Football

Charlie Strong hopes to return for 2017, but 'I have not been told'

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Story highlights
  • Strong on UT's future: “The cake has been baked. Now, it’s just ready to be sliced.”
  • Strong holds the lowest winning percentage of any UT coach in program history.
  • Longhorns have 37 of the team's 44-man two-deep roster expected to return in 2017.

Posted November 25th, 2016

Charlie Strong said Friday he came to the University of Texas to do two things — win national championships and change lives.

“When I took the job, I just felt like I would impact the players inside the locker room,” Strong said moments after the Longhorns’ 31-9 season-ending loss to TCU. “But it was more than just that. I looked at it as I have the chance to impact society and change society.”

Strong truly believes his role as the head football coach is paternal, one who should mold 18- to 22-year-old athletes into men, possibly future leaders. But in a bottom-line business, Strong earns more than $5 million annually to win football games, and even he admitted the wins and losses, “they don’t stack up.”

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On Friday, Texas finished its third consecutive losing season. With a 16-21 overall record, Strong has the lowest winning percentage of any coach in UT football history (.432) and is expected to be fired. An official announcement could come as early as Saturday.

UT wide receiver John Burt consoles Head Coach Charlie Strong after their loss to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT wide receiver John Burt consoles Head Coach Charlie Strong after their loss to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“I have not been told,” said Strong, who told his players that he’s looking forward to coming back in 2017. In his mind, the foundation has been laid. Last Monday, he said this current group of players can win the national title.

“It’s just like baking a cake,” he said. “The cake has been baked. The only thing you need to do now is put the icing on it and slice it. That’s what this team is. The cake has been baked. Now, it’s just ready to be sliced.”

Men’s athletic director Mike Perrin, who normally attends the post-game press conference, was nowhere to be seen. He had said Strong’s future would not be decided until after the TCU game. Strong has two years remaining on a guaranteed contract worth $10.7 million.

The American-Statesman reported last Sunday that UT administrators had already decided to fire Strong. Other media outlets confirmed the story. UT never made any public announcement, but school officials never said the reports were wrong, either. Only a blowout win over TCU could even possibly save Strong’s job, a university source said, and that didn’t happen.

If the Longhorns make it official, administrators are expected to look first at Houston coach Tom Herman, the nation’s hottest up-and-comer, although he’s no sure thing, either. Herman is 22-4 in only two years at Houston, but also lost to Navy, SMU and Memphis this season.

Texas (5-7, 3-6 Big 12) will miss out on a bowl game for the second straight year. It’s the first time the Longhorns have missed the postseason twice in a row since 1992 and 1993, former coach John Mackovic’s first two years. It’s the first time UT has posted three straight losing seasons since 1936-38.

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“Whenever we go out there and don’t perform to the best of our abilities, you always want to feel like it’s your fault in a way,” cornerback John Bonney said. “But on the other hard, we always understand this is a business. Being here at the University of Texas is definitely a business.”

Linebacker Malik Jefferson said he couldn’t be someone who makes the ultimate decision. Other players echoed that sentiment. “For him to have to go through the stuff he’s going through is tough,” said junior D’Onta Foreman, who became the second UT running back in school history to produce a 2,000-yard season.

Strong, the first black head coach of any men’s sport in UT history, went 6-7 in 2014 and 5-7 last season. Going into his third year, Strong told reporters in July, “You want to see progress. I totally agree with that.”

Legendary coach Darrell Royal once said you lose a game for every freshman starter. This Texas team had freshmen starters at quarterback, center and wide receiver, not to mention sophomores everywhere else. Thirty-seven players on the team’s 44-man two-deep roster are expected to return next year.

“This team will just be stronger and it will be much better,” Strong said. “I’m excited about what’s coming back.”

But fans started leaving in droves after Trevorris Johnson capped a 97-yard drive with a 5-yard run. That gave the Frogs a 24-9 lead with 9:18 remaining. How did the Longhorns respond? By going three-and-out and punting it away in 24 seconds.

Strong walked off the field with his wife Vicki and sports information director John Bianco. A fan yelled, “Texas Strong!,” but the coach just waved her off instead of flashing his Hook ’em hand sign. Other assistant coaches left with their wives and children.

UT defensive end Breckyn Hager consoles Head Coach Charlie Strong after their loss to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT defensive end Breckyn Hager consoles Head Coach Charlie Strong after their loss to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The whole day was weird. Three hours before kickoff, the streets surrounding Royal-Memorial Stadium had a fraction of the normal hubbub. Maybe it was the light drizzle, or maybe it was because of Black Friday, typically the busiest shopping day of the year.

North of the stadium, dozens of fans were holding down their normal tailgate spots around the San Jacinto Blvd. garage. Asked if Strong should return, Mickey Ryan of Wimberley was emphatic. “Absolutely not,” the 1973 UT graduate said.

“I like the core values and everything, but I don’t see him as ever getting past the eight or nine wins,” Ryan said. “We’re not going to compete at a national level with Charlie as the coach.”

Larry Matthys of Spring Branch said Strong was a great recruiter, but makes too many mistakes, such as firing or demoting eight assistant coaches in three years. Last week’s loss to one of the worst teams in college football was almost unforgivable, too.

“We should have beaten Kansas with our second team,” said Matthys, a 1983 graduate. “And we didn’t.”

Sealy Massingill, a Fort Worth resident who graduated in 1981, wonders if Fenves and UT Chancellor Bill McRaven “want us to be Stanford, not Alabama.”

“They want the process to look right, they want the optics to be correct,” Massingill said. “Charlie, he’s such a likable, good solid person that they don’t want to fire him. But we shouldn’t have allowed him to come from Iowa State last year.”

Stanley Mathis, a 1976 grad from Lago Vista, hopes Strong stays. “If it isn’t Herman, it needs to be Strong,” he said.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

 

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