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Texas HC Charlie Strong proving he's a "consummate players' coach"

Hard-edged disciplinarian and fun-loving players' coach aren't mutually exclusive.

Cooper Neill

Through the spring and into the fall, there was some talk about whether or not players would want to play for Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong.

Spending time while injured in The Pit certainly isn't the spot that any player wants to be in. And Strong proved that he wouldn't bend on his five core values in dismissing nine players from the team and suspending three more in the fall.

But the cathartic post-game celebration after the upset win over West Virginia served notice to just how much this Texas team has come to appreciate it's tough-love coach.

It's a truly compelling scene and many around the country took notice. Perhaps even some recruits.

ESPN analyst Jason Sehorn spent his college days playing for John Robinson at USC and then spent 10 years in the NFL under coaches like Dan Reeves and Jim Fassel. And he said he got goosebumps when he watched the video of Strong and his players after the West Virginia game.

"That gives me goosebumps because I know what he went through in trying to change the culture the first month that he was there," Sehorn said on College Football Daily this week. "And we talked about it, is he going to have the time to change the culture at Texas to be what he needs it to be? Are they going to allow him to lose to do this? And they had to struggle this year by suspending 12 players.

"But he had to weed out some of the people that aren't buying in. That there, what you saw, says the kids that are in the program buy in. They bought," Sehorn said. "The fact that they are still competing ... because they're not a good team right now. I mean, at quarterback they're challenged, they've got a pretty solid defense. But they're not an elite team. And they went up against West Virginia and manhandled them because you get the sense these young men are buying into the program that he's trying to build, which has to be a positive for the alumni and everybody else around. Just give this guy the time that he needs and he'll turn it around."

Count one of Strong's former players as one of those who always believed that the Texas head coach would be able to connect with his players.

Also an analyst for ESPN, Carter played under Strong at Florida and then spent 14 years in the NFL. Calling Strong the "consummate players' coach," Carter gushed about his old mentor on Final Verdict this week.

"My first coach in college football, he is a wonderful man, and that's the kind of celebration that is indicative of the relationship that he has with his players."

Indeed, the relationships that Strong and his staff have worked on building over the last eleven months have really started to pay off, especially on a defense that senior cornerback Quandre Diggs described as being "extremely close."

Keep in mind that Diggs is talking about a group that struggled mightily to establish trust with each other in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Some players freelanced at times because they didn't trust their teammates to be in the right spots.

No longer. It's not always pretty in the meeting rooms, where Diggs said that players sometimes lash out at each other, but the level of honesty has been crucial to the positive developments on the field.

"We can be ourselves," Diggs said. "We definitely talk trash to each other, and if we feel like something is not right, then we can say that to each other. I think that's what brings us so close. I think a prime example of that showed on Saturday, the way we went out and played, and it showed that we depend on each other."

And it all starts with the coaching staff.

On Tuesday, junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown talked about defensive line coach Chris Rumph and the loose atmosphere in the Texas coaching offices, where players have been encouraged to hang out.

"He's just a fun coach to be around, also," Brown said. "He keeps high energy around us. We're always talking smack to other positions, really, trying to compete with them. Then when you walk up in the coaches office, they're in there talking smack to each other about what we were doing in practice and talking about giving us too many points in practice because we did something good. This whole coaching staff is just really fun and they keep high energy."

On Wednesdays, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has become a favorite of media types and fans because of his almost weekly rants and strong sense of humor. According to Diggs, it's something that translates on Saturdays in the huddle.

"Even on game day, Coach Bedford is in the huddle joking around," Diggs said on Monday. "Coach Strong kind of gets a little -- he kind of tightens up a little bit when the games come around, but Coach Bedford is going to always be himself -- that's being funny and just looking for us to go out and make plays and saying something just to keep us loose in the huddle."

Strong has mentioned several times this fall that he wants his players to have fun. Yes, it's serious business practicing and putting in extra time in the film room, but that's all supposed to pay off on Saturdays when the players just go out and enjoy playing.

"There's things I wasn't able to do my first three years here, and it's something we don't take for granted now," Diggs said. "Coach Strong, Coach Moore, Coach Bedford, the whole staff, they're always joking around, and you can just go out and have fun."