It’s been nearly two years since I got on board at Burnt Orange Nation and for the most part, I’ve tried to keep content as objective as possible. I’d like to think I’ve done a good job of that.
But at a time when everybody has an opinion regarding Charlie Strong’s future in Austin—some knowledgeable and others, not so much—I’d like to share mine.
For starters, I really want to see Strong succeed at Texas and I don’t think it’s too late for that to happen. Strong has seen more than his share of struggles at Texas, whether it be his record in various situations, his coaching staff turnover, etc. Some of those coaches clearly weren’t cut out for success at what would prove to be a total rebuild in Austin at a time where teams that weren’t very good when I was growing up, such as Baylor and TCU, were becoming national powers.
Inheriting a dysfunctional and entitled locker room that led to numerous dismissals and a horrendous quarterback situation didn’t make his rebuilding task any easier.
It seems Strong has finally found some keepers on his coaching staff, though that seems to be on the offensive side of the ball. But that’s still progress considering how poor Texas’ offense had been since Strong’s arrival. The defense has been to blame for people now calling for Strong’s job, and understandably so—it has been historically bad recently. As a coach that built his name with elite defenses at Florida at Louisville, I get why people expect much more—I expect much more.
Whether it be missed tackles, blown coverages or just getting overpowered at the line of scrimmage, the defense has been pretty embarrassing all around. But let’s be realistic—Texas has lined up across two top 10 offenses in California and Oklahoma State, both on the road, and the preseason No. 3 team in Oklahoma with 29 freshmen and sophomores in the two-deep. Additionally, in each loss, a secondary still trying to find itself has had to deal with a future NFL talent at wide receiver.
While saying certain situations could have changed the outcome ultimately don’t matter in the big picture, that proves to be the case for Texas. For example, consider the Vic Enwere fumble just before crossing the goal line during the Cal game—if the ball had been awarded to Texas, as it probably should have, the offense still had a chance to tie the game. Against Oklahoma, if a bounce or two on the late Sooner fumbles had gone the Longhorns way, Texas would have had more time to operate and could have went in for the game winning score. Obviously, neither worked on in Texas’ favor, but the ‘Horns are only a few small details from possibly being 4-1.
Many of those small details throughout the game come down to execution issues, largely due to youth struggling to grasp what was a fairly complex Bedford defense.
To an extent, you can argue that there’s a point when youth can’t be the excuse, but for an extremely young defense with 16 freshmen and sophomores in the two-deep facing elite offenses, inexperience does play a factor. I can’t help but think of my freshmen football team at Wagner High School in San Antonio here … we were loaded with young talent and several players went on to play football at the college level, but would we have been able to compete if we were thrown into the fire at the 6A varsity level against some of the state’s top offenses? Unlikely.
For Texas’ defense, the only offseason departure should be senior safety Dylan Haines and with some more experience and another offseason of physical maturation under their belts, we should see Brandon Jones DeShon Elliott as the starting safeties in 2017. The corners, who are primarily sophomores and freshmen, can certainly benefit from an offseason under a more qualified secondary coach and a shot of some much-needed confidence, and the front six or seven—whatever Texas runs next year—should be much more experienced and physically imposing.
Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler will likely be the Big 12’s top linebacking duo and with a more experienced Breckyn Hager and Malcolm Roach coming off the edge could be dangerous.
It’s practically impossible for the defense to get any worse and if Strong survives after this season, it’s hard to imagine his offseason priority wouldn’t be bringing the defense up to his standard since the offense could be among the nation’s best in 2017. If Strong is allowed one more season to right the ship, I’m sure he’ll be extending some lengthy offers to some top defensive coordinators that he can realistically get to Texas.
I’d like to believe Strong is a much more knowledgeable sports and defensive mind that myself and most that say he needs to be fired. He’s well aware of the defensive issues he’s dealing with and considering his resume prior to Texas, I think he would get the defense back up to par if given the time.
The players love Strong and seem to make it a point to place blame on themselves and not the coaching staff. To me, that speaks volumes. Just check this Tweet from Brandon Jones.
