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McCollum's Column: The significance of Charlie Strong's hire at Texas

Posted: January 6, 2014 - 5:58pm

About 10 days ago, I received a message from Emily Montgomery of Conway, the widow of former UCA coach Howard “Pee Wee” Montgomery.

Upon returning my returned call, she informed me that a relative in Texas, apparently with connections to the University of Texas, told her that Charlie Strong was the No. 1 candidate to be head coach of the Longhorns.

At the time, rumors were swirling and there were several No. 1 candidates. As the saga developed, she nailed this one early.

Strong, who played college at the University of Central Arkansas, is now coach of one of the most iconic, prestigious programs in the country, certainly one with the deepest pockets.

The development made many in Conway and those connected with UCA, proud. It created a few more closet Longhorn fans.

Strong was highly respected as a player and a coach and waited a long time to get a chance to become a head coach after establishing himself as one of the top assistants in the country with stints at Notre Dame, South Carolina and Florida.

It appears to be a good choice for Texas, which finally solidified a coaching situation that became a soap opera encompassing the football season and got several coaches raises as pre-emptive strikes.

Strong is known as a good recruiter with solid connections in Florida with the rich grounds in Texas always open to Longhorn recruiters.

But the problem with Texas in recent years has not been recruiting. Texas yearly has, and almost always will have, one of the top recruiting classes in the country. You don’t often see a lone star by a Texas high school recruit.

The issue has been development of talent and to an extent, identification of the right talent. For example, Texas recruited both Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, Heisman Trophy quarterbacks, as defensive backs.

The issue also has been motivating that talent and creating a sense of mental toughness that characterized great Texas teams. Those have long been acknowledged as one of Strong’s strengths.

He becomes Texas coach is an intriguing benchmark in several areas:

• He’s the second native Arkansan (Fred Akers was the other) to become head football coach at Texas.

• He is the second person with significant Faulkner County connections to take over a major program at UT in the last two years. Karen Aston, who led Vilonia to a state girls championship in one of her early years in coaching, is the women’s basketball coach at Texas.

• He’s the first African-American to head a men’s athletic program at Texas.

• That’s very significant because, in 1969, Texas became the last team to win a national college football title with an all-white roster. One of the biggest controversies at UT in recent years was over the naming of a dormitory for William Stewart Simkins, who was a distinguished law professor for 30 years at the university but was also co-founder of the Florida Ku Klux Klan and a leader in the movement. The dorm was eventually renamed.

It’s interesting that both Texas and Texas A&M now have their football programs headed by African-American coaches.

Maybe Strong is not just a new face to the program but represents a fresh start and a major cultural shift for those who live and breathe with a burnt orange glow.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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