After 29 games, does Texas have an accurate picture of the kind of head coach Charlie Strong is?
That question is the one that are facing Texas president Greg Fenves, who is charged with hiring and retaining staff members. There’s little doubt Fenves likes Strong. All people have to do is look at what happened with the last full-time athletic director at the university, Steve Patterson, as an illustration.
According to reports, Patterson’s termination was because he told Strong that Fenves wanted to move academic support out of the football offices. When Strong had a chance to ask Fenves about it, Fenves didn’t know what the coach was talking about. After that, along with several other incidents that happened involving Patterson, the university parted ways with him.
Very few people are defending Strong’s ability to manage a game or assemble a coaching staff. He has only one original staff member who came with him in 2014. He has parted ways with three offensive coordinators and needed Fenves to convince current offensive coordinator Sterling Gilbert and offensive line coach Matt Mattox to accept Strong’s offer. The fact that Strong, Fenves and interim athletic director Mike Perrin flew to Tulsa to talk to Gilbert and Mattox should tell people plenty about what the two administrators think of Strong.
And there’s simply not enough space to go over all the poor in-game decisions Strong has made.
To be honest most thought Strong would bring the same defensive prowess they saw when his Florida Gators brought Oklahoma’s high-powered offense to a halt in the 2008 national championship game.
And that clearly hasn’t been the case as evidenced by 10 of his 16 losses being 18 points or more. One of those, which can never be defended, was to Iowa State last year 24-0.
What people can’t criticize are his back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes or the number of underclassmen who are starting and aren’t physically ready to go.
So let me throw in a couple of other questions to consider.
Who is the best offensive player on the team? Who is the second best?
Who is the best defensive player on the team? Who is the second best?
I ask because I talk to head coaches all the time, and one of them is having a very similar season as Texas. He is having to start several juniors and sophomores who aren’t physically ready to play. In short, they’re always in position to make a play, but they either drop the ball or aren’t strong enough to wrap and drive a ball carrier to the ground. So he asks those questions each week. And each week the answers are usually sophomores.
The Strong critics are correct to point out that the coach cut several players who would help had they stayed (Duke Catalon is the first to come to mind who is playing well at Houston). So they have very little sympathy for Strong now.
The most important point I want to leave you with is this — no one is wrong here. Not those who want to keep Strong because of his core values, how he loves his players, and how he has recruited. They hope Strong can somehow find enough wins to keep his job, though several I’ve talked to say the coach has to win out to stay in Austin.
And those who want to dump Strong aren’t wrong either because he has made numerous mistakes (who sends a player to call a coin flip when he clearly has no idea to say defer or receive?) before games, during games and days leading up to games (replacing a defensive coordinator two days after another loss because of a confused secondary that has been the staple for the last two weeks).
So let me leave you with one final question.
Can Texas win what it really wants — national championships, New Year’s Day 6 bowls, conference titles, top 10 rankings — with Strong at the helm?
An answer to that question should dictate Strong’s fate. And it may be unfair, but that’s the reality of big business college football. And Strong knows that better than anyone.
He has the pictures — the national championships he’s won as a coordinator and Sugar Bowl trophy as a head coach — as a reminder.
Love it? Hate it? Want to tell me to take a hike? Let me know!