Charlie Strong deserves better than Texas
Charlie Strong is a good man and a good coach.
He's a man of the utmost character and temperament. He takes pride in his work ethic and his demeanor, no matter the result or circumstance. He's a professional in a profession where that trait is increasingly rare.
And he deserves better than this.
Strong is all of those good things, but he's also a fired coach. That decision has been made, according to sources at the Austin American-Statesman and other national media entities — there's nothing Strong can do to reverse that outcome.
That's what a loss to Kansas will do to a coach already on the hot seat. That's the logical result of a 6-6 record — at best — after two years of 5-7 football at one of the nation's premier college football programs.
Strong didn't work at Texas. Perhaps a few more years in Austin would have brought success, but that would require patience that the powers to be at Texas don't have.
And that's the problem.
Texas power brokers being impatient is hardly surprising and it's not something that can be determined as incorrect — it's their prerogative that Strong's time is over and they'll pay him handsomely to leave when that determination ultimately is handed down.
Who is calling the shots in Austin?
It's clearly not interim athletic director Mike Perrin, who issued a statement Sunday night addressing the “rumors” that Strong had been fired and stating that the Texas coaching situation will be addressed after Friday's regular season finale against TCU.
It's also not Texas president Gregory Fenves, who is believed to be a staunch proponent of Strong.
No, it's the Texas boosters, who, either directly or through passive means, are in control. While the money men have always had incredible sway, and perhaps even say, over the direction of a program, the handling of the Strong's firing is a clear indication that the inmates are running the asylum in Austin.
When the boosters want something, they get it — that's the rule in college sports because, well, they're paying for it.
But it's the AD's job to make that move. He might not want to, but he eventually will do the deed. Perrin has so far refused to follow the will of his fellow boosters.
The dissonance in this situation is alarming.
Make no mistake, Perrin is a booster. He was a lawyer who made millions and loved the Longhorns. When Steve Patterson was fired after 22 months in charge of the Texas Athletic Department, Perrin volunteered to hold down the fort as the school's interim AD.
Perrin was named the school's permanent AD in December, despite a horrifically botched search for the school's next baseball coach. He has no contract, and while he is being paid, he is, in essence, still a volunteer.
And when it comes to handling the firing of his school's football coach — carrying out of the will of those who pay that salary — he appears to be woefully out of his depth.
Smart people never prolong the inevitable — such procrastination stands in the way of progress — but that's exactly what Perrin is doing. The decision has been made, but it hasn't been handed down.
This is different than when Patterson lied about the status of Mack Brown in 2013, all while operating in the shadows in an effort to land Nick Saban on a $100 million contract. This is not a white lie to cover up a master plan. This is dysfunction coming to the forefront.
And it's wholly unfair to Strong, who had to stand and deliver in his weekly press conference Monday — he had to play dumb despite the fact that he and everyone else in the room knew it would be his last presser wearing orange and white. It was a second humiliating experience in the span of 72 hours, coming on the heels of a painful-to-watch post-Kansas press conference.
He handled it well — a testament to Strong's character and strength.
If only those characteristics won football games — Strong would be competing for National Championships.
There's no end in sight to the dysfunction at Texas, because there's no guarantee that Perrin will remain the Longhorns' athletic director in 2017. The school and Perrin have a mutual agreement for him to serve through the end of the 2017-18 school year, but because Perrin has no contract and “serves at the pleasure of [the school's] president” he could be replaced tomorrow.
The boosters want Perrin to fire Strong, but do they want him to hire his replacement?
And if not him, who?
The next Texas football coach will come into a situation where immediate success is expected. Strong set the bar that high by saying that the Longhorns will win 10 games next year, regardless of who the coach is. Well played, Charlie.
There's immediate pressure in those circumstances, and if Texas opts to hire a new athletic director, the next coach will be facing a two-front war: The win-hungry boosters on one side and an AD that might want to put his own stamp on the school's money-making program on the other.
Tom Herman — the man the Texas boosters reportedly want to replace Strong — might be watching all of this go down in Houston and be thinking to himself “no thanks.”
Indeed, unless the next coach sees the power vacuum at Texas as an opportunity to become the alpha of the largest athletic department in the nation, passing on Texas might be the right choice.
Things are a mess in Austin — we should have seen that coming when they couldn't give their baseball coaching job away — and there's no indication that things are going to get better anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Strong has to go on pretending he's not a dead man walking. He has to prepare to beat a TCU team when the outcome won't mean a damn thing.
Charlie Strong might not be the right coach for Texas, but he deserves a hell of a lot better than this.