Let’s start with the obvious: Charlie Strong’s tenure at Texas hasn’t been a pleasant one. There have been a few highs – beating Notre Dame three weeks ago, beating Oklahoma and Baylor last year – but the focus is on the 13-16 record.
Of course, nobody wants to talk about the rough shape of the program when Strong inherited it – no NFL players on the roster, slippage in recruiting, etc – but whoever took over the program had a multi-year project ahead of them.
Strong is 2-2 in his 3rd year at Texas, and back-to-back losses at Cal and Oklahoma State have Longhorns fans ready to storm the campus and revolt. I think this is a terrible idea. Let me lay out the reasons:
1) Texas is starting a true freshman at QB. Going on the road to Cal and Oklahoma State and winning with a true freshman is very difficult. Cal and Oklahoma State have QBs (Davis Webb, a senior; Mason Rudolph, a junior, respectively) who have the potential to be drafted in the coming years. Those aren’t terrible losses.
2) The defense is a legitimate concern. Special teams was very poor against Oklahoma State. But what did you expect of such a young team? Look at this note on the special teams youth earlier this year from ESPN. There’s plenty of inexperience in this defensive depth chart. Strong is a good college coach, but people looking at Jim Harbaugh and saying, “look how fast he turned Michigan around!” have to know all jobs are not created equal.
3) No program has been impacted by college football realignment like Texas. Rival Texas A&M went to the SEC, the best league in the sport. It gave the Aggies a leg up in recruiting. And then there’s the emergence of TCU, Baylor and Houston as national players. Those three programs have been sleeping giants for awhile, and their ascension, combined with the timing of Mack Brown’s recruiting foibles (wanting to put RGIII and Johnny Manziel at defensive back, for instance) closed the gap significantly. Selling recruits on high-octane offenses hasn’t been difficult.
4) Do you really want to be that program that reacts swiftly to bitter boosters and message board denizens? You end up changing coaches every 3-4-5 years, and you can never get the continuity that leads to success. And you can be sure that will happen if Texas dumps Charlie Strong and doesn’t land Houston’s Tom Herman. Competing with USC (maybe), LSU, and Oregon (maybe) for Herman won’t be easy. As Dan Wolken notes, the leak to Sports Illustrated is a signal to Herman to not make any irrational moves without taking to them. Texas arrogance thought it had Nick Saban, and now thinks it can get Tom Herman.
I think Strong needs at least four years to assess the program’s growth. Three years isn’t being fair, not that anyone ever said college football was fair.