Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Meet the coaches: Robinson and Koenning
By Max Olson
This week, we’re taking a closer look at the members of the new Texas coaching staff under Charlie Strong. The second part of our two-a-days series focuses on two new hires on the offensive staff and what they’ll bring to their respective position groups.
New Texas running backs coach Tommie Robinson wants to start fresh and encourage open competition.
Their new position coach is taking a different approach to planning for 2014. Robinson is not watching film of his running backs: He doesn’t need to.
“I don’t know what to expect because, on purpose, I didn’t study them at all,” Robinson said. “I didn’t want to study them on tape. I want to go out and see these guys perform.”
He’s chatted with former running backs coach Larry Porter, but Robinson isn’t interested in analyzing what his players have done in the past. He wants a clean slate, a fresh start. He has a good reason why.
When Robinson arrived at USC last year, leaving his NFL gig with the Arizona Cardinals to return to the college game, he knew the expectations. Penn State transfer Silas Redd led the Trojans in rushing in 2012, and they’d signed ESPN 300 backs Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Those were the options.
Robinson didn’t watch the film. He didn’t want any biases. He kept the competition going and used five different backs last fall. The standout of the group was a surprise: Javorius Allen.
When Robinson first joined the program, he says he was told he didn’t need to worry about Allen. The staff didn’t think the sophomore, a former ESPN 150 recruit with six career carries, would amount to much.
“They didn’t want him around, wanted to let him go,” Robinson said. “I learned a very valuable lesson: Had I listened to what I was told, that kid would’ve never got a chance to play football at USC. But I didn’t listen to what I was told about him. I wanted to formulate my own opinion about the kid, and the kid ended up leading us in rushing.
“This is a kid that wasn’t supposed to be on the team, that I was told, ‘Don’t worry about him, he won’t amount to anything,’ and he ended up leading the team in rushing. So who knows?”
That’s why, when Texas begins spring practice next week, Robinson intends to treat his rushers like true freshmen. They’ll have to convince him they’re his best option.
“I’ve made that point crystal clear,” Robinson said. “Everybody has an opportunity.”
Koenning and Vance Bedford both arrived at the University of Texas in 1977. They could tell you all sorts of stories about their college days, but they won’t.
“They might be R-rated,” Bedford said. “We had our day in the sun. It’s amazing some of the things we did, that we’re still here today. That’s all I can tell you.”
No doubt Koenning has done plenty of reminiscing during his first two months back on campus since joining Charlie Strong’s coaching staff. After more than three decades coaching elsewhere, this is his homecoming.
More on Texas
For full coverage of the Longhorns, check out the Texas blog, part of ESPN's College Football Nation. Blog
“The one thing that’s been really nice for myself is to come back and see what it’s like, having the opportunity to play in the stadium, going back through campus,” Koenning said. “Things have changed a little bit since I was last here. It’s gotten a lot nicer.”
Koenning’s 33-year career has seen him make stops at Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, Mississippi State, Rice, Duke, Texas A&M, the Miami Dolphins, back to Duke, Houston, TCU, back to Alabama, back to A&M, South Alabama and Mississippi State. Finally, the road led him back to Austin.
You won’t get him to talk badly about his time at Texas A&M, Alabama or anywhere else. Koenning says he’s been fortunate throughout and given the chance to coach at some great programs.
Getting back to Texas, at a time when the program is in transition and in need of coaches with Longhorns roots, was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“I’m excited about it, and I think also the opportunity to come with Coach Strong is really nice,” Koenning said. “His background and what he’s done in the past has been really impressive to me. It’s an opportunity to win.”
The son of a longtime Texas high school football coach, Koenning hit the road to recruit right when he was hired and ran into folks he knew all over the place. He’s looking forward to recruiting a state he knows well alongside coaches he trusts.
His offenses at Alabama and Mississippi State faced Strong’s South Carolina and Florida defenses. He knows what Texas is getting in its new head man, and Bedford is happy to vouch for what Koenning brings to the group.
“He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever known,” Bedford said. “You watched him as a player, and the same tenacity you saw as a player, you see as a coach. He’s going to get the best out of his players.”