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A much-needed history lesson for Charlie Strong on Big 12 spread offenses

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Hopefully this will help avoid more dumb comments in the future.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma State
“You see, I started running a spread offense here before TCU and Baylor.”
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Palm, meet face.

In a bulletin board-ready moment during Monday’s media availability, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong revealed his ignorance of Big 12 conference history and managed to demean the TCU Horned Frogs and Baylor Bears.

"When people saw what Baylor and TCU was doing with lesser athletes, everybody jumped on board," Strong said, reciting his own particular version of how spread offenses came to dominate the league.

Sigh.

Let’s start with the first part of that — suggesting that Baylor and TCU were the first or most impactful spread offenses in the conference.

Somewhere in the Palouse of eastern Washington, Mike Leach is shaking his head with aggravation. Perhaps even planning on coming after Strong with one of his pirate swords.

If anyone deserves credit for bringing spread offenses to the then-fledgling conference, it’s Leach, an early product of Hal Mumme’s Air Raid offense who made a stop in Norman as the offensive coordinator for Bob Stoops in 1999 before taking over at Texas Tech.

So it was actually one of the most talent-rich schools in the conference that was an early adopter of spread offenses, as Stoops quickly identified the growing trend and hired more successful spread coordinators like Mark Mangino, Chuck Long, and Kevin Wilson.

After missing with former quarterback Josh Heupel, Stoops made another strong hire in young East Carolina coordinator Lincoln Riley, who just so happened to get his start as a student assistant and then wide receivers coach under Leach at Texas.

While Stoops ran the spread to great effect at Oklahoma, Leach helped the spread proliferate in the Big 12 with his pass-happy ways on the Llano Estacado. But even Leach didn’t always achieve success with "lesser athletes" — though he wasn’t able to land top-rated high school recruits, several of his small wide receivers like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola went on to long careers in the league.

And then there’s longtime NFL wide receiver Michael Crabtree. /shudders involuntarily

There were the Kansas teams under Mangino from 2002 to 2009 and all the Oklahoma State teams under Mike Gundy after he took over from Les Miles in 2004. The long line of successful offensive coordinators under Gundy includes Tim Beckman, Larry Fedora, and Dana Holgorsen.

When TCU emerged as a top-flight Big 12 offense, it was because head coach Gary Patterson pulled Doug Meachem away from Houston by way of Stillwater and Sonny Cumbie out of Lubbock.

Current Houston head coach Tom Herman even ran the spread at Iowa State under Paul Rhoads for two seasons before joining Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Before leaving Ames, Herman helped the Cyclones to the program’s first victory over the ‘Horns in 2010.

Staid Nebraska, long-time purveyor of the triple option, went spread to run with Taylor Martinez under none other than Shawn Watson before his termination and soft landing with Strong at Louisville.

Missouri used standouts like Brad Smith and Chase Daniel at quarterback to effectively helm spread offenses for years under Gary Pinkel.

Heck, one of the most important decisions in the last decade and a half of Texas football was the 2004 move from a pro-style, I-formation offense to the shotgun spread featuring the zone read to unleash the talents of Vince Young.

So by the time Art Briles brought his veer-and-shoot spread offense to Baylor in 2008 and TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012, the spread had been a staple of the nation’s most wide-open power conference for most of its existence.

As for describing the players at Baylor and TCU as "lesser athletes"?

Some weren’t always highly-recruited, but the success of those two schools came as a result of identifying talented but underrated prospects and then using that success to land top-rated recruits, especially in the case of Baylor.

Robert Griffin III would beg to differ about the characterization as a lesser athlete, as would former Bears wide receiver standouts like Kendall Wright.

Rated as a three-star prospect in the 2008 class, Wright still held offers from schools like Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State — he was hardly unknown despite coming from tiny Pittsburg, Texas, deep in the Piney Woods.

And as a first-round draft pick in 2012, Wright proved he was hardly a lesser athlete.

The list goes on, and includes other impressive talents like Terrence Williams and Josh Gordon.

By the time the Mack Brown era was winding down in Austin, Baylor was landing former five-star prospects like transfer running back Lache Seastrunk and out-recruiting Texas for speedsters like wide receiver KD Cannon and running back JaMycal Hasty, along with wide receiver-turned safety Davion Hall.

At TCU, former quarterback Trevone Boykin and Wyoming wide receiver transfer Josh Doctson didn’t succeed just because of the system — they succeeded because of their own unique talents. Nebraska running back transfer Aaron Green sat just outside the 247Sports Composite top 30 when he emerged from San Antonio Madison in the 2011 class.

Perhaps Strong’s ill-considered comment explains why he thought he could win in the spread-happy league with a conservative offense, even though he now talks about the need to run the spread as conventional wisdom.

"If you don't have this kind of offense, you're not going to stay in the game," Strong said.

Thing is, Big 12 coaches have known that for years, but Strong was late to the party and still doesn’t understand how it all went down in the first place.

Sigh.