How large is the margin of error for Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong? Almost non-existent, it seems, as Sports Illustrated reported on Monday morning that the ‘Horns are “very close” to terminating Strong at the end of the season, according to a high-ranking official.
The source reiterated the report from ESPN over the weekend that Texas won’t make an in-season move to relieve the third-year head coach of his duties, citing a lack of viable alternatives.
Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports put into perspective the heightened expectations after the two road losses:
The feeling there was if he went 7-5 this season, he’d probably be safe. Now, it’s looking like Texas needs to get to 9-3. And even then, that might be enough, according to one source on Sunday.
As a result of the turmoil, SI slotted Strong as No. 4 in this week’s coaches hot seat rankings, behind only Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, and Purdue’s Darrell Hazell, none of whom are remotely likely to remain in their respective positions for next season based on current results.
Strong is expected to demote defensive coordinator Vance Bedford on Monday following a two-game road stretch that saw the Longhorns defense concede 99 combined points against the Golden Bears and Cowboys.
When that decision happens officially, Bedford will likely remain on staff, but it will mean that linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary is the only coach still holding the same position under Strong from the first staff the former Louisville head coach assembled in January of 2014 after arriving in Austin.
Not only that, but Bedford’s demotion to allow Strong to take full control over the defense would be the second such move in two seasons. In 2015, the Longhorns head coach removed Shawn Watson as the offensive play caller after the season-opening blowout against the Fighting Irish.
But staff issues aren’t the only concern for the Texas administration, according to the source, as game management and special teams mistakes are also fueling the impetus beyond the move to oust Strong.
And just in case anyone thought Strong’s failures are the only key story in the athletic department right now, the source pointed out the school’s continued issues in leadership:
Texas has been an administrative mess for years, and there's no immediate end in sight. Athletic director Mike Perrin is a bright man and an accomplished lawyer. But he has no practical athletic department experience and is overmatched in his current job. With Perrin acting as a placeholder, there's been a mad scramble for power under him, which has caused administrative upheaval and congestion that's made it a difficult working environment for coaches. Instead of athletic department employees focused on helping coaches win, there's a feeling at Texas that they are more concerned about their own power.
The revelations about a power struggle under Perrin raises an important question — if Strong gets fired following the season finale against TCU in Austin on the day after Thanksgiving, will Perrin even be the one to lead the coaching search?
Furthermore, is there any way that someone without previous experience could lead such an important coaching search with LSU and numerous other programs likely to enter the sweepstakes to lure Tom Herman from Houston?
The answer to that question seems clear as Strong heads into a crucial game against Oklahoma this weekend.
A loss won’t result in a Sunday or Monday termination, but could virtually ensure the end of Strong’s tenure in late November.