Another bad loss puts Charlie Strong’s tenure as Texas Longhorns coach on thin ice.
46-3, 66-3, 63-14.
If you’re writing a book on the darkest days in Texas Longhorns history, Charlie Strong is well on his way to warranting his own chapter. However, Saturday’s dismal 50-7 loss at TCU stands alone, even among the ever growing list of embarrassing Texas losses.
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The defeat at the hands of the Frogs was ugly and total and showcased everything that is and has been wrong with the Longhorns in recent years. Poor recruiting, poor development and poor coaching all combined with a road game at a legitimate football powerhouse resulted in a beatdown that could wind up being a program altering loss.
For coach Charlie Strong, the heat under his seat just got jacked way up. Strong has plenty of supporters, but it is getting increasingly hard to buy into his vision of this program when they continue to play as poorly as they have. Many more days like Saturday and his support will vanish faster than the Horns chances against TCU.
The bad news: There is probably another one just like it coming this Saturday.
From the weekly special teams blunders to the frequent assignment busts and the utter lack of offense, Texas put all their warts on national television. It’s hard to pick out which Texas failure was more frustrating. One thing is for sure. It is all getting old fast.
In the post game press conference there was Strong, repeating the same mantra about how the team has to learn to complete. They have to develop some pride. Blah blah. Just more empty rhetoric, like all the pregame talk about how the team was sick of losing and was going to turn things around.
Strong was given a pass for last season as everyone understood that the transition was going to be painful. Yet, Strong upped the ante this summer when he set his expectations in a media availability. “Last year 6-7 is not good enough,” Strong said during Big 12 Media Days in July. “It will never be good enough at the University of Texas. We know we lost a lot of players on defense, returned a lot on offense, but we have to improve as a coaching staff. We have to do a better job of coaching. But we’ve also got to get our players to go out and play and go compete and go compete week in and week out. If you look at this team now, you’re always looking for leadership, you’re looking for discipline. We have to have a winning season.”
Five games into the 2015 season and that goal already appears to be lost.
More disturbing is the fact that Strong appears to be losing the team right before our eyes. Having one of your star recruits retweeting about transferring to Texas A&M after the defense he is a part of gave up 35 first half points doesn’t do much to instill confidence in your coaching.
While everyone was giddy about Strong’s 2015 recruiting class, lost in all that excitement was the attrition that started tearing it apart before they even got to campus. Strong wasted two scholarships on potential academic casualties in Gilbert Johnson and Devonaire Clarington who, surprise, wound up as academic casualties. DT Du’Vonta Lampkin never reported and was eventually released from his Letter Of Intent. Lampkin was a major need as the only defensive tackle in the class after Texas only signed two in 2014 and none in 2013. Strong’s refusal to release Lampkin, though based on solid reasons, came off as petty and spiteful.
Then, three days into fall camp, LB Cecil Cherry walked away, as did 2014 recruit Donald Catalon. At the time it was easy to write them off, just as most Longhorn fans wrote off the ton of players Strong eventually ran off last year. Just weeding out the bad apples, the team would be better off in the long run.
Now, after Kris Boyd’s tweet, you can look at all of that in another way. Maybe Lampkin, Cherry and Catalon had seen something the rest of us haven’t. Is the famous class of 15 fracturing, and if it is what does it mean for the class of 2016, which is already underwhelming? Strong himself has stated that he needs to bring in another great class in 16 to complete his rebuild. With performances like Saturday’s, the likelihood of that gets more and more remote.
That is the problem with Texas committing to Strong beyond this season. Everyone knew that it would take a minimum of three years to get Texas back on top, but that required the team to improve from one year to the next, not regress. If Strong fails to bring in his great 16 class and instead settles for a class of 2 and 3 star recruits who are going to need years to develop, then Strong will enter a make-or-break 2016 with essentially the same group he has now. A poor season in 2016 would then result in Strong’s departure and the next coach would need another three or four years to fix the damage.
So should Texas gamble the longterm future of the program on a coach who so far hasn’t given much cause for optimism, or is it better to cut bait now and try to find someone who can re-energize the team and give the fanbase a reason to be excited again? That answer isn’t as easy as it might seem.
Luckily for Strong, he has seven games this season to start showing Longhorn Nation that he is still the right man for the job. Whether of not he is capable of doing that is the question.
The fact is, this team is a bad team, from top to bottom. It always has been. They were largely outplayed by a Conference USA team and only won thanks to their athletic advantages and a handful of big plays. They were on their way to being blown out by an average PAC 12 team until the Bears started sitting on their lead. Against Oklahoma State, an average Big 12 team, they were aided by Mike Gundy’s faltering confidence in his quarterback. Gundy went into an offensive shell late in the game and quit attacking a vulnerable Longhorn secondary.
But, you say, Cal and OSU are Top 25 teams. Those were hard fought losses against quality opponents. Nope. Cal and OSU haven’t really been tested yet. Both teams have major flaws that good teams will expose and exploit. I will be shocked if either school loses fewer than four games this year.
So Far, Strong Has Failed To Develop The Players He Inherited And Is Struggling On The Recruiting Trail. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
And still, Texas lost those games, because they shot themselves in the foot, which falls on Strong and his staff. A lot of attention has been paid to the special teams blunders, the horrible defense and the fact that Texas didn’t attack TCU’s obvious weaknesses until the game was already out of hand. Yet the thing that struck me on Saturday was much smaller, but much more indicative of how poorly this team is prepared.
As Texas attempted to run their hurry up offense, the cameras focused on TCU’s defensive players, who very calmly lined up in their positions and got ready to ball. When TCU had the ball and pushed the tempo, the Texas defenders frequently milled about, most of them staring at the sidelines, and were often caught out of position at the snap. Go back and watch the throwback pass touchdown and see how Texas struggles to line up. You can blame youth all you want, but a lot of this boils down to coaching.
Strong and his staff were billed as a coaching staff whose strength was development. It’s difficult to watch the Longhorns play this year and see any sign of development. Strong’s staff has run off a ton of players, failed to develop the ones that stayed and is falling on their face in recruiting.
Are Longhorn fans being impatient and unrealistic in their expectations for this team? Probably. It is not, however, unrealistic to expect that, 18 games into Strong’s tenure, that this team be able to walk out on the field and compete. After all, he is the one who said that 6-7 wouldn’t be the standard. Obviously he thought that 2015 would be a step forward. Was Strong overconfident in himself?
Right or wrong, the fact is that Texas isn’t a school where you can lose big for two or three years and keep promising better days are coming. That tactic may have worked at Louisville, but not here. At Texas, you better at least win the winnable games. That is how Mack Brown survived so many Red River Massacres. He won the games he should have won. Strong’s team finds ways to lose them.
As we speak, Red McCombs and his anti-Strong contingent of boosters are preparing to make a run at the next head coach. If Strong’s team doesn’t start showing dramatic improvement quickly, that contingent is going to gain steam. If the Longhorns are still playing like this when Tech and Baylor come around, then Strong is and should be done. A bowl game is out of the question at this point, but they better be competitive by the end of the season or there will be no reason to trust the future of this program on Strong any longer.
The clock is ticking.