Texas coach Charlie Strong before a NCAA college football game against Texas Tech at Royal-Memorial Stadium Saturday, Nov. 26, 2015. (Stephen Spillman for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Strong’s staff shuffles very unsettling

Posted February 13th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Strong is a good guy, good coach and great recruiter but not a good CEO.
  • He hasn't gotten any breaks, but he's brought some misfortune on himself.
  • Strong has his work cut out for him to mesh the new staff and win next season.

The 2016 college football season can’t get here soon enough for Charlie Strong.

Fingers crossed, we presume he will have a full staff by the time the Notre Dame game rolls around.

Last season hasn’t been over three months, and the Texas coach is losing assistant coaches almost as fast as he can hire replacements. Of course, it’s not as if he’s misplaced a few of them. Charlie had a lot to do with it.

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It’s hard enough to attract great players, but Strong has managed to do that quite well in spite of 14 losses over two seasons. But now he’s got to coach up the coaches in addition to the players. So here’s Hard-Luck Charlie trying to weather an 11-14 storm at the same time that he’s breaking in practically an entirely new staff, a new offense with a new offensive coordinator and perhaps a new quarterback, and fixing the worst defense in school history, all this with a mandate of having to win a minimum of seven games, in all likelihood.

They never said it was going to be easy. But then, they’re paying Strong a fat $5 mil because it’s not easy.

The count has gone like this: 24 incoming players in February, eight outgoing coaches so far — five this offseason. A few of the coaches left of their own volition. But none has left for a promotion or anything beyond a lateral move. He has just two remaining from his original staff.

OK, I’m told running backs coach Tommie Robinson was offered a two-year deal to stay but turned it down to go to Southern Cal, where running backs truly do grow on trees. Palm trees, but nevertheless. Of course, had Robinson stayed in town, he would have had the luxury of coaching D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III and would have looked like a genius just trotting out of the locker room.

But he left anyway, which represents yet another red flag. And Lord knows Charlie has seen his share of flags. Red ones. Yellow ones (think Oklahoma State). You pick a color. This latest staff reshuffling is very unsettling. It’s a bad look.

Here’s the problem: Strong is not a good CEO. Mack Brown was. In fact, Mack was the best CEO.

Strong is a good guy. He’s a good coach. He’s a great recruiter. Everyone likes him, I assume even Red McCombs. Everyone not wearing maroon or green and gold wants him to succeed.

And no, he hasn’t gotten a break. Not in the Cal game. Not in the Oklahoma State game. But he’s brought on his share of misfortune as well, whether it’s a faulty coin toss or hanging on too long to the wrong offensive coordinator or whatever the hell that TCU game was. Those were all disasters on Strong’s résumé.

He hired Bruce Chambers (from Brown’s staff) and Les Koenning (because he was told to by Texas folks). Chambers shouldn’t have been retained. Koenning’s a damn fine coach but not a dynamic recruiter. He kept Shawn Watson too long. (One high school coach with a top recruit couldn’t even leave Watson a message in November because his voicemail box was full.) He brought in the litigious Joe Wickline under clouds so dark he thought he was Noah. All four of those are gone.

Just three days ago, he dismissed secondary coach Chris Vaughn because of allegations linking him to recruiting violations at Ole Miss, although former Rebels coach Houston Nutt vigorously proclaimed Vaughn’s innocence. Did Strong have any inkling that Vaughn would soon have an NCAA rap sheet when he hired him from Memphis? After all, Strong did want to bring along the NCAA-tagged Clint Hurtt with him from Louisville, a no-no that Texas wouldn’t budge on.

We’d all like to give Strong the benefit of the doubt, especially because he’s a stand-up guy and a straight shooter. But this could well mean Strong has had two assistants with NCAA show-cause labels on his Louisville and Texas staffs, even though there is no evidence that Vaughn did anything improper while at Texas.

But did Strong try hard to keep Vaughn here this week? When did Strong learn of Vaughn’s shady past? Was Strong open with recruits or did he sandbag until after signing day? When was Texas notified that Vaughn would be implicated? Those are answers we’re not getting because Strong is not granting interviews. That’s hardly being transparent.

Athletic director Mike Perrin’s not talking either. Why not?

And so it continues.

Strong can’t fall out of bed without learning he’s lost a quarterback or a secondary coach or a game to Iowa State. Is he in over his head or just unlucky? Or both? Three seasons should be enough to judge that.

So what to make of all these firings and defections? In one week, he’s gone from Coach February to Coach Makeover. Heck, he lost two coaches in one night when Vaughn was fired and receivers coach/demoted OC Jay Norvell said he was leaving. Who’s next? Vance Bedford has to be getting lonely over there. Do the coaches wear name tags in Moncrief?

You say every staff loses coaches. While that’s true, at the best programs, many leave for better jobs. Bob Stoops made over his Oklahoma staff but followed it up by reaching the College Football Playoff.

So Charlie’s clearly got his work cut out for him, starting with completing his staff again and making it through the offseason without more exits. Then he’s got to beat Notre Dame and Cal and Oklahoma and Baylor and, well, you get the picture.

Charlie does, too.

And it ain’t getting any easier.

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