On Moro Ojomo’s Comments, Steve Sarkisian’s Response, and Building Culture in Texas

The Texas Longhorns have a cultural agenda, an embarrassing reality apparent to even the most casual observers of college football, and one that reached a public head on the Forty Acres last week thanks to candid comments from the fifth-year senior defensive tackle. Moro Ojomo on Thursday and head coach Steve Sarkisian’s response on Tuesday.

First, a brief recap of the abyssal stretch for the Longhorns who are now well into their second decade.

The impressive run under head coach Mack Brown in the 2000s gave way to Brown’s demise, leading to four head coaches in less than a decade and a revolving door of assistant coaches almost every year. Regular transition courses combined with poor evaluation and abysmal development sank the tenures of Charlie Strong and Tom Herman as players struggled to cope with the distractions present in a city known for its entertainment scene and vibrant nightlife. .

Those issues were at the center of last season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian as the Longhorns gave up a double-digit lead in three straight games amid what became a six-game losing streak with another loss. embarrassing game against the Jayhawks, this time at the friendly Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Player buy-in was an obvious issue with the latest coaching change, which ultimately prompted an expletive-laden rant from defensive line coach Bo Davis after the loss to Iowa State, an incident that eventually made its way to social media, further illustrating the challenges Sarkisian faces in building a winning culture on Forty Acres. Sarkisian has spoken publicly about expecting significant roster turnover and that’s exactly what’s happened with the Horns signing 32 new players – so far – in the 2022 recruiting class.

Amid an offseason emphasizing becoming a player-driven team, Sarkisian once again deviated when asked about the current level of membership in the program during a recent media availability.

“I told you last year,” Sarkissian replied. “I think it’s good, but you have to ask the players that question.”

It was therefore not surprising that the subject surfaced last week during a 25 minute interview session with Ojomo, an unusually long availability with a player. A major in finance, a six-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll, and aspiring to become a corporate lawyer after his football career ends, Ojomo is widely known in the Texas press as one of the most interesting interviews and commitment of the team. topics.

During the wide availability, Ojomo offered his barely-filtered perspective on the team’s culture amid a pandemic that spans his third year, the distractions inherent in the Austin scene and the dangers of dawning opportunities with Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL).

“They’re 18 and want to chase women, chase money and chase booze,” Ojomo said of his younger teammates. “They don’t see the future. They’re very distracted by what’s in front of them – that’s a tough thing, especially for guys who haven’t been in a winning culture.

“For me, it’s very easy for a lot of these powerhouses to continue, because it’s established. So the new guys come in, and they’re like, ‘Oh shit, that’s the way we have to do it. This is what we do.’

“They always talk about coming here and changing things. It’s like it’s rooted. Like you’re uprooting, what, 10 years of shit that just got dumped? They’re more worried about being on 6th Street than partying and making $50 million. It’s crazy as hell.

In an attempt to foster better player leadership, Ojomo has an accountability group he meets in addition to making himself available to fellow players at TANC, the Texas Athlete Nutrition Center.

“It’s sad,” Ojomo said of the Longhorns players not taking advantage of their opportunities at Forty Acres. “I have this accountability group, and I met with my group, and I tried to tell them how many guys I came with had talent and didn’t do anything with themselves. It’s sad. They have a minimum diploma and do not earn money with football. I tried to make them understand that you can’t waste this opportunity. Some of them escaped – Caden Sterns, Joseph Ossai. But there are many more who should have been with them and did not make it.

One of Ojomo’s more pointed comments was in response to a question about so many players on the team thinking they’re going to make the NFL.

“They have to understand that this doesn’t happen on autopilot,” Ojomo said. “There’s so many people who have this exasperated mentality of thinking they’re going to go to the NFL, and they haven’t touched the field. That’s the funniest thing for me. It’s like, ‘ You haven’t touched the court for three years.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh no, I’m going to get my bread, dog.’ This is very fun.”

“This whole offseason I think me and a few guys who have been here for a minute have tried to be more outwardly focused and worried about the team because the team is going to have to win as many games as possible in n ‘any round we want to be drafted,” Ojomo said. “Working to really be a family and a brotherhood is a major focus this offseason.”

But Ojomo thinks NIL opportunities can inhibit those culture-building efforts by serving as a distraction.

“Guys don’t want to get together. Guys don’t want to spend time together,” Ojomo said. “They don’t see. They are so young and so stupid. I do not know how to explain it. They need us. They need the team, and it’s so hard because NIL forces your mind to focus on more social media and more exposure. It is a very deep problem.

Instead of sacrificing the hard work necessary to develop relationships within the team, Ojomo wants his teammates to take a long-term approach.

“They kind of have to see the 24-year-old, 25-year-old maybe sign his second NFL contract for $50 million instead of seeing the 20-year-old make $40,000 on NIL, sleep with women , drinking, and all that, as opposed to, you got $50 million,” Ojomo said. “You live in Spanish Oaks. You live in Westlake. Travel when you want. You have the Rolls Royce outside. This is life they need to see, and they need to understand that it just doesn’t happen on autopilot.

After the Longhorns lost seven games for the fifth time since the 2010 season that presaged Brown’s downfall, Ojomo is sick of losing.

“It has to be player driven, coach nurtured,” Ojomo said. “Someone making a statement about the senior class being a game-changer for UT will be hugely memorable. It’s because they are the players. Coaches come and go. Players need to take a stand and basically say “enough is enough”, 7-6 Texas bullshit doesn’t happen anymore. We have the ability, we have the talent, have the right mind.

Sarkisian’s response on Tuesday brought back to light Ojomo’s comments and the culture-building challenge that remains for the Longhorns.

“I think he would like to have some of the things he said back,” Sarkisian said, noting issues with generalities across an entire program and his preference for players to speak publicly about their own. efforts.

“I would like our guys, when answering your questions, to talk about what they do, their membership and be careful to talk about other people and where they are at.”

Responding further to Ojomo’s comments, Sarkisian made the connection between the controlling nature so prevalent among college football coaches and the legitimate desire, echoed by at least one former player on Twitter, to deal with issues internally instead of externally. talk about it publicly.

“The forum was really poor – you shouldn’t have done it in public,” Sarkisian said when asked about Ojomo’s team-wide messaging. “A player-led team, a very good player-led team, those issues, and if you have issues with anything, get treatment in the locker room, get treatment in the meeting room. If you really are a family, you don’t go out and talk about family matters. You take care of things internally.

One of Sarkisian’s jobs in building a gamer-led program with a winning culture is to educate well-meaning gamers like Ojomo on what effective public messaging looks like and to ensure that gamers who pass this message have the status to do so.

In that regard, while Ojomo’s frustration is understandable and certainly shared by fans and program watchers, whether he has earned the right to speak about other players is more debatable. He’s started 25 of the 38 games he’s played, but he’s produced just two career sacks, both in 2020, and three tackles for loss last year in what was supposed to be a season in shorts. groups for the Katy product.

“At the end of the day, you have to make sure you mow your own lawn first and you have to make sure your own house is in order first before you start discussing what someone else is doing or what the way he does it,” Sarkissian said.

Suffice it to say, Ojomo won’t be meeting the media anytime soon as Sarkisian continues his attempts to build a winning player-led culture, as the current low-level controversy once again reveals all that’s left. to accomplish.

Ojomo is not wrong. Sarkissian is not wrong. And these two realities existing simultaneously are at the heart of the continuing problems in Austin.

Jennifer C. Burleigh