No matter what is said this man right here is something special. pic.twitter.com/NxHysjNMrX— Brandon Jones (@BlessedJones33) October 9, 2016
That same kind of support and love from his players was evident last season when they lifted Strong on their shoulders after beating Oklahoma and doing the same after beating Notre Dame to open the season.
Texas (No. 11) is ranked for the 1st time under Charlie Strong after taking down No. 10 Notre Dame in Week 1. https://t.co/ETBGX4vb8V— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 6, 2016
Yes, coaching is a part of the issue, but at the end of the day, it’s the players that are out there when the game starts, not Strong, or Bedford or any other coach. So while it is up to the coaches to assure the players are capable of making tackles, I have a hard time believing it’s primarily on the coaches when most of the guys on the defense are former high school All-Americans and high-level recruits from defenses where they were obviously standouts.
Whether it’s on social media or during press conferences, the players have come to Strong’s defense when people start calling for his job to an extent you hardly see at other programs. It’s pretty clear this team wants to find its success and wants to do it under Strong.
With another season, I believe this team would turn the corner under Strong, but patience certainly isn’t Texas’ strongest quality and unfortunately, another coach may be inheriting a team loaded with talent that came to Austin to turn Texas around under Strong.
When people talk a coaching change at Texas, the name that has been coming up as Strong’s potential replacement since last season has been Tom Herman. It’s not hard to see why ... Houston had won 18 of its last 19 games under Herman and had legitimate hopes of the College Football Playoff prior to Saturday’s loss to Navy.
Many consider Herman to be the next great Power Five coach, which is exactly why many expect him to take his talents to either Texas, LSU, USC or Oregon after the 2016 season. Herman is doing what Strong did at Louisville before coming to Texas, so yeah, there’s a lot to like about what he could become in Austin if given the opportunity.
But does everyone like Herman so much just because he’s having success at a non-Power Five school while Strong struggles through a rebuild in Austin?
I’m not taking anything away from the guy—he has some serious coaching chops and is a damn good recruiter, too, considering he’s getting guys to come to Houston over Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. But Strong’s resume during his final two seasons at Louisville were strikingly replicable with a 23-3 record, a Sugar Bowl victory over No. 3 Florida and a 12-1 season only tarnished by a three-point loss to UCF midway through the season.
As a whole, we’re calling for Strong’s job when the leading candidate to replace him has pretty much done what Strong did during his final two seasons at Louisville, only Herman is doing in in-state at Houston.
Herman has beaten four-straight ranked teams at Houston, including Oklahoma in the season opener. Strong had done the same thing dating back to last season Red River Showdown victory prior to the one-possession loss on Saturday. But while Strong has been tasked with slowing down historically potent Big 12 offenses with tremendous youth at Texas, Herman has been demolishing sub-par, American Athletic Conference competition.
Who knows? Maybe Herman is the coach Texas needs to restore its place as a national power. I’m just not ready to say Strong is incapable of doing the same thing and if given another season, I think he would do just that. But if the decision makers at Texas decided his time is up, Herman would be taking over a program in a considerably better place than the one Strong was handed after the Mack Brown era.
Does everybody really want Herman that bad, or do they just not want Strong while he’s losing? It’s also worth considering, if Herman comes over, that likely means his coaching staff follows and Sterlin Gilbert after turning the Texas offense around.
While we all want the same thing—to see Texas finally start winning at the rate it did during the 2000s, to me, it would be unfortunate if Strong was fired a season to early and Herman—if he even came to Texas because there is reason why he may want to avoid the job—reaped what Strong sowed through recruiting and providing young talent with experience.
There’s still plenty of football to be played and considering a seven or eight-win season, which is what many said would be the standard, is still possible with each game remaining being winnable, I think we’re collectively getting ahead of ourselves.
If Strong manages only two or three more wins with two being over Iowa State (1-5) and Kansas (1-4), then we have a much different conversation at the end of the season. But four of Texas’ seven remaining games are at home, including the two meeting with ranked opponents in Baylor and West Virginia. Let’s give Charlie Strong an opportunity to finish what he started, at least this season, before calling for his head and assuming everything will automatically be back to the way it used to be if Strong is out and Herman is in.