Texas lost to TCU by a score of 31-9 on Saturday, but that’s just a small fraction of the story. Charlie Strong is out as head coach after three seasons at Texas, in which he posted a cumulative 16-21 record, and consecutive 5-7 finishes.
After an emotional press conference on Monday morning, Charlie Strong’s players, many of whom showed up to support their coach amid early rumors of his Texas demise, couldn’t do enough to save their coach. Maybe it was already too late. Either way, a tepid offensive showing, save for D’Onta Foreman’s 13th consecutive 100-yard game, showcased how incomplete the Texas team has looked at times this season, especially considering how promising the Texas defense looked for stretches of the game. But when the offense can’t stay on the field, the defense has difficulty getting off it, and … well, you know the rest.
The atmosphere was eerie, and not just because a gloomy fog hung over DKR from kickoff to final whistle, chilling the Longhorn loyal inside the stadium. Depending on which article you’d read, Strong had already been fired, was about to be fired regardless of the game’s outcome, or could win his job back with a decisive win against the Horned Frogs. During the first quarter, the crowd erupted in a cheer. It’s difficult to say if it was for Naashon Hughes’ powerful rejection of a Kenny Hill pass or Tom Herman’s UH Cougars falling to Memphis at the final whistle; the events occurred simultaneously. It’s safe to say it was some combination of the two, what with Herman all but coronated by many in the press as Strong’s replacement.
It’s also safe to say that, in the midst of another middling season, fans were more concerned with the future of the football program—whether that includes Strong or not—than qualifying for a bowl game.
After the game, Strong was stoic, spoke in the past tense, and delivered an opening line that was less about the 60 minutes of football that just ended than the almost three years of turmoil he’s faced since coming to Austin from Louisville in January 2014:
“When I took this job three years ago, I came here for a number of reasons. I came here to win a national championship and I came here to change lives. When I took the job I felt like I knew I would impact the players inside that locker room. It was more than just that. I looked at it as having a chance to impact society. When you’re at the top one percent of the one percent, which this is, at an unbelievable university, you have a chance to impact a minority who wants to be CEO at IBM or wants to be CFO or a major corporation. I felt that when I had success here, that would carry on, and they would have those opportunities.”
Strong mentioned that he hadn’t been informed of his future at Texas, but that he was likely meeting with UT-Austin President Greg Fenves and Athletics Director Mike Perrin the following day.
D’Onta Foreman, who became just the second Texas player to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and who cried as the season ended in another painful loss, said that he hadn’t decided if he was going pro yet, but that the decision to keep Strong or not would factor into his decision.
“I feel like we’ve shown progress. We were getting blown out last year, and we have youth on this team,” Foreman said. “I love those guys in the locker room. I really do.”
“For him to go through the stuff he’s going through … he’s a great guy,” he added, when asked to make the case for Strong’s fourth season in Austin. “He doesn’t deserve [this].”
As the evening wound down, reports that Herman would meet with LSU and Texas the following morning began cropping up. By morning, reports surfaced that LSU would be making Ed Orgeron, the interim head coach after the Tigers fired Les Miles in September, the permanent charge in Baton Rouge. With another Strong press conference scheduled for Saturday morning and Herman set to meet with Texas officials, the deal seemed done.
A statement from Perrin on Saturday morning confirmed that Strong was done in Austin. It read:
“Decisions like this are tough to make. The responsibility is not taken lightly. I became friends with Charlie Strong before becoming Athletics Director. I have the utmost personal respect for him. His impact on college athletics and student-athletes should be celebrated. Coach Strong represented The University of Texas with class and dignity, and he demanded our student-athletes do the same by adhering to his system of core values. However, after thorough evaluation, the body of work over three seasons has not shown the improvement we were hoping for. This was an important year for our program to take the next step, and the results simply aren’t there, so we’ve decided to make a change. We appreciate Coach Strong so much, are grateful for all he has done with our program and wish him the best in the future.”
For now, though—and maybe only for the next few hours—Texas is in search mode, for the man who will right the ship and return the Longhorns to the upper echelon of college football, a place it hasn’t been in nearly a decade.
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