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The SMO: Taking a look at options

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NCAA Football: Iowa State at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

On Nov. 2, 2008, University of Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton notified legendary Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer of his dismissal from the program after 16 years of service.

In that 16 years, Fulmer brought Tennessee six SEC divisional titles, two SEC championship titles and one national championship.

But his program had become stale — recording at least four losses in three previous seasons leading up to the 2008 season and on pace for a losing record that year.

So, despite extending his contract in 2007, the Tennessee administration cut him loose and took its chances with a new coach.

Enter Lane Kiffin, exit Lane Kiffin.

Enter Derek Dooley, exit Derek Dooley.

Enter Butch Jones...

Texas could learn a lot from the other ‘UT’ before it becomes the other ‘UT.’

But because it appears the writing is on the wall for Texas head coach Charlie Strong, let’s take a look at options as we head into the back nine of the 2016 season.

Tom Herman

Bringing in Tom Herman fixes all problems ever created. The savior of all college football teams. The first college football coach in history without any flaws. The guy who gets it. Perhaps he could also serve as the new AD at the same time?

Herman’s Houston Cougars are 1-2 over the last three weeks, barely escaping Tulsa and dropping games to Navy and SMU. Herman inherited a lot of talent at Houston during that first magical season, and would do the same if he came to Austin. The question around him is the same question people ask about any young coach — how does he progress over time?

He’s still the man that everybody wants, but the excitement around him has cooled a little bit.

Larry Fedora

The last time Texas raided the coaching staff in Chapel Hill, it worked out pretty well.

Fedora is a proven coach that has built a mini-Baylor offense in Chapel Hill while dealing with the ongoing NCAA investigation that has cost him in scholarships and negative recruiting. He’s brought a perennial 7-win program into relevancy with his unique offensive scheme.

Fedora hired former Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to shore up a defense that has struggled mightily during his time in Chapel Hill — and while it’s been a work in progress — it’s still been progress.

He’s also turned relative no-names into some of the best college quarterbacks in the country. Austin Davis at So. Miss, Marquise Williams at UNC and, this year, perhaps the best quarterback he’s ever developed, Mitch Trubisky — a guy he recruited for his system that, up until UNC lost to Virginia Tech while playing in a hurricane, had made it on a number of Heisman Trophy watch lists.

Fedora is also a guy I could see turn down Texas to stay at UNC.

Don’t be surprised if Texas fires Strong and then gets the cold shoulder from coaches who would prefer to avoid the dumpster fire in Austin.

Chip Kelly

Could Texas possibly pull Chip Kelly from the San Francisco 49ers? I suppose. Kelly has been a proven failure in the NFL — but his teams at The University of Oregon were lethal. Is he ready to admit his mistake and return to the college ranks where he belongs? It’s not out of the question. But he makes more sense at Southern Cal than Texas.

Again, this is another name that I would expect to turn down the Texas job if offered.

Sterlin Gilbert

Count me as one of the few guys who would like to see Sterlin Gilbert get a look.

Gilbert has proven — with the exception of Saturday — that his offenses can score big and score often. He is a young Texas guy with a bright offensive mind that could do some real damage in Austin.

This hire might lack excitement to some, but if you love to score points, I’m not sure why you’d want to rid yourself of a guy who has taken a Texas team — with a true freshman at quarterback — from the bottom of the barrel to the No. 18 offense in the country.

Texas loves to do this thing where it doesn’t take chances on up-and-comers and instead prefers to raid programs once those coaches have proven themselves. This strategy works when coaches want to come to Texas — but I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for the current state of the program.

Gilbert gives the offense and program some form of continuity heading into 2017 if Perrin and Fenves decide to make a move. It’s an opportunity worth exploring.

Phil Montgomery

This guy is probably the exact right hire for the Texas job, but he likely won’t get a look until Texas has been denied by all 32 NFL coaches, Saban, Meyer, Harbaugh and the ghost of Tom Landry.

Keeping Charlie

File this one under “move that would most likely give Red McCombs a heart attack.”

While Strong has been nothing short of a disappointment during his tenure at Texas, there is the possibility that University president Greg Fenves opts to keep him for another season.

This is a legitimate option for a number of reasons.

In terms of optics, firing your first black head coach in Texas football history when some would argue that he was shortchanged on resources, administration stability and, most importantly, talent, after only three seasons is not what this University wants to do. There is no arguing this point. Texas badly wants a reason to keep Strong — and he can’t seem to provide them with any.

As great a guy as interim athletics director Mike Perrin is, Texas is currently under the leadership of a booster with no background in hiring and firing college coaches. An easy example of this is the botched baseball search in the spring, when Texas sat without a baseball coach for weeks after getting played by its top prospects.

Would a future football coach want to sign on with a man whose tenure will be up in the next year without knowing who will replace him? This is a question Texas has to ask itself before getting back into the mud.


Whoever is coaching the Texas Longhorns next season will be blessed with tons of youth, experience and talent.

In fact, it is everything around the program — outside of the team — that will be the deciding factor for any coach offered the position. Texas has the perception of being a toxic athletics program today — a perception that might not be too far from reality.