TEXAS AT A CRITICAL POINT IN THE FUTURES OF CHARLIE STRONG, MIKE PERRIN AND GREG FENVES

Texas is at a critical point in the futures of football coach Charlie Strong, interim athletic director Mike Perrin and school president Greg Fenves.

Let's be honest, it's going to take guaranteed contracts of two years, maybe even three years for whoever comes in to take over the offense for next season.

Two sources close to the situation told HornsDigest.com UT president Greg Fenves and interim athletic director Mike Perrin are unequivocal in their support of Charlie Strong coming back in 2016 - even if Texas loses its final two games against Texas Tech and Baylor - because they believe in Strong and feel he didn't receive the support he needed during his first 20 months at Texas.

How things play out from here will be critical to the near-term success of not only Strong but also Perrin and Fenves in their jobs because the state of the Longhorns' football program simply means that much to the financial bottom line of athletics and to the overall state of mind of the university and its faithful.

So if I'm Charlie Strong, I get with Perrin right now - share what I'm thinking, talk about what it's going to take financially - so Strong, Perrin and Fenves can all get on the same page about everything going forward. And Perrin and Fenves can work behind the scenes to inform and get buy-in from key power brokers.

What I'm about to say isn't a conversation that's been easy to have - and still probably isn't - with Shawn Watson still on the staff at Texas: But I was able to confirm Strong explored bringing both Chad Morris and Tom Herman to Texas as offensive coordinator when Strong was first hired at UT in January of 2014. 

Morris, now the head coach at SMU, had a $5 million buyout at Clemson for any job other than head coach, and Patterson said no way (even though Morris would have come - that's how much Morris wanted to get back to Texas and get in at the flagship). 

Herman, a former graduate assistant coach at Texas under Mack Brown, told Strong he thought he'd be in line for a head-coaching job in a year and that he thought Ohio State was in line for a special year in 2014. It turns out Herman was right on both counts as he won the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top college football assistant coach for helping Ohio State win the national title with its third-string quarterback. As the head coach at Houston, Herman's Cougars are 10-0 with games left at UConn and against Navy.

Strong stuck with Shawn Watson, his play-caller at Louisville who helped develop QB Teddy Bridgewater. With Strong, a defensive-minded coach, trusting Watson on everything from putting eggs in the failed David Ash/Max Wittek QB basket in Year 1 to not trying to pull in a grad transfer/JUCO QB while trying to land Kyler Murray after last season - it all blew up on Strong.

Part of the reason I think Strong stayed with Watson into 2015 was that Watson was the lead recruiter on QB Zach Gentry and then Kyler Murray.

By the time both of those recruitments failed, Watson was already well into the recruitment of Shane Buechele, the state's No. 1 QB for 2016. Strong, knowing he had a West Coast passing-minded play-caller with two of three QBs who were dual-threats, told Watson and the offensive staff to spend the time leading into spring football studying running spread offenses, including Auburn's in 2013, sources told HD.

A 38-3 loss at Notre Dame revealed the exact same, Witness Protection Program offense from 2014, only speeded up, which meant Texas went three-and-out on eight of its 10 possessions in the game in record time.

Watson was out as play-caller. Receivers coach Jay Norvell, who was let go as co-OC at Oklahoma along with Josh Heupel, took Watson's place. 

But once he elevated Norvell to play-caller and made tight ends coach Jeff Traylor the run-game coordinator, Strong had a demoted offensive line coach who was still being sued (more on that in a second), a demoted QB coach and RB coach Tommie Robinson in the same room together trying to make chicken salad out of you know what.

I think Strong knows he put Norvell in a tough spot and undoubtedly knows he would have been putting Traylor in a potentially unwinnable spot by having him run the offense - fresh out of an incredibly successful high school coaching career at Gilmer - in a room full of veteran college assistants (even though I think Traylor was probably the most equipped to deliver the offense that could have helped Texas make the most of its talent this season).

 

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It's a mess. Fans aren't happy, and, ultimately, it's all on Strong. But at the start, Strong would have hired Chad Morris in a heartbeat. But there was no way Patterson was going to pay Morris' $5 million buyout.

After that no on Morris, Strong was met with one piece of bad news after another from Patterson:

* Patterson refused to intervene on behalf of Joe Wickline when he was sued for $593,000 by Oklahoma State - more than his annual salary at Texas ($575,000). I continue to be told UT will finally settle this. 

(Oklahoma State lawyers this week filed motions requesting new depositions from Strong and QB Tyrone Swoopes following Jay Norvell's promotion to play-caller. The case is set for trial early next year in Payne County, Oklahoma.)

* Patterson raised 2015 season ticket prices an average of 21.5 percent coming off a 6-7 season and further angered grandfathered season ticket holders by telling them they couldn't resell their tickets.  

The fact 10,000 season ticket holders didn't renew showed how angry the fan base was before the season even started - a season everyone knew was front-loaded (Notre Dame, Cal, Oklahoma State, TCU and OU - all in the first six games) while relying heavily on 21 true or redshirt freshmen.

* Patterson refused to increase the annual salaries for quality control coaches after last season from $24,000, so when three of the four QCs left, Strong only filled two of the vacancies so he could increase the pay to $32,000 by having one less QC.

* Patterson cutting the meals coaches could eat in the athletic dining hall from unlimited to 30 per year didn't hurt the head coaches as much as it hurt the assistant coaches at Texas, including those quality control assistants who needed every meal UT could help them out with (because they were making so little).

* At the urging of Randa Ryan and Chris Plonsky, Patterson fired football academic adviser Brian Davis without consulting Strong.

That ultimately hurt Strong, because Ryan ended up on leave at the same time an independent investigation began by attorney Gene Marsh into possible academic fraud (outlined by The Chronicle of Higher Education this summer) involving three former basketball players.

And for all the grief Davis got from fans for various football academic ineligibilities, he played by the rules and was respected by faculty and administrators and could have helped Strong with the politics at UT.

* At the urging of Chris Plonsky and Jeff Hunt, a media consultant and close confidante of Plonsky and Patterson, Strong's media relations director John Bianco was fired in June without Strong being consulted.

Bianco wasn't replaced until Bianco was brought back in late October, after Patterson was fired and interim AD Perrin brought in. So during a 1-4 start against a front-loaded schedule, Strong didn't have a trusted adviser working to help shape national perception about the UT program at a time when Strong and Texas were taking a beating from talking heads.

* Patterson cut the assistant coaches' ticket allotment from 8 to 4 and cut the allotment for the rest of the football staff from 4 to 2. If a football staff member has two kids, he can't even send his family to a home game without hitting up someone else for more tickets.

* Patterson tried to move football academic support out of  the Moncrief-Neuhaus football complex and into the north end of DKR, because Texas academic support chief Randa Ryan, who has been on a leave of absence almost the entire football season, wanted all of her academic support staff in the same area. Strong objected, wanting his players to come by the football complex for their additional academic work, and blocked the move.

* I'm told a month into last season, as player dismissals (ultimately nine) and suspensions were continuing to make headlines, Patterson (through senior executive associate AD Arthur Johnson) asked Strong if he was about done with the dismissals and if there were any suspended players he could activate (because of negative press). 

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I'm told Strong felt totally insulted but went ahead and brought WR Daje Johnson back from suspension that week for the Baylor game - five games into the 2014 season.

* One of the things that pissed off Strong the most was Patterson and chief revenue officer Steve Hank's attempt to cut the coat, tie and fitted dress shirt and pants for the players to wear  when traveling and on game days - when it's time for business. The cost is roughly $20,000, I was told, and Patterson/Hank said the players could wear their Nike sweats.

Patterson/Hank used senior executive associate AD Arthur Johnson as the intermediary on this, and I'm told Charlie told Arthur there was no way he would agree to cutting the coat and tie attire for the players. 

Strong feels it's important to dress for business and also knows some of the kids have never owned a coat and tie before (and that they needed to understand there were times you needed to get dressed up to conduct business).

So Patterson/Hank countered (through Johnson) that UT would only provide the fitted attire for new players and that the rest of the team could wear the attire they received previously. Strong replied that the players' bodies were changing/developing and that each player would need to be fitted each school year. 

Then, Strong finally relayed to Patterson/Hank that if he - himself - had to pay for the coat and tie attire for the team out of his own pocket, that's what he'd do. Patterson/Hank relented.

Strong's demeanor has been a little more subdued ever since the Longhorns went