In a Wednesday radio appearance on The Border Patrol on Sports Radio 810 WHB in Kansas City, former Colorado Buffaloes head coach Gary Barnett trashed embattled Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong.
"Well, it’s like a big soap opera down there," Barnett said. "And no, I don’t think he survives this... It’s just one bandaid after another and he doesn’t cure anything, doesn’t solve anything, just creates another crisis."
Barnett was referring specifically to the demotion of defensive coordinator Vance Bedford on Monday, a move that Strong declined to make during the bye week, instead putting off the decision until after the 49-31 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys last weekend.
It was the second time in two years that Strong has demoted a coordinator during the season, the third time in six years, and the ninth overall coaching change in less than three seasons. In fact, all the turnover on Strong’s staff, which now features only linebackers Brian Jean-Mary in his original position, is a major point in Barnett’s argument against Strong.
"You think about how many coaches those kids have gone through, coordinators — it’s unbelievable," Barnett said. "You just can’t get any continuity and it’s been the tale of Charlie’s tenure down there, it’s been change coaches right and left. Well, when you have to change that many coaches, there’s something wrong, and it’s wrong at the top."
Since the Texas administration is reportedly "very close" to firing Strong at the end of the season, it’s clear that Longhorns power brokers are starting to feel the same way.
As a result of the Texas head coach’s issues with decision making regarding his coaching staff, Barnett believes that Strong won’t return for 2017 and needs to take some time away from football to fix those issues.
"So do I think Charlie survives this? No, and I don’t think Charlie deserves to survive this," Barnett said. "When you can’t make any better decisions and stick with people any more so than he’s done, then you deserve to go sit down and take a timeout and get everything together. Go visit some people and see how they make decisions and do that. He needs a timeout and time off and to relearn how to be a head coach because he’s just made this a disaster down there."
The most incendiary claim from Barnett is his accusation that Strong doesn’t even want to be at Texas.
"He didn’t want to take that job in the first place. Lou Holtz talked him into taking it. Charlie wanted to go to Florida or South Carolina and they both opened after he left. He didn’t want to be there, he doesn’t like recruiting, he’s disorganized, he’s all those things. So it isn’t so much, ‘Who’s the right guy for the job?’ It’s just that Charlie isn’t the right guy for the job."
While it’s difficult to argue that Strong doesn’t like recruiting — the one area where he’s had unqualified success and the area he feels most comfortable talking about — the firestorm last fall surrounding the Miami job after Strong reportedly shared his interest in the position with someone close to the Texas football program does support Barnett’s claim.
Strong has deep ties to Florida and South Carolina after serving as the defensive coordinator for both schools. With his conservative tendencies on offense, success playing defense in the SEC, and history of recruiting Florida well, it makes sense that Strong would prefer to coach at one of those schools.
He certainly underestimated the offenses in the Big 12, as evidenced by bringing Watson with him from Louisville to run a conservative, West Coast offense, and his continued issues figuring out how to successfully defend spread offenses.
And the persistent problems with special teams and game management decisions suggest that disorganization is a potential factor for the Texas struggles.
Given that Barnett may still be close with former play caller Shawn Watson, who worked under Barnett from 1999 to 2005, some of Barnett’s antipathy towards Strong may be a result of 2015’s in-season crisis after Strong elevated wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to the offensive play-calling role after getting blown out by Notre Dame in South Bend.
Following Watson’s demotion last season, he ended up as an offensive quality control assistant at Indiana, a precipitous fall — Barnett may blame that all on the Texas head coach.
Barnett also has another connection to Strong through offensive line coach Dave Borbely, who didn’t get an invite to follow Strong from Louisville.
Then there’s the Big 12 championship game in 2005, which featured a 70-3 Colorado loss to Texas that ended Barnett’s coaching career. And the fact that Barnett got passed over for the Texas job when the Longhorns hired Mack Brown.
However, despite those connections and the potential hard feelings attached to them, it’s hard to argue with most of Barnett’s claims, as harsh as they may be.