Almost exactly one year ago, Texas Longhorns head coach Chalrie Strong was making the first major mark on his new program by continuing a spring trend of dismissing players who couldn't abide by his five core values. During spring practice, Strong dismissed two seniors, fullback Chet Moss and safety Leroy Scott, but the eyes of the college football world truly turned upon Austin in late July just after Big 12 Media Days when news began to leak out that multiple players were gone from the program.
Strong sent away five players around that time, including senior running back Joe Bergeron, sophomore running back Jalen Overstreet, and redshirt freshman safety Chevoski Collins. Wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, a junior and a redshirt freshman, respectively, were dismissed from the team after they were charged with felony sexual assault. Strong later announced the suspensions of wide receiver Daje Johnson and Desmond Harrison. Senior safety Josh Turner was reportedly dismissed during that time as well, but he ultimately served a two-game suspension before returning and playing sparingly.
Following Harrison's brief reinstatement after the opener against North Texas, Strong suspended Harrison once again, along with starting offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle. By the end of September, Estelle was no longer with the program after his own dismisal, joined by linebacker Deoundrei Davis. Harrison never played for the Horns in 2015 and didn't enroll during the spring despite possessing another season of eligibility.
At the time and at numerous points since then, Strong has made it clear that he doesn't gain any enjoyment from booting players out of his program.
"When you look at what happened and when, as a coaching staff, we sat down, even with our players, it's not where you got to sit there and say, hey, listen, you're out," Strong said at Big 12 Media Days. "You're out. You're out. You start pointing at guys and telling them they're out of the program, that never, ever happened.
"They were given plenty of opportunities to do what was asked of them. So the culture -- it wasn't so much you had to have a change of culture because, when you look at this, you say nine guys. We have 85 guys on scholarship. So if the other 76 can do everything we ask of them, then why can't those nine do it?"
Throw in the transfers over the last year -- offensive guard Rami Hammad, linebacker Cameron Hampton, offensive guard Curtis Riser, tight end MJ McFarland, and offensive guard Darius James -- and there are numerous players no longer with the program who were highly recruited out of high school and expected to become key contributors.
Now, there's a report that junior offensive tackle Camrhon Hughes won't be in Austin when the team reports on August 6 and there is buzz that sophomore safety Erik Huhn could retire from football, but other than that, Strong reported no major discipline issues at Big 12 Media Days and rightly declined to suspend Johnson for releasing his rap single, "Dealer."
So, all told, there have been 13 players who would still have eligibility this fall who were dismissed, transferred, or otherwise left school during the last year (assuming that Hughes departs as expected), a number that amounts to more than 15 percent of the available scholarships for Strong and his staff.
With that type of turnover, it's going to take the program some time to rebuild the depth lost by those departures and that's a fact that puts some extra pressure on the 2016 recruiting cycle to finish as strong as the 2015 group.
However, the good news is that it appears the attrition is starting to slow down as the remaining players get adjusted to the new expectations of Strong and his staff. Increasingly, this is Strong's football team, made up of players that he recruited or was able to convince to follow his simple core values. Guys who have bought in and understand the standards by which they must abide.
Sure, there's still time for players to make bad choices and get dismissed, but if it were happening, it would stand to reason that the timing would be similar this year. If the Horns do manage to make it into fall camp without any other attrition other than the expected departures of Hughes and Huhn, it's a sign that Strong is starting to change the culture in Austin, even if he hesitates to officially term it as such.
After all the attrition, that may not result in the program turning a corner in the rebuild this season, but it ensures that the team will have the proper attitude and commitment to at least make some significant and tangible progress.