When Charlie Strong first came to Texas, he made it clear that the team needed a reality check. What lie before him was a mediocre team with exceptional privileges, but that needed to change. No more half-mile, air-conditioned bus rides to practice. People praised him for it.
Now, sitting at a 1-4 season, Texas fans need their own Charlie Strong. The longhorn faithful, still riding on Texas’ four national titles, is guilty of that same entitled mentality. They want the benefits of winning, without the patience that goes into it. This is a game of chess, not checkers. And Strong deserves to be around to see his pieces eventually fall into place.
If you’ve watched Texas’ last five games, or only caught snippets on SportsCenter’s Not Top-10, it’s easy to think the Longhorns are in complete disarray. No team should cringe when they have to kick a field goal. But if you look past the last-minute blunders and self-inflicted mistakes, the elements of a good team are there. Against California, quarterback Jerrod Heard broke an all-time school record while putting up 20 unanswered points in the 4th quarter. Against 24th-ranked Oklahoma State, Holton Hill’s pick-six was one of two defensive touchdowns, which they hadn’t done since 2009. Even in their worst loss in 12 years, running back D’Onta Foreman rushed for a career-high 112 yards against TCU. Not to mention linebacker Malik Jefferson is living up to his five-star recruit hype.
What’s even more assuring is that every player just mentioned was brought in under Strong. With less than two years of recruiting, he has brought in fresh talent with a fresh mindset. In each of the last four games, Texas started six freshmen. While a young group may account for the losses, it also works as a selling point. High school players want to play. Out of Strong’s 2015 recruiting class, 18 of them are on the two-deep against Oklahoma. They haven’t been on campus for even a year.
From a national perspective, some see 1-4 and automatically think Strong will or should be fired (cough cough Stephen A. Smith). But within and around the Texas bubble, people know better. Even Texas’ boosters, possibly the most impatient in college football, still support him, according to an ESPN report. The dynasty that Strong is in charge of rebuilding will take time.
In the meantime, his values have made Texas the standard for character and respect in all of football. Not too bad.
If you still think a panic will take over, look at it from an economic perspective. Here are a few expenses Texas’ athletic department has accumulated the last two years: Strong’s buyout from Louisville ($4.375 million), his salary ($5 million), Mack Brown’s contract buyout ($2.75 million), former basketball coach Rick Barnes buyout ($1.75 million), new basketball coach Shaka Smart’s salary ($2.8 million), former athletic director Steve Patterson’s settlement (up to $5.6 million), and interim athletic director Mike Perrin’s salary ($750,000). Just to name a few. If Texas were to fire Strong after this season, they would still owe him $15 million, on top of paying a new coach’s salary. Even the second richest college team in the nation has its limits.
On top of financial matters, the athletic department cannot handle any extra chaos right now. With Patterson fired after just two years, it’s highly unlikely a one-year interim would fire and hire coaches.
Even without the logistics, Strong deserves the faith of Longhorn fans. While losing will never be acceptable for Texas, maybe a 1-4 start is exactly the humbling that was needed. When you can no longer feed off the legacy laid out before you, you’re forced to create your own. That goes for the players and the fans.
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