At a time when all sports – professional, college and levels below – need a few more good men and women setting the right example for their athletes, the University of Texas has an opportunity to stay the execution of one of the truly good coaches in the profession.
Unfortunately, those in control of athletics in Austin – the school’s hierarchy and its well-pocketed and influential boosters – have made Charlie Strong a dead man walking.
After Strong coaches the Longhorns in their regular-season finale against Texas Christian in Austin Friday afternoon, they will throw the switch on a man who did everything asked after he was given a five-year, $25-million contract in January, 2014 – cleaned up a mess left by beloved predecessor Mack Brown, established a better recruiting base, brought discipline to a program that lacked it, put an emphasis on the student in student-athlete and led by example with class.
The 56-year-old Strong, who looks like he could take on his players and your players in a weight-room competition and win easily, did everything but win. A member of staffs under Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz and a defensive coordinator at Florida when the Gators won two national championships under Urban Meyer, Strong went 37-15 at Louisville, the last two seasons 11-2 and 12-1. But somehow his Longhorn program has never made it over the hump with seasons of 6-7 in 2014, 5-7 in 2015 and 5-6 this year.
There have been a myriad of struggles and staff changes, most notably on offense in 2015 and defense this season, and there have been some highlights, including a 24-17 victory over Oklahoma in 2015 and a 50-47 double-overtime victory over Notre Dame to start the 2016 season.
But the lowlights have been inexplicable, including last Saturday’s 24-21 overtime loss in Lawrence against a Kansas program that had not beaten Texas since 1938. Following the setback, with his wife Vicki in tears, Strong was asked if he knew what the loss meant to his future.
“I have no idea,” said the dejected coach, who probably did.
Meyer, who stayed with Strong and Vicki while his house was being built in South Bend back in 1996 when both were on Holtz’s staff, couldn’t understand why his good friend couldn’t get a head job until Louisville finally gave him one in 2009.
“Charlie’s not a good friend; he’s a great friend,” Meyer told Louisville-based writer Rich Bozich back in 2013. “I would actually get angry when Charlie would not get jobs. I would think, ‘What else? What else?’”
Unfortunately, time ran out before patience did in Austin.
Ironically, another Meyer disciple, Houston head coach Tom Herman, who once worked for Brown at Texas, is expected to be the guy the Longhorn boosters want and go after. But first they will need to let Strong go and give him a $10 million check as he exits the door.
The big institutions have the big boosters’ money, so that won’t be a problem for Texas.
Too bad they don’t have the class and humbleness of Charlie Strong.