On Monday, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong wore a big smile on his face after introducing his new offensive coordinator, Sterlin Gilbert, and his new offensive line coach/running game coordinator, Matt Mattox.
But even if it wasn't on Strong's mind at that moment, it's hard not to feel that Strong is a dead man walking in Austin these days.
Right before president Greg Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin helped Strong save the day by flying to Tulsa and landing Gilbert and Mattox, the wild week that led up that moment made it seem like the administration might as well fire Strong instead of offering him the tepid support that submarined the attempted hire of TCU Horned Frogs co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie and nearly did the same with Gilbert.
A new piece at Inside Texas sheds some light on the specific forces working against Strong that will almost certainly cost him his job with the Longhorns at some point, whether it's after the 2016 season or after the 2017 season.
The IT report holds that a lack of support from Perrin isn't a recent development, but pointed to his trip to New York City for the College Football Hall of Fame induction of Ricky Williams as a "passive aggressive" maneuver intended to undermine Strong during his negotiations with Cumbie. Indeed, when Cumbie asked the critical questions, he didn't get the right answers and Perrin's absence was likely a major reason why:
He wasn't on the ground in Austin when Strong needed a "go-between" to navigate asymmetrical questions from Cumbie like, "will Strong be around in 2017?" or "can you tell my pregnant wife how to navigate the sales side of the house process if we need to relocate to Lubbock if Strong does get canned?"
So when Perrin said in late November that he supports Strong "without question," he was flat-out lying, as is often the case in those situations. At the time, he seemed sincere, but now it seems that he was not.
What's disappointing is that Perrin was expected to actually provide support for Strong after former athletic director Steve Patterson made life difficult for the Texas head coach with a failure to communicate and numerous cost-cutting moves. Instead, Perrin apparently came to the conclusion that Strong needs to be gone as soon as possible, representing the worst-case scenario for Strong when Perrin took over the job on an interim basis, as whatever buffer Patterson's attachment to Strong as his own personal hire provided is now long gone.
Furthermore, the new athletic director isn't alone in believing that Strong isn't the right man for the job, as the report cites a "critical mass" building against Strong among donors that have already pledged his buyout. As easy as it is to divine at least one big name that has been pulling against the Texas head coach ever since his arrival, this is bigger than one donor. Or even two, or even a small, isolated cabal. This is apparently a widespread movement that is willing to ensure that financial concerns are not a factor in Strong's continued retention.
Like many things at Texas these days, none of this stuff about the boosters is really a secret in the wide circles of people connected to the program. What's the point of being a dissatisfied booster if no one knows about it?
And the only reason that Perrin and Fenves finally stepped in on Friday, according to Inside Texas, was to avoid the incredible public relations disaster that was brewing, But then, and only, did they make their move. In other words, it wasn't a move to help out Strong, it was a move on behalf of the university as a whole.
Of course, the fact that everything has played out so publicly is another bad sign for Strong. There was also the persistent talk about Miami, which reportedly came from a conversation with Strong himself. The leaks about the candidates and the contract details. The leaks about the interviews and visits from the offensive coordinator candidates. Little happened behind the scenes in recent weeks that wasn't immediately out from behind closed doors.
Some of this is definitely on Strong, too, from his offensive hires to his lack of interest in cultivating relationships with the boosters who can protect him when things go wrong. Had he gotten things right offensively, the other factor likely wouldn't have come into play so quickly, but he removed his own margin of error through mistakes and the blowouts that came as a result.
It still seems a little early to say that Perrin and those boosters are right about Strong given the mess he inherited from Mack Brown, but a grade of incomplete after two years is hardly a path towards a contract extension. Strong himself must be questioning if he's in the right place if he was openly wondering about making the jump to Miami.
So, to sum it all up, the athletic director doesn't believe in the head football coach, many of the important donors don't believe in the head football coach, and the athletic department was either too disorganized or too dysfunctional to get the negotiations right with Cumbie or Gilbert to help out the head football coach. In Cumbie's case, Texas only got one chance. Fortunately enough, there was a second chance with Gilbert.
As heartening as that hire is for the offense moving forward, Gilbert is going to have to get that install right quickly and find a quarterback because unless Strong hits what appears to be a magic number of nine wins next season against a tough schedule that doesn't feature any by weeks during the conference season, he's going to be gone.
The BBs are out of the box again, but Darrell K Royal's famous analogy is much less effective in describing the situation when the really important BBs are not inanimate objects and are instead stubborn forces exerting their full pull against the current head coach.
Even if Strong does survive past the 2016 season, he may just be delaying the inevitable because when your boss and the shot-callers want you gone, it's going to happen as soon as it becomes politically feasible, especially since Strong does not appear to have any strong allies in his corner.