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Couch: Strong Texas-bound — but bluster cost Longhorns a better fit
Texas spent a year bragging it could get Nick Saban, gloated that it had “all the money that is not up at the Vatican,’’ and all the way to the very end, threw out every big name, including Jim Harbaugh, Jim Mora, Jimbo Fisher, even Jon Gruden.
It held the college football world hostage while it thumped itself on the chest and assumed it could get anyone to leave anywhere for its head-coaching job.
Turns out, Texas thinks big, but talks bigger. And then it gets Charlie Strong.
Really? According to a source, Texas is planning to announce Sunday that Strong will leave Louisville to take over as coach of the Longhorns.
Strong is a good coach with an excellent resume. In addition to lifting Louisville to a national ranking team with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Strong also was the defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer on two national championship teams at Florida.
He’s a solid pick for anyone, but not a splashy one for Texas. This is a curious pick, and actually a bad fit. It comes across as if Texas had actually talked its way out of the bigger name coaches and settled instead on Plan B.
How unfair to Strong, and it’s only an issue because of all the talking the Texas big-boys did. It’s not that Strong can’t coach, but that he isn’t going to appeal to the huge Texas ego. The Texas bluster. He hasn’t done enough yet, and doesn’t have the outward personality to keep all the Texas rich-boys together and pulling the same way.
That was the beauty of Mack Brown, whom Texas fired for spending the past few years not living up to the standards he had set. Not only did he build the program back into a national champion, but he also was the master PR guy, selling the program, and himself, to all the fans, bosses and meddling political factions and billionaires.
And that’s something that absolutely must be done at Texas.
In the real world, Charlie Strong is a fine hire for nearly everyone. He is nice, but extremely serious. When he shakes your hand, he doesn’t necessarily look you in the eye. He is an excellent recruiter, cares about grades and wins over his players.
If Texas had only done things a little more quietly, and with a little more class, Strong would look so much better. Also, though, Texas might have had a better shot at Plan A.
This group is like a flock of push me-pull yous, with regents and rich guys who all have different ideas and are used to getting their way.
Nick Saban has the cache to fight that back. But why would Saban feel the need to bother? If football is a religion in Alabama, then what role do you think Saban is playing there now?
And not only that, but thanks to all that Brown accomplished at Texas, they now have the Longhorn Network, which puts, by contract, incredible media demands on the coach to do shows and keep practices open for cameras.
One of the Texas boys leaked the information this time last year that they had talked with Saban’s agent, and that Texas was the one job Saban would consider. Of course, that was part big-talking and part trying to humiliate Brown into leaving.
Yes, humiliate the guy who rebuilt the program to greatness.
Why would Jim Mora want that? Think of what Mora has at UCLA: He got a raise, though he surely could have gotten more money out of Texas (Sports Illustrated reports that Strong will get $5 million a year for five years). But Mora has rebuilt his own name after a shaky tenure in the NFL, and isn’t likely to be questioned in any way after his success at UCLA.
The Texas opening made a lot of coaches rich(er), actually, as schools tried to hang on to their big-name coaches with big raises. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio got one. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher got one. Mora. Saban.
At one point, Texas thought it could get anyone; booster Red McCombs is the one who said that Texas has all the money that isn’t at the Vatican. By the end, it seemed to be running out of options. I saw this happen once before, when Notre Dame figured it was too good of a job to pass up. Then Urban Meyer said no. And Gruden. And others.
And Notre Dame ended up with Charlie Weis, who flopped.
That’s not to say that Strong will fail. He just isn’t the superstar everyone expected. So this will be a big moment for new athletic director Steve Patterson. His first hire.
If Strong works out, then Patterson looks great. If not?
The first order will be to do some glad-handing. Then, build a relationship with the Longhorn Network people, who put more pressure on Brown than Brown was ever comfortable with.
Oh yeah, Texas needs a quarterback, too. More than anything, Brown missed on recruiting a top quarterback the past few years, and that did him in.
Strong is a tough-guy leader. And the truth is, that’s probably just what Texas could use. The question is whether the Texas boys will be quiet enough to allow a stern, strong hand to do what’s needed.