There's actually still a shot Texas president Greg Fenves keeps Charlie Strong, a source told FOX Sports earlier this week — contrary to those reports last Sunday that UT had already decided to fire the embattled coach.
Fenves, sources say, has great respect for Strong, his bond with his players, and the fact that he’s only had three years to turn the Longhorns program around.
“It's really messy politically (at UT),” a source said, adding that there could be a potential power play between Fenves and some on the Texas board who don’t want Strong, and the president could essentially “neuter” them if he stands up for the coach and Strong goes on to lead the Longhorns to a big 2017. Also keep in mind that Strong has a $10.7 million buyout for the remaining two years on his contract, plus there is an additional $6.6 million in buyouts for assistant coaches’ contracts.
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The Longhorns, 5-6, start nine sophomores on defense and have a true freshman quarterback, and three freshmen and sophomores start on the offensive line. In all, there are 29 freshmen and sophomores on the Longhorns' two-deep.
The 56-year-old Strong is 16-20 in three seasons at Texas and is coming off a road loss to a woeful Kansas team. In his previous head coaching stop, he went 37-15 at Louisville, with a 23-3 mark in his final two seasons there after going 14-12 in his first two years.
Strong’s tenure at UT has been plagued by issues of lack of support from Texas brass almost from the time he arrived in Austin. That drama has heightened dramatically in the past week. A few hours before the Longhorns' kickoff last Saturday against Kansas, many players received an ESPN data alert to their smart phones regarding Strong’s job security based around a report that Texas was getting “extreme pressure” from prominent boosters to dump Strong and hire Houston’s Tom Herman.
Strong told FOX Sports Thursday that he first got wind of that alert when Paul Boyette, a senior defensive lineman, told him the coach needed to speak to the players because they thought he was getting fired. Strong has repeatedly tried to re-assure his players to only worry about what they can control and let him deal with all of the rampant speculation. His player said, “Man, does it ever stop, coach?”
Strong observed a different level of uneasiness at the Longhorns' pregame meal. Right before the team left the hotel to go to the stadium, he told his players, “Don’t worry about all the rumors. Let me handle it.”
“They just were staring at me,” he told FOX Sports on Thursday.
UT lost that game, in overtime. Strong sensed his team was playing very tight. He told the players at halftime, “We’re playing not to lose. We can’t play that way.”
On Sunday came the reports, from multiple media outlets, that Texas had decided to fire Strong, so when the coach walked in to meet when them later in the day, “They thought they’d seen a ghost,” he said. “They thought I was gone.”
The next day was Strong’s weekly Monday press conference, where he had to address all of the reports. Strong didn’t just address the media, but his entire team showed up as well. He thinks that, due to all the speculation, they thought he was going to resign, and his players weren’t going to let him do that.
He said he tried not to look at them because he knew he would get emotional.
It’s a safe bet Friday’s game against TCU is going to be emotional for Strong and his players.
Complicating the situation futher are more reports. These from Thursday night that LSU was targeting Herman for its coaching vacancy, news that might put even more pressure on Texas to make a decision on Strong because some around Austin fear missing out on Herman, a former Longhorns graduate assistant coach who is 22-3 at Houston and coming off a dominating win of No. 5 Louisville.