Texas Longhorns coach Charlie Strong has his work cut out for him.
The speculation regarding Charlie Strong’s future at Texas seems to grow almost daily. When his Longhorns aren’t falling flat on their collective faces on national TV, his players are openly sniping in public. Then, just when you think things will quiet down, player’s moms allegedly start talking transfer.
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Everyone has their own opinion as to how much longer Strong should have at Texas, and most have legitimate points to make. Strong’s defenders point to the talented 2015 recruiting class and the promise that they’ll be good in 2 or 3 more years. He just hasn’t had enough time, they say. You can’t judge him until you’ve given him more time.
I agree. I believe that everything we need to know about Charlie Strong as coach of the Longhorns will play out on its own. In the space of the next nine weeks.
The experts will talk of the need for more recruiting classes and more talent but I don’t think that is necessary. Yes, it will take more talent in order to get Texas to its ultimate destination, but this is not what I’m concerned about.
I’m concerned about right now and I can’t think of a better test for a coach than what Charlie Strong currently faces.
His team has played sloppy and shown all the signs of poor coaching. They’ve shown heart at times, but they’ve also laid down at times and played stupid far too much. The outside pressure is building. The internal pressure is reaching a boiling point, with veteran players beginning to rail against the brash newcomers. The brash newcomers apparently don’t want to listen to the veterans.
Into this toxic brew, Satan and his Angels of Darkness Bob Stoops and his Sooners arrive, seemingly ready to reclaim their place among the nation’s elite. It looks like the classic setting for another one of Big Game Bob’s Red River Massacres.
Though the schedule begins to look much friendlier after Hate Week, the way this team has played, every team represents a risk to the Longhorns. It doesn’t take much to envision this team slumping as far as 2-10 if the wheels come completely off, and they are wobbling badly right now.
The Longhorns need leadership and as much as Strong and his staff continue to plead with their players to provide it, Strong is the leader that must emerge. What happens the rest of this season will likely be the biggest challenge Strong ever faces in his coaching career and how he handles it will tell me all I need to know about him.
First he has to find a way to repair the fractured locker-room and make this a real team. He has to instill some humility and respect into a group of freshman who appear to have come in a little too cocky. He must find a way to re-engage veterans who seem to be losing interest. If he loses the team now, I’m not sure that he will ever be able to get it back.
Once that’s done, he then has to readjust the team’s focus on fundamentals. This is supposed to be a teaching staff, they must begin to teach and there must start to be some tangible results. Every week, players and coaches alike reiterate that what ails the Horns can be corrected. It has to start being corrected. Everyone needs to quit talking about it and make it happen.
Finally, the team has to learn to complete. They may look great against Iowa State and Kansas. They may battle against K State, West Virginia and Tech. But what happens when things go badly the next time? What happens if one of those teams jumps on them early? Will they cave, as they did against Notre Dame and TCU?
And can they at least battle the big boys? OU will likely bomb Texas out of the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. Given what’s happened over the last week, I hold out no hope for anything more. But by the time Tech and Baylor roll around to end the season, we need to see a Texas team competent and confident enough to battle.
If Texas plays against Baylor the way they did against Notre Dame and TCU, that will be a big tell and a bad one.
This is an interesting situation Strong finds himself in. The success or failure of most new coaches only plays out in tiny details over the course of several years. But for Strong, his will hinge on his ability to right a sinking ship while college football fans everywhere watch with rapt attention, most of them rooting for failure.
He doesn’t have to get the Longhorns to their destination right now, or even in sight of it. He just needs to show that he can steer the ship away from the swirling whirlpool of suck and into some calmer waters. If he can do that, given everything this team has been through, then he’ll have earned the right to a couple of more years. He’ll have earned himself more time.
On the other hand, if the season continues on its present course and the team continues to fail in embarrassing ways, then I think it will be imperative on Texas to pull the plug on Strong. The school simply can’t sit and endure the kind of humiliation that this team has inflicted over the past year and a half, or the potential for that to continue.
At that point, you can keep blaming Mack Brown all you want for the talent gap; but the locker room chemistry, the staff chemistry, the lack of development, all of those will be squarely on Strong.
Charlie Strong is a good man and a fine coach, but whether he is the right man for Texas remains to be seen. We’ll all find out what he’s capable of over the next nine weeks. Let’s all hope that he’s up for the challenge.