Why Charlie Strong Never Stood a Chance at Texas
The Texas Longhorns brass officially fired head coach Charlie Strong today, and while his tenure was anything but a success, it can’t all fall on his shoulders.
Farewell, Charlie Strong…we hardly knew ye. Three short (although losing) seasons, and the guy who was going to turn the Texas football program around has been extricated from his difficult position and sent out to pasture.
After finishing his third season with a 5-7 mark, with consecutive losses to West Virginia, Kansas (yeeesh) and TCU to close out the year and miss out on bowl eligibility, there was no way Strong was going to retain his job, despite university president Gregory Fenves being in his corner.
The firing which was expected – if not warranted – leaves a lot of questions for the Longhorns moving forward far beyond who the next head coach (Premature welcome, Tom Herman by the way) will be.
The truth is, Charlie Strong didn’t stand a chance. While the opportunity to come to a program like Texas (as well as the money which comes with it) was delightfully enticing to Strong, he should have seen what was coming and let someone else take the fall.
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Who knows, the job could have been his this year instead.
Mack Brown, for all his success and banner-raising at Texas, left this program in a mess. The talent cupboard was bare, the program had no real direction, and the front office was in a constant change of transition it seemed.
Not exactly what a new head coach wants to walk into.
But Charlie Strong met the challenge head on, and was intent on doing things his way, regardless of what may have come before. This may have been his first mistake. You can change the direction of a program, you can change the perception of a program, but rarely can you actually change the culture of a program – no matter how often that term is thrown around.
Strong wanted to bring his style of play to the Big 12, and in this conference (like it or not) offense rules. Fast offense. High-scoring offense. Wide open and willy-nilly offense.
That’s not Charlie Strong’s strength.
Coming into the 2016 season, Strong’s failures – real failures – were limited. Many games were lost in closely contested affairs and some just dumped on by bad luck. It happens to the best coaches. In his first two season the Longhorns only lost 7 regular season games by seven points or more, so the Longhorns weren’t being regularly blown out.
Strong simply didn’t have the offensive horses in the stable to keep up with other Big 12 powers. Of the games that were decided by more than seven points in those first two seasons, only two were outside the Big 12 (BYU in 2014, Notre Dame in 2015).
On offense, Strong was running a diesel engine against a conference loaded with hi-performance Lotus Evoras. On defense, the Longhorns were just as inept as much of the conference, and that combination led to far too many losses.
The improvement was being made – year to year – but it wasn’t quick enough. In 2014 the Longhorns finished 109th in scoring offense (21.4 ppg), in 2015 they moved up to 83rd (26.4 ppg), and in 2016 they finished 48th (31.9 ppg).
The problem is that this season five other teams in the Big 12 finished much higher in scoring offense at 2nd, 7th, 12th, 27th, and 39th. The Longhorns were just never able to catch up with the curve offensively.
The win-now mentality is what prevails in college football, and given a few more seasons to get things done his way, it’s possible (although unlikely) that Charlie Strong could have turned the Longhorns into a winner.
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But in truth, this was more a case of being set up to fail. He was a hire that made a splash in a time when fans and alumni were begging for change. No one bothered to look at – on either side – how poor a match this was from the very start.
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