Can Charlie Strong restore the pride in Texas football? Photo: USA Today Sports
Texas has finished a season ranked in the top 20 just once out of the last four seasons. For a program that finished in the top 25 in all but one season between 1994 and 2009, that is unacceptable. Mack Brown may have been a class act and good for the game and the Longhorns, but a change was needed as the college football landscape prepares to enter the College Football Playoff era.
So a change was made. The Longhorns brought in Charlie Strong, who had proven he has what it takes to be a head coach by transforming Louisville in to a respectable program capable of playing with the big boys in college football in just four seasons. Texas hopes to see similar results in Austin.
Why We Like the Hire:
Texas needs a head coach who will toughen the team up. There may be no better option to do that than Charlie Strong.
When Strong first became a head coach at Louisville, his Cardinals were voted to finish last in the Big East in 2010.
"I've never been picked last before," Strong said at Big East media day in Rhode Island that summer. I remember his face as he said it. I could tell right away this was a man with a plan and a goal to prove everyone wrong. He did just that, finishing with a winning record and a bowl victory that nobody saw coming. He was just getting started, building the program to a legitimate top 15-caliber team with a conference championship, a Sugar Bowl victory and a record of 33-3 in his final two years at Louisville.
If he can have the same kind of turnaround at Texas, he will be competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff in short time. He certainly has the tough mindset to accomplish big things at Texas, and that may be just what the Longhorns need right now.
Why We Don't Like the Hire:
Charlie Strong is a football guy who wants to focus the majority of his time on football. Sometimes though, Texas needs a bit more of a personality to represent the school and football program. Strong does not appear to fit that mold particularly well. So far though Strong and Texas seem to have agreed to a plan for Strong's accessibility and the new head coach says the idea of media attention and media demands is not going to be an issue for him. This will be placed under a brighter microscope once the football season actually begins.
Most of this is probably pretty overblown, but it is still something to pay attention to once the games begin. Every coach can win a press conference and an offseason, but what happens if the team struggles on the field?
What Kind of Talent Does He Inherit?
Texas may have been lagging behind some teams on the field, but the talent for a quick turnaround could be in place. Strong likes to focus on the line of scrimmage, but this is one area he will have to work to find some stability right away. Texas loses three starters on the offensive line. The defensive line is in better shape after leading the Big 12 in sacks in 2013, but the same defensive line was poor against the run. The strength of Texas should come on the ground with the best running back collection in the Big 12 between Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. The receivers have potential, but that will all come down how the quarterbacks play, and Strong does not have Teddy Bridgewater on the roster right now. David Ash is the best option right now, but his health and stability will be a concern.
The Texas defense should be OK, and given Strong's defensive mindset it should get better in a hurry. The talent will improve through recruiting so it could take a little time to see a drastic improvement, but it is not going to be likely Texas gets run over as they did at times last season.
Yeah, But Can He Recruit?
Probably, and we are about to find out. Strong has been a solid recruiter before dating back to his time at Florida and carrying over to his time at Louisville. Recruiting at Texas could be a different animal though. With Texas A&M generating all kinds of recruiting momentum and Texas now looking to fend off the likes of Baylor in addition to longtime rival Oklahoma, Strong will have his work cut out for him.
Louisville did not run away with recruiting rankings in the Big East and American under Strong, but the Cardinals generally had one of the top classes. Strong will have more to offer at Texas of course, and he should be able to easily bring in a better overall crop of talent to the Longhorns. How that stacks up against the Aggies, Sooners and the rest of the Big 12 though will be a big question (and yes, comparing recruiting classes with Texas A&M is important).
Did Texas get their top guy off the coaching wish list? No, probably not. But if Mack Brown had to go and Nick Saban was not available, then Charlie Strong is not exactly a terrible fallback option.
Coaching Grade: B+