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Still disconnect between Texas Longhorns coaches and players on culture change

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The nine months of work by Charlie Strong and his staff have failed to perpetuate needed changes.

Chris Covatta

Some how, some way, the Texas Longhorns weren't ready to play against the BYU Cougars last Saturday night, despite the lingering memory of the debacle in Provo not even a year ago.

When head coach Charlie Strong met with the media on Monday morning, he may have ended the press conference with a smile, but he started it in the same irate tone he had on Saturday night after he watched his team suffer one of the worst home losses in recent Texas history.

Not only did the Horns suffer such an ignominious defeat instead of exacting revenge, but Strong said both after the game and on Monday that he didn't think his team was ready to play.

Yes, not ready to play even after being embarrassed last year.

Part of the issue remains a disconnect between what Strong wants from the team and the leadership provided by the seniors.

Strong hung reminders of last year's destruction up in the locker room, from the total yards rushing to the number of rushing yards by BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, expecting to draw some fire out of his team.

It didn't happen.

"Anywhere else I would've been, some player would've ran through there, tore all that down and probably would've burned it in the locker room," Strong said Monday. "They would've done something with it, ball it up and throw it on the floor. Nobody did nothing.

"And I did it for a reason, just to see what we would do. See if somebody would just get pissed and, if somebody put it up again the next day, if somebody would walk through there and tear it down again."

What exactly happened?

Senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said that he wanted to tear the signs down, but was afraid of repercussions from the coaching staff.

"It's hard to get a read on Coach Strong, honestly," Diggs said. "I wanted to be one of the guys who ripped it down, but I didn't want them yelling at me wondering why I ripped it down. I've ripped down a couple of signs they weren't happy with me ripping down."

So the communication is clearly failing to some extent on both sides -- Strong letting his players know what is and is not acceptable and his players having a healthy fear of reprisal for breaking a core value that could led to a suspension or something much more benign like tearing down a sign that could get them sent to The Pit to spend time with strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer.

Until Strong completes his training of the players in his efforts towards major and complete culture change at Texas, being extremely clear about his expectations instead of hoping that the team acts a certain way may be more productive.

Unfortunately for the team's short-term outlook, Strong has been clear about his expectations when it comes to watching film. In that area of explicit expectations, the Texas head coach has been much more definitive and the Texas players have no excuses for not dedicating extra time to making themselves smarter football players.

With only 20 hours a week allotted to practice and film time, the task of being a successful college football player requires the self-starting ability to come in and watch film when the staff can't demand that players come in. For Strong, it's representative of an ability to pay attention to details, to focus, to prepare, to sacrifice.

Before the game against BYU, there wasn't enough sacrifice in that area.

"So I told them, I said, how many of you guys really came out here last week and just looked at tape," Strong said on Monday.

"Not many hands were raised yesterday. I said, just tell me, who came by. Not many guys. Just give me a show of hands. Not many at all. But that's what it comes down to, it's just studying the game because if you really want to be a good team and a good football player, go study the game. But you don't just walk out there game day like we're going to go beat a really good football team because that wasn't going to happen, and it did not happen."

Of course, there are players who have put in the time and effort, but those players are tending to be the exception rather than the norm. Having grown up around older brother and former Texas player Quentin Jammer, Diggs has always been aware of what it takes.

And he referred back to his comments from Big 12 Media Days about a sense of entitlement with players and having guys who don't love the game of football.

"You should be able to go out and watch at least 15 to 20 minutes of film each and every day to get ready for what those guys are going to do. I understand that we watch film when we come up for meetings and stuff, but that's not enough."

Diggs isn't one of the players living on campus, so he abdicated responsibility for checking on players to see if they're pulling out their iPads to watch film, though he could check up on teammates personally that he feels might not be working as hard.

He also feels like that shouldn't be his role.

"No man should ever have to push you to go and watch film," Diggs said. "You're a grown man. I've grown up around the game, so I know. When you have people that just don't really care like they should, then that's the kind of predicaments you get yourself into."

What Diggs elucidated on Monday is the current predicament Texas football currently faces.

"We have cutups, so it's not like you have to cut it up yourself. It's going to be there for you to go watch. It's surprising when guys don't take advantage of those opportunities. That's kind of what I meant when I said guys don't love football -- that's where it comes from."

The potential issue that could develop is one that was deeply a part of the 2012 Texas defense -- players pointing their fingers at each other instead of encouraging each other and building each other up. As a senior leader, Diggs has to understand the difference between holding his teammates accountable and creating an us versus them mentality that would cause the underachieving players who aren't working hard enough to completely give up and bail on the team.

However, Strong doesn't believe that will happen.

"We will never become them, they're going to become us, and that's just the way it is," he said.

Now, he was referring to his frustration with having to suspend players who can't follow his core values, but it also applies to the players who aren't working hard enough to take the team where it needs to go.

Judging by the evident frustration of Strong both on Saturday night after the game and on Monday morning, he's not going to let the team slide away and collapse.

"I'll tell you right now, I'm just eaten up inside because of that performance the other night, and it's hard for me to get over it, and I can't let one loss beat me twice," he said. "I know at some point I have to get over it, but it's hard for me to get over it right now just because I just know it's not an indication of how good this football team is or where this football team is at. We're a much better football team than what we showed out there the other night."

On Saturday night, Texas will have another chance to prove that against No. 12 UCLA.