from a reader arrived at The Oklahoman's office a few days ago.
It was an Associated Press story about new Texas coach Charlie Strong's introductory news conference. Certain words and figures were underlined in black pen, such as the years the Longhorns won national titles, Strong's annual salary of about $5 million and the nugget that Texas is the nation's richest athletic program.
But this was underlined in red pen: “(Strong) wants to ‘close the border' to out-of-state programs.”
“Big controversy ahead,” the reader wrote in red at the bottom of the story.
Strong's hiring — which came following Mack Brown's resignation following 16 seasons — was, of course, a national story. Moving forward, it also affects both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Strong brings a reputation for toughness and defense and rebuilding a program in a basketball-crazed state. What could he do in the Texas recruiting hotbed?
He's not only talked about closing those recruiting borders in Texas; he's stepped over the line into Oklahoma and poached arguably OSU's best assistant coach in Joe Wickline and turned him into the Longhorns' offensive coordinator.
Here's a look at the impact Strong could have on our in-state teams.
That marked-up AP story shows some are already thinking about it — and are, perhaps, concerned.
Toughness and discipline
When asked what the word “soft” made him think of, Strong responded with “a pillow.”
That drew chuckles from the crowd. But Strong knew the reporter was alluding to the perception that the Longhorns lacked grit and tenacity during recent seasons.
Strong vows that will change under his leadership.
“It's all about toughness, and players understand that,” Strong said. “If you're a disciplined program and you prepare them the right way and they have the right focus, that won't be an issue.”
Reports indicate that discipline won't just be on the field. According to the Texas blog Barking Carnival, all players will now be required to live on campus (unless they are a senior who has met a certain academic criteria) and sit in the front two rows of classes.
This tends to go hand-in-hand with the revamped overall attitude.
Texas featured the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in Jackson Jeffcoat. But this Longhorn squad was the definition of middle-of-the-road in the Big 12 in scoring defense (sixth, 25.8 points per game), rushing defense (sixth, 183.1 yards per game), passing defense (fifth, 224.2 yards per game) and total defense (407.2 yards per game).
Things improved when Greg Robinson replaced Manny Diaz after BYU quarterback Taysom Hill obliterated the Longhorns for 259 rushing yards. But Strong should provide an even greater upgrade.
Louisville led the nation in total defense (251.5 yards per game) and rushing defense (80.7 yards per game) in 2013 and ranked in the top 5 in scoring defense (second, 12.2 points per game) and passing defense (fifth, 170.8 yards per game).
“A very aggressive defense,” Strong told the Longhorn Network when asked to describe his style. “Very multiple, comes at you in all kinds of different ways. We're a team that loves to blitz and play a lot of man coverage.”
Strong was Florida's defensive coordinator for the Gators' two national championships under Urban Meyer. Sooner fans will remember his unit limiting Sam Bradford's dynamite 2008 offense to just 14 points in the title game.
Strong's comment that he wants to close the recruiting borders in Texas is, on the surface, outlandish. There's too much talent in the state for it all to wind up in Austin.
But the Texas program essentially recruits itself. The key for Strong's staff will be to identify and evaluate the right players to fit the Longhorns and then develop those guys once they get on campus.
Strong has recent examples of landing a top-notch prospect in Teddy Bridgewater and helping him evolve into a potential No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick. He also turned a three-star quarterback in Marcus Smith into a defensive end who led the nation with 14.5 sacks in 13 games (1.12 average) this past season.
“Let's not get caught up in the five stars, let's not get caught up in the four stars,” Strong said. “Let's get caught up in football players.”
Brown's staff famously whiffed on future stars like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. They also didn't offer notable Sooners and Cowboys like Trevor Knight and Justin Gilbert.
OSU (which had 71 players from Texas on its 2013 roster) in particular has made a habit of taking the prospects Texas didn't want and morphing them into players that beat the Longhorns three times in a row in Austin.
What happens if the Longhorn staff improves the way it evaluates?