DALLAS — On the eve of a crossroads game for head coach Charlie Strong, his boss gave a public show of support.
Athletics director Mike Perrin is Team Strong.
“I support Charlie,” Perrin told a half-dozen writers Friday afternoon. He’s my coach. He’s a friend. I respect him as a man.”
Make no mistake about it: Perrin’s love for Strong won’t be the ultimate determinant in whether the administration is searching for a new tackle football coach at the end of the season. Wins are all that matter over these next eight weeks.
Strong has spent much of his Texas tenure desperately trying to shed the tag of lovable loser. The Longhorns aren’t expected by many to defeat the double-digit favorite Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday after two dismal performances that were lowlighted by a defense that was all show and no go. The embarrassment in Stillwater was also marred by a keystone cops crew disguised as the kicking team.
As a result, Strong’s program has made national news over the past week and not for good reasons. The team has hit a skid during the past two weeks that could very well be a full-on avalanche in less than 24 hours.
San Antonio Express-News writer Mike Finger asked Perrin if a midseason firing could happen, similar to what happened to longtime LSU coach Les Miles, who got the gate after the Tigers slipped to 2-2 with a loss to Auburn.
“That’s something I’ve never considered,” he said.
But would he consider it? To that end, he was also asked how many wins would be enough to ensure Strong would be back for a fourth season.
“I don’t have a magic number of wins,” he said, “Of yardage, of all the things that we can all sit around and count. I want to see an improved program.”
Perrin added that he would be the one to make the decision on Strong, something that I just don’t believe. He will have a say, but others will weigh in, including UT President Gregory L. Fenves, the UT System Board of Regents and the deep pockets that help fund the program.
Therein lies Chuck’s quandary. His team can put up a better showing against the Sooners but if it comes in defeat, it won’t help his career prospects.
So what about eight wins, Mike?
“Eight wins would be, from a math major’s standpoint, three more than last year,” he said.
Perrin also brought up his playing days back in 1967 when his coach, Darrell Royal, was under fire after an 0-3-1 run that stretched over two seasons. Royal survived, and the Horns went on to win 30 straight games, including a pair of national championships.
“I know things can turn,” he said. “I’m not making a prediction, but I’ve seen them turn, and I’ve felt them turn. We’ve got a situation with great coaches and great players; I’m supporting it.”
That was then, and this is now.
Almost 50 years after the start of that epic winning streak, Longhorn Nation and its head coach would kill for one win at this point.
Just one win. It can change this narrative and reverse a scary trend.
But can Strong deliver?
For his fan base?
For his players?
And most important, for his career?