Charlie Strong was hired last June to be the head football coach for the University of Texas. He’d had a successful tenure as the coach at Louisville and as an assistant under Urban Meyer at Florida (which included two national championships) prior to that. Texas is a storied program with a long history of success and Strong replaced a legend in Mack Brown. To compound matters Strong is the first African-American head coach in the history of Longhorn football and faced criticism from a prominent booster that certainly seemed to have racial undertones. Needless to say he had an uphill climb.
Strong didn’t make matters easier for himself or take any shortcuts. By the end of September he had dismissed nine players from the team and suspended several others. Many major college football programs have a reputation for lax behavioral and legal standards for players. But Strong had a list of clear, common sense rules, and he enforced them. He didn’t have a different standard for starters than scrubs, and he wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense.
What made Strong’s actions so remarkable and admirable was their rarity among big money college programs. In recent years we’ve witnessed players accused of sexual assault, stealing, weapons charges, drug possession, domestic violence, and more starting at the highest profile programs in the biggest games. We know that, whether we like it or not, great players get preferential legal treatment and disciplinary action at these schools. What matters at these programs is winning, and winning defines their culture.
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A sick culture values results over process and success over people—like when winning comes at the expense of developing men and moneymaking trumps education or ethics. As the Longhorn’s challenging 2014 season attests (a 6-7 record and loss in a low-level bowl game), changing a culture can disrupt before it succeeds. And we have to remember that the definition for success must be expanded beyond merely wins or dollars, though in the end those are essential for a team or business. Success is also measured in how those wins and dollars are earned and what kind of people are developed to earn them.
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