Texas football coach Charlie Strong said Monday that he has urged players to “block out the critics” and focus on the task at hand as the Longhorns seek to rebound from a 2-3 start that has elevated the level of speculation about his long-term job status.
Texas (2-3, 0-2 in Big 12) has lost its last three games after a fast start, including last week’s 45-40 setback to rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns play Saturday in Austin for the first time since Sept. 10 and Strong said he hopes the familiar setting will set the stage for a season-turning victory over Iowa State (1-5, 0-3), a team that blanked Texas 24-0 in last year’s matchup in Ames, Iowa.
“It’s good to get back in front of our fans. We need to play well. We haven’t played well the last three weeks,” Strong said on Monday’s teleconference with Big 12 football coaches.
Strong, a longtime defensive coordinator, took over play-calling duties on that side of the ball leading into last week’s loss against OU. But the Longhorns still allowed a season-high 672 yards to the Sooners, including touchdown passes of 71, 47 and 42 yards from OU quarterback Baker Mayfield to receiver Dede Westbrook.
Strong said he will stress defensive backs’ attention to covering deep balls in practice this week and urge them not to fret about the fact he ranks No. 1 on the list of the nation’s most embattled college coaches on the website CoachesHotSeat.com while Texas boosters have been less than supportive in their public comments about Strong’s 13-17 record at the school.
Asked what he tells players as speculation swirls about his job, Strong said: “I tell them it’s nothing for them to worry about. Let me handle it. You just have to block out the critics. Let’s get the job done on the field and our work will speak for itself.”
Asked where the defense needs the most work, Strong did not hesitate.
“Without a doubt, deep balls,” Strong said. “We lose our eyes (in coverage). If you’re in man-to-man coverage, you’ve got to keep your eyes on your man. You can’t freeze. His eyes will take you to the football. … I tell our guys, ‘When the ball goes up, it’s your football, too.’”