UT Head Coach Charlie Strong talks to cornerback Davante Davis in the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

BEVO BEAT Football

Whys of Texas: Charlie Strong still has championship aspirations

On LHN, Strong opens up about his reasoning for coming to Texas and why the Horns can win big. 'The right players are here to make that happen.'

Posted October 6th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Readers sound off on Vance Bedford's demotion and Breckyn Hager's early exit.
  • Red McCombs, who was critical of Strong's hire in 2014, is back with more thoughts.
  • Texas fans should check their watch. It's OU week.

Texas coach Charlie Strong can be criticized for many things. But never doubt his commitment to the Longhorns.

Strong dropped his guard and opened up this week on Longhorn Network. After Strong and host Lowell Galindo went through the Oklahoma State game film, the coach talked about what he told the players during Sunday’s team meeting and how he felt about the team’s 2-2 plight.

“When I was at the University of Louisville, we had everything going. We were rolling. We had everything going,” Strong said. “And I said, when I had the opportunity to come to the University of Texas, I said that number one, there had never ever been a black head football coach win a national championship. I said I felt like at Texas, that would happen.

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Texas defensive back Brandon Jones celebrates with head coach Charlie Strong after blocking a punt by the California Golden Bears for a safety in the second quarter on September 17, 2016 at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Texas defensive back Brandon Jones celebrates with head coach Charlie Strong after blocking a punt by the California Golden Bears for a safety in the second quarter on September 17, 2016 at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

“Now, it hasn’t happened, guys, but that still is a goal of mine,” he added. “Within this team, that’s going to happen to this team. Because the right players are here to make that happen.”

Strong is the first black head coach of any men’s sport in UT history. But outside of when he was hired and the few months afterward, reporters have rarely referenced his skin color. To hear Strong bring that up now, seemingly out of left field, is an indication he realizes the importance of this job and the urgency to win now.

Strong was also asked why he never holds players accountable through the media. The coach generally refuses to verbally throw one of his players under the bus, although there have been plenty of times when he could have.

“It’s my responsibility,” Strong said. “I’m the head football coach. I’m totally accountable. That’s my job. I tell the players all the time, I will take the beating. I don’t mind it. I just want you guys, you have school to worry about, you have football to worry about, you have other personal issues to worry about. I will handle everything else.”

On to this week’s mailbag, and we begin with the news of the week that Strong will start calling defensive plays.

Q. His back is against the wall. Why did it take so long. Hanging on by the skin of his teeth. He better not lose bad to OU, because if he does he will probably get fired. People are impatient. He should have made that change before the season started!!!

— Eddie R. via Facebook

DAVIS: Eddie’s comments covered a lot of ground and touched on all the same hot-button issues many of you expressed. There’s no question that by naming himself the defensive coordinator, Strong appears to have boxed himself in. If the Horns turn things around defensively, he’ll get all the praise. If Texas’ struggles continue, he will be held accountable. I still do not understand why this move wasn’t made during the off week after the California loss. Was it truly just a P.R. move? Who knows, and frankly, it doesn’t matter at this point. It’s Strong’s show now.

Q. Fenves is the school president and has an engineering background but, that doesn’t mean he knows football, in fact he does not. This year will continue bad football and it will hurt recruiting as the “L’s” add up. By waiting to replace Strong after the season instead of now will hurt recruiting even more. Times have changed kids will flock to a winning program and run like they stole something from a losing program. Just my opinion.

— Jack S. via email

DAVIS: Texas President Gregory L. Fenves issued a tweet on Wednesday meant to be a short of support for Strong and the rest of the Longhorns. Some fans saw this as the “dreaded vote of confidence.” I didn’t really see it that way, though. A university source then confirmed to the American-Statesman that Strong will not be fired during the season no matter what happens. So, maybe it was. Here’s the thing about Fenves. As the university president, he’s in a tough spot. If you say nothing, that makes it appear as if you agree with the angry majority. If you do say something, what should that be? A strong statement of support or something interpreted as, “Yeah, fans, we hear you”? Fans have no idea how badly Fenves wants Strong to win. While the president has refused to put a number on the required win total this season, many believe it’s eight. I’m not sure a 7-5 record will be good enough.

Q. The buck stops with Coach Strong, did no one notice that most of the defense cannot tackle? Tackling is called a fundamental.

— Mark S. via Facebook

DAVIS: The tackling on Oklahoma State’s first two drives on Saturday was laughable. I can promise you that Texas does practice tackling. Strong has his players go to the “county fair,” a series of drills at different stations spread all over the field. So yes, the Horns practice their tackling. Now, why that doesn’t show up in the games is anyone’s guess. Lack of focus? Maybe. Lack of talent? I don’t think that’s it. If anyone has a clear answer, please let us all know.

The Texas defense tries to stop OSU's Justice Hill during the fourth quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Ok., on Saturday, October 01, 2016. Texas lost to OSU 49-31. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN
The Texas defense tries to stop OSU’s Justice Hill during the fourth quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Ok., on Saturday, October 01, 2016. Texas lost to OSU 49-31. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Q. Tackling is an issue, but can anyone tell me how many interceptions this defense has? Zero. In two years, how many times has the defense given up huge yardage and points? A LOT. The secondary is completely lost and has no confidence. That is coaching!

— Shane T. via Facebook

DAVIS: I’m stunned this unit hasn’t generated many turnovers at this point. Texas is credited with only one turnover thus far — a fumble against UTEP. Toledo is the only FBS team with no turnovers at all. This week, Strong said he told the players to focus on getting the ball-carrier on the ground and let someone else come in and make the strip. As for interceptions, it’s awfully hard to get anything when the safeties playing so far back. Strong has said multiple times that he’s told the corners, “If he’s even, he’s leavin’.” That means if the corners are step for step with the receivers, they’re about to get burned. Speaking of corners, I expect to see Holton Hill back on the field this week against OU. He’s back on the depth chart as a starter.

Q. The team will either quit or play (hard) for Strong on Saturday. Bedford needs to go if Charlie plans on staying. Take over the play calling, Charlie. Get these guys ready!

— Jimmy A. via Facebook

DAVIS: Maybe I’m naive on this, but I generally believe the Horns will show up ready to play and come out swinging against the Sooners. Usually in games where OU is ranked and Texas is not,  the Horns have played well. The two teams are 5-5 in the last 10 games. OU has been ranked in all of those. The last time the Sooners came into the Cotton Bowl unranked was 2005.

Red McCombs told the San Antonio Express-News that he would not contact Texas administrators about Charlie Strong's job status. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)
Red McCombs told the San Antonio Express-News that he would not contact Texas administrators about Charlie Strong’s job status. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

Angry comments came pouring in once Red McCombs gave an interview to the San Antonio Express-News earlier this week and indicated he’s open to a mid-season firing.

Q. This folks is why Texas CANNOT and WILL NEVER be a powerhouse going in to the future.. Too many good ole boys calling the shots, that’s why all the Sabans, Meyers, and Hermans of college football WIlL NEVER coach at UT. Too much politics involved, not enough time to be a football coach. #HookEm

— Denny W. via Facebook

Q. Let’s get the record straight: YOU never wanted Charlie Strong in the first place!

— Jo Ann R. via Facebook

Q. Why should this Longhorn give a damn what this guy thinks? Stop glorifying these undesirables. They corrupt everything.

— Homer P. via Facebook

DAVIS: Let’s revisit McCombs’ comments from January 2014. The mega-booster from San Antonio went on a San Antonio ESPN radio station and said, “I don’t have any doubt Charlie is a fine coach. I think he’d probably make a fine position coach, maybe a coordinator.” When someone has given UT enough money to get their name on the stadium and the business school, anything he says is news. And to those UT officials who don’t like it when reporters quote McCombs, stop taking his money. Oddly enough, I don’t see that happening, though. (I’m repeating myself here. I’ve said this numerous times in the past. The response from UT? Crickets.)

Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager (44) tackles OSU's Justice Hill in the third quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday, October 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN
Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager (44) tackles OSU’s Justice Hill in the third quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday, October 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager apologized Monday for leaving the field early before the traditional post-game singing of “The Eyes of Texas.” Readers were generally OK with it.

Q. Thanks for being a man about it Breckyn, I grew up 3 houses down from your dad in Odessa. You guys just keep playing hard and fight, it will turn around.

— Kyle C. via Facebook

Q. You don’t leave before ‘The Eyes.’ We all stand together, win or lose. Period.

— Cathy P. via Facebook

Q. Apology accepted….now let’s get it together and beat OU.

— Micki H. via Facebook

DAVIS: I do know this. If Texas had more players like Hager, this team would be winning big time. Hager was so mad after the Oklahoma State game, he was practically shaking. “I’m not a loser,” Hager said. I actually got some grief from some fans for putting that quote in my story. Hager’s comments showed real honesty from a terrific player who loves Texas like you can’t imagine. Go on, Breckyn. Keep doing your thing.

Texas coach Charlie Strong walks back to the sideline after speaking with players during the fourth quarter against OSU at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Ok., on Saturday, October 01, 2016. Texas lost to OSU 49-31. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN
Texas coach Charlie Strong walks back to the sideline after speaking with players during the fourth quarter against OSU at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Ok., on Saturday, October 01, 2016. Texas lost to OSU 49-31. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

As for the long-term future of the Texas head coach…

Q: Enter Les Miles.

— Lionel G. via Facebook

Q. Bring on Tom Herman. I’ve been the biggest Charlie Strong supporter but Texas is now the fourth or fifth best team in the state. That’s unacceptable.

—Jason R. via Facebook

DAVIS: I included these because it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. If the Longhorns struggle in the next eight games, the calls for change will only grow louder. Heck, they’re pretty loud as it is. But Strong should get the next two months to chart his own course. Remember, Texas has never fired any coach of a major sport midseason in the history of the school. I’m not saying that won’t happen this year, but it’s highly doubtful. Let’s see what happens with Strong serving as both the head coach and defensive coordinator.

As always, let’s end on something positive.

Q. I believe Charlie! Let’s Ride.

— Liliana O. via Facebook

DAVIS: In case anyone’s forgotten, this is Oklahoma week. Kickoff at 11 a.m. I expect the Cotton Bowl’s north end zone to be full and loud.

Have a question for the Whys of Texas? Email bdavis@statesman.com or drop us a line in the comments section on Facebook.

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