January 13, 2014
The head coaching position for the University of Texas Longhorns must seem like the perfect job to any sports fan. And for any ambitious young football coach, UT probably appears to be the Holy Grail of career opportunities. Charlie Strong, the new head coach at Texas, will have his pick of the best players from one of the most fruitful hotbeds of talent in the nation. Texas stands as the only place in the nation that regularly produces top prospects at all levels of offense and defense. Kids start out at 6 and younger playing in Pop Warner leagues and honing their football skills in Texas. By the time that these kids reach college, their football IQ is higher than their peers and they are far more polished. Strong is fortunate that the best athletes in Texas usually want to attend UT. And in addition to the talent that regularly enrolls at the school, Texas also boasts one of the most generous booster clubs in the nation. Boosters pay for the stadium, they buy the best training facilities, and are financially responsible for anything else that the program needs. Charlie Strong is walking into a position where he is promised to have a talented roster and plenty of resources at his disposal. The opportunity seems perfect. However, the University of Texas job could be one of the most tumultuous and difficult jobs in college football over the next few seasons. In his first years in Austin, Strong will face several real obstacles like overcoming the legacy of Mack Brown, having to satiate a spoiled constituency, and lack of control in the program. Taking the dream job at the University of Texas may be the worst decision that Charlie Strong has ever made.
Strong replaces Mack Brown, a man who has carved out a mountain of a legacy at the University of Texas. Brown returned Texas to prominence on the national stage with top flight recruiting, disciplined play on the field, and a down-home charm that represented the university well, all (traits that Strong has shown). Mack Brown set the standard for Texas coaches by bringing UT its fourth national championship and the first championship since Darrel K. Royal won 35 years prior (Royal won all three of the other championships). And, Strong is expected to walk into the Texas job and do the same. UT is the second most winning program in NCAA history behind only the University of Michigan, and Mack Brown won 134 games against 34 losses at Texas. His win loss record was excellent just as Strong’s record has been prior to taking this job. However, Charlie Strong will not be defined only by his win loss percentage. Texas is one of only a few places in the nation where 10 win seasons are expected not celebrated. Strong has to win division titles and a national championship for his tenure to be deemed a success at UT. And, he has to compete in his first season.
If he does not win games quickly at the University of Texas, Charlie Strong will be subjected to scrutiny like he has never faced before. Boosters have already voiced their displeasure with his hiring and he has not coached a single scrimmage yet. UT benefactor Red McCombs thought it was “a kick in the face” that Strong was hired without the university contacting him and taking a good look at his choice for the head coach position. McCombs, who has donated over 100 million dollars to UT, lobbied for the university to hire Jon Gruden, a Super Bowl winning, former NFL coach. He added further insult to the incident by saying that Strong could be a good position coach or coordinator, but not the head coach at the most powerful program in the nation. The new head coach is already under siege by the boosters without having coached a single play. And, other UT fans have showed their discontentment with the hire too. Texas Regent Wallace Hall faces impeachment from his position for alleged secretive, improper communication with the agent of Nick Saban (the most dominant college football coach in the country). The alumni and supporters of UT know football and have strong convictions about who their head coach should be. Winning 8-9 games is not enough to secure his position as head coach and quiet the fickle fans of the great state of Texas. Strong has to contend for a championship every year and eventually win a title. If he does not win big, he may be introduced to the darker side of the Old South.
Charlie Strong is the first African-American head coach at the University of Texas, and Texas schools have a long history of racist behavior. William Henry Lewis was the very first African-American man to play major college football. He played at Amherst University in Massachusetts from 1889 to 1891. The first African-American football player did not reach UT until 1956, sixty-four years later. Texas has always moved slowly towards racial integration. Willie Jeffries broke the color barrier for Division 1-A college football coaches in 1979 at Wichita State. Now, in 2014, the University of Texas will field its first African American head coach 35 years later. Alumni of the University of Texas can be decidedly prejudiced without provocation, and Strong will experience some of that bias. Current on campus racists acts include, but are not limited to the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” campaign and the “Affirmative Action Bake Sale” of the Young Conservatives of Texas. Charlie Strong may be persecuted, despite coaching well if his team does exceed the status of his predecessor.
One of the largest hurdles for the new head coach will be succeeding despite not having full control over the operations of his team. One of the perks of being a head coach is being able to schedule games that are more amenable to your talent. In down years, head coaches can line up more games against smaller schools to build the confidence of their team and pad their record before they face conference rivals. In the more prosperous years, the same coaches schedule more difficult games to strengthen their BCS standings and improve their chances of contending for a championship. Controlling scheduling allows coaches more influence in the outcome of their win-loss record and their team’s psyche. But, at the University of Texas, Strong will have to concede control of scheduling to the university. The Longhorns have their own broadcasting network and a deal with both ESPN and Time Warner. So, their schedule will be influenced largely by the desires of the bigger networks. Charlie Strong will have to allow his schedule to be made for him, and win the appropriate amount of games regardless of who he plays.
Charlie Strong has a challenging endeavor ahead of him at the University of Texas. He will have to eclipse the reputation of the man who preceded him, appease finicky fans, and navigate a schedule that will be more trying than it has to be. Ultimately, Strong will have to win. The public perception of his tenure at UT and the length of his stay there will be decided by his ability to succeed despite the hurdles that surround him. Charlie Strong took on a job that could be much more taxing than he presumed, and it may destroy his career. Taking the head coaching job at the University of Texas could be the most rewarding decision or the worst professional move of his life.