For a subset of humanity, there are few feelings that create more ecstasy than finding the ammunition to take down a righteous man. Presumably, this act helps this subset feel better about their own failings. So when University of Louisville booster Johnathan Blue's lawyer filed a motion to subpoena Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong in his divorce case with his wife, Tracy Blue, the hot takes about Strong flew fast and furious. Pure ecstasy in certain circles.
And then, on Thursday afternoon, the news broke that Jonathan and Tracy Blue came to a divorce settlement on Wednesday evening, thereby remanding the motion to subpoena Strong. But that didn't totally absolve Strong in the court of public perception. Far from it.
A&M beat writer Brent Zwerneman did a fantastic job of quickly encapsulating much of the sentiment directed at Strong between Saturday evening and the breaking Thursday news.
Still, damage is done on the "Core Values" hypocrisy front. Waiting for the shouting from rooftops it wasn't true (which any man would do).— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) February 25, 2016
Still, this ruling is best thing for recruiting/on-field foes of Texas. Keeps Horns from snagging a Tom Herman etc sooner rather than later.— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) February 25, 2016
Quite a roll there for Zwerneman, so let's break this down, point by point.
The idea that Strong has pushed his core values to the public is a false -- it's been reinforced by other entities and magnified by the media. In the latter case, that's partly as a contrast to what was a rather loose operation in the late years under former head coach Mack Brown. Just look at the rate and timing of drug testing under Strong after he took over for evidence of that.
Note that Strong didn't sell any righteousness about his drug testing efforts. It wasn't conveniently leaked by a member of the athletic department. The Austin American-Statesman had to file public records requests to find out about those changes in drug testing procedures.
The nine dismissals between the start of spring practice and the early part of the 2014 season brought those core values to the forefront as a means to understand the forced departures and why they came about -- the media doing its job. Those dismissals were decisions that Strong made reluctantly after giving those players multiple opportunities to make the right decisions.
He didn't do it to sell himself as the righteous man. He did it because he holds his players accountable.
Strong didn't call up NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and ask him to come to Austin to talk about his core values. Goodell and Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, did that on their own.
Did Strong compel the Texas Board of Regents to endorse his core values? That doesn't seem in character with the persona Strong puts forth publicly.
Not to mention the fact that Strong said he wasn't even aware of the endorsement when it passed.
"Nothing I'm doing here is special," he said at the time. "It's not about me. It's never been about me. It's about developing young men."
But maybe some of this is understandable. From the outside looking in, it was certainly hard for a lot of people, especially Aggies, to understand how Strong and his Longhorns came off a 5-7 season and then surged down the stretch to nearly finish with a top-10 class.
Maybe it was by paying off recruits. Maybe it was by selling himself as the righteous man.
Yet, Strong explained it all on National Signing Day for those who were willing to pay attention. He was patient. He didn't pressure players to decide. He avoided negative recruiting by encouraging recruits to make one final decision late in the process. He got the support of the administration and the faculty and his players. When he went into the homes of recruits, he tried to make families comfortable by telling them that they could ask him whatever they wanted. He created a safe zone for them.
He explained it on National Signing Day in 2015 when he talked about how his third mission in visiting with recruits and their families is to stress molding those players into better men. That's the context for his discussion of core values.
That isn't about Strong selling himself. He's selling a better future for those recruits.
Not only do those traits veer away from righteousness, they illustrate why Strong would have had something to fall back on at Texas -- the fact that this isn't really about him and he doesn't try to make it about him. After all, the university sells itself, as he likes to point out.
Would Strong have been made a hypocrite had information come out that he had an affair with Tracy Blue? Certainly. One of his core values is treating women with respect and cheating on his wife hardly fits that definition.
Here's the thing, though -- if Strong kept his job in that situation, as seems likely, he would still have to go into living rooms and speak with parents and they would have to assess whether he is the most fit person to turn their boys into men. His players would decide if they still want to ride for him on the field and when hosting those prospects and interacting with them via text or social media.
Absent Strong's termination by Texas, the ultimate verdict in that regard was always going to come from the players and recruits and families themselves. Not someone spewing hot takes on the Internet.
And the underlying point remains that Strong didn't set out to intentionally take the moral high ground. He just laid a framework of common-sense requirements that every coach should employ. If they don't, well, asking why not is probably a good question for beat writers to pose to them.
In the fall of 2014, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford described the phenomenon around the five core values as well as anyone.
"He puts [the core values] on the wall and [the perception is] it's like a new thing, like somebody wrote the Bible," Bedford said. "Well ... treat a woman with respect. If you have a son, won't you teach him that? I never had a gun. My mom never let me have a gun. My wife surely won't let me have a gun. What's wrong with that? No drugs. What's wrong with that? Don't steal. What's wrong with that? What's big about those core values? It's the same thing every parent out there teaches."
One would hope.
And is the damage done? Certainly, people like Zwerneman will continue using it to bludgeon the Texas program and that will likely bleed onto the recruiting trail. But the other reality is that the people who are forming such negative opinions about this in the public sphere don't know what happened between Strong and Tracy Blue. So the lingering damage only exists in the minds of those already predisposed against the Texas head coach in the first place.
Furthermore, what does Strong have to gain by answering questions about the situation? If the divorce settlement wasn't enough to end the discussion, how would a rote denial?
As for the claims that rivals would benefit on the field and on the recruiting trail from Strong's departure? Oklahoma and Baylor might actually be ready to see that happen after the 2015 season and one need only look at the scoreboard against Texas A&M to note how key in-state recruits feel about things.
In the end, this isn't about Strong. He's right when he says that he's not special. He shouldn't be special, at least. Bedford is right when he says the core values are the same thing that every parent teaches. The conscientious ones, at least. So it's hard to lose a moral high ground that Strong never truly claimed as his own.
He's just trying to develop young men and, after the settlement, it shouldn't be any more complicated than that. It truly is not for him.