Texas football is in a bad way. The Longhorns are coming off a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame that’s arguably the program’s worst nonconference defeat since the infamous Rout 66 against UCLA in 1997.
Head coach Charlie Strong was forced to move play-calling duties from Shawn Watson to Jay Norvell, as the only thing Texas football has done that can be labeled “offensive” is charge the Texas Tech Goin’ Band for seats.
Editor’s Note: Texas put out a press release Friday clarifying the “misinformation” about the Texas Tech band being charged. It’s not misinformation; Texas Tech is being charged, but Texas’ defense is that its band is being charged for games at TCU and Baylor. So…yay?
The Longhorns find themselves in a quagmire reminiscent of the mess Michigan is still trying to climb out of. Follow the steps that brought Texas football to this week of chaos, and it’s eerie.
1. The beloved, national championship-winning head coach of a traditional power must be replaced. Despite his past success, it’s becoming increasingly apparent he
2. A successful, new coach comes in and is repeatedly and anonymously criticized before his team ever plays a game.
3. Because the direction of the program must be changed, the new regime must tear down to start building up.
4. Inevitable losses from a fan base expecting only victory stirs anger.
5. Overseeing it all is an athletic director more interested in running a corporation than a college athletic department makes embarrassing business moves, compounding the mounting frustration with losses.
Certain details are different. Michigan ADCEO Dave Brandon came on at the end of Rich Rodriguez’s tenure as head coach and pulled the plug on the coach after his third year. The Wolverines’ record improved each year, but two sub-.500 starts after the necessary bottoming-out had Rodriguez on thin ice in Year 3.
Successor Brady Hoke won 11 games with a team made up largely of Rodriguez’s players in 2011, and Michigan went in the opposite direction every season thereafter, beginning the rebuilding cycle anew.
Texas’ “tough decisions” AD, Steve Patterson, hired Charlie Strong. Because the success of an AD is so often tied to the success of his coaches, Patterson has more reason to allow Strong time to rebuild than Brandon had with Rodriguez.
However, as more criticism is heaped on Strong — and it will be — the oft-criticized Patterson will have to take some of the heat off himself temporarily by shifting blame.
Much like Rodriguez at Michigan, I suspect Strong was a lame duck at Texas from the moment he signed his contract — not because Strong can’t coach, mind you.
Louisville was struggling when Strong finally got his first head coaching opportunity in 2010. Steve Kragthorpe was not the guy to keep the Cardinals going after Bobby Petrino exited, and they plummeted from the top of the Big East to its cellar.
Strong’s culture of accountability turned Louisville around in short order. The Cardinals were back in a bowl game in 2010, and competing for the Big East title by 2011.
Strong made a move reminiscent of his switch from Watson to Norvell in that 2011 campaign, turning the offense over from Mike Sanford to Watson one month into the season. That decision, coupled with true freshman Teddy Bridgewater’s acclimation to college football, revitalized the Louisville offense for years to come.
Speaking of Bridgewater, landing the coveted prep prospect is one reminder that Strong can recruit. The criticisms of Strong date back to last offseason, when Texas prep coaches anonymously attacked the new head Longhorn.
That criticism has stuck with him, despite Strong’s having had to play 15 true freshmen Week 1.
And, indeed, Texas looked like a young team Week 1. The Longhorns were overmatched by a popular Playoff pick. It’s inevitable during a rebuild.
The problem is, few are interested in Texas football rebuilding. Because Mack Brown flourished in Year One two decades ago, anyone should be able to come into Austin, put on burnt orange and jump right to the head of college football.
Well, times have changed. There are more competitive programs than at any other time in college football’s history. The longer a program is stuck in its past, the worse its future gets.
Rich Rodriguez didn’t show up in Ann Arbor and suddenly forget to coach. His time at Arizona has proven that. Likewise, I suspect after Strong’s inevitable departure from Texas, he’ll land somewhere he’s given an opportunity to build and flourish as he did at Louisville.
Writing the eulogy and epilogue on Charlie Strong’s Texas tenure feels odd when he’s just 14 games into his tenure, but I’ve seen the story before. Just trade burnt orange for maize and blue.