So there I was, face to face with Texas head coach Charlie Strong.
He had just made an impassioned speech to over a 100 ex-Longhorn football lettermen and their guests in the Red McCombs end-zone suite. A beautiful place with a magnificent view of DKR-Memorial Stadium. He had mentioned that any former lettermen could call ahead and be granted access to watch practices this next season. It was a welcome gesture considering there are so many of those ex-Longhorns living in the Austin area. It was a step in the right direction, particularly since Doug English and Jerry Sizemore were in attendance.
I caught Strong after he had walked through an army of well-wishers. He shook every hand and posed for countless cell phone pictures. As the coach was on his way out, I called to him. He turned, smiled, and reached out to shake my hand. Firm grip, he looks you right in the eyes. Great smile. Energetic. Leader.
I knew he had enough and I went right to the point.
“Coach, the Big 12 can’t go through another co-championship, can they”?
No smile now, but those brown eyes were bearing in – I was afraid he might take away my T-Ring on the spot.
“No,” said Strong. “We will get it fixed, I’ll assure you at our conference meetings.”
And he was gone. He knew what I know. Figure out something – head to head, highest ranking in the playoff voting by the committee, strength of schedule – something, but get a champion for the season.
The day before at almost the same time I had tears forming in the corner of my eyes as I watched a screening of “My All-American”, the full-length beautiful love story and football journey of Freddy Steinmark and the 1969 National Champion Texas Football Team. It is to be released this fall on the heels of $25 million of publicity. It’s more than Rudy because Steinmark was an outstanding safety that made smashing tackles, key interceptions, and exciting punt returns. It is set on a much bigger stage than Hoosiers because, in the key game of the film, a nation of rabid college football fans watched Texas vs. Arkansas in Fayetteville along with President Nixon and Billy Graham in attendance. It was the game celebrating 100 years of College Football between two undefeated teams with Hall of Fame Coaches.
The most moving part of the film for me was the conversation between Freddy and the surgeon in Houston on his chances of survival after the amputation of his left leg the week after the Arkansas game because of the discovery of bone cancer. In the film’s credits there was a short clip of the real Darrell Royal tossing the game ball to Steinmark in the dressing room after the win over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
Many of is in the audience had played on Royal’s earlier teams but the familiar scenes hit home in an emotional way. Credit for the screening setup and the get-together right down the street from the theater at El Rancho goes to Bill Hall who was part of that ’69 team as Frank Meding’s right hand man and now is an extremely successful businessman in Fort Worth. Along with Billy Dale, who scored that winning touchdown in the Cotton Bowl against the Irish.
As for the Texas Spring Game, I came away with the following observations:
1. The Longhorns spread offense certainly speeds up their play and the sideline signals were much faster and without hesitation.
2. QB Coach Shawn Watson needs to stay on the sidelines during games to keep his QB’s focused and communicate with his co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline.
3. Jerrod Heard will give Texas the best chance to win with its change in offense. He is quick and scored on a run against the 1st team Texas defense. He has a strong enough arm and is a proven winner with confidence. Swoopes will be a good backup.
4. Wide Receivers Dorian Leonard, a redshirt freshman from Longview and Lorenzo Joe from Abilene will be good ones next season.
5. The Longhorn offensive line might still be a year away but they are already better than the group that played in 2014. Tackles need a little help.
6. Vance Bedford and the defensive staff are on track to have another fast and aggressive Texas defense.
7. Perhaps true freshman Malik Jefferson might not know all the defensive college secrets yet, but he can make plays in a hurry.
8. Johnathan Grey has a chance to have an outstanding year if Heard is the quarterback because of the threat of Heard pulling out the football. The key is the leadership among the Longhorn players this summer and what better motivation than playing Notre Dame on NBC Primetime at night in the season’s first game.
Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.