For the second season in a row, the Texas Longhorns could make another midseason coordinator change, which would in turn become the third during the last six years for head coach Charlie Strong.
Following a disastrous road loss to the California Golden Bears on Saturday that featured numerous coverage busts and missed tackles, Strong said on Monday that the entire coaching staff is under evaluation and expressed dedication to fixing the defense, whatever that entails.
As a result, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, who has worked with Strong at each of his two previous stops at Louisville and Florida, is increasingly embattled and could see his professional relationship with Strong end after more than six seasons as his defensive coordinator.
Publicly, Strong didn’t blame Bedford for the loss. Neither did players, including senior safety Dylan Haines and senior linebacker Tim Cole.
But that’s what Strong and the players are saying publicly.
What’s going on behind the scenes is an entirely different story, as the Texas head coach understands that his own future is now once again on the line.
If Strong is going to relieve Bedford of his duties as the defensive coordinator — or even take over calling the plays defensively — the time to do it is now, as the team still has 11 days to prepare for the Big 12 opener on the road against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
It’s the only bye week, as the Longhorns will play games in nine consecutive weeks to finish the season.
The problem is that doing so would undermine Strong’s own job security and suggest that the program is not nearly as close to being back as it appeared with the resounding win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Removing Bedford would indicate that, once again, the head coach’s loyalty got the better of Strong until it put his own future in jeopardy, just as it did when he elected to keep offensive coordinator Mike Sanford for the 2011 season at Louisville and assistant head coach for the offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson for the 2014 season.
It would mean that Strong once again wasted an offseason by failing to take the proper steps at the proper time, instead putting off that crucial decision making until the on-field results became untenable.
Removing Bedford would also be an admission that Strong made yet another mistake when putting together his first coaching staff at Texas, which now features Bedford and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary as the lone holdovers just into Strong’s third season.
However, there may be a middle ground here, as there was last season when Jay Norvell assumed play-calling duties and Watson faded into the background as the quarterbacks coach.
Strong also has a lot of faith in linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary and could elevate him to defensive coordinator — on Monday Strong said that other coaches have the capability to handle the role — but Jean-Mary doesn’t have any experience as a defensive coordinator, having spent his entire career as a position coach.
Demoting Bedford might result in the Longhorns publicly saving some face over removing the defensive coordinator entirely, there’s just nothing obvious in Jean-Mary’s past that makes him an obvious solution.
And it wouldn’t really help perception that much.
Whatever the solution may be, Strong needs to find it quickly with the high-level passing attacks of Big 12 opponents looming and the goodwill he built with the 2016 class and the win over Notre Dame quickly evaporating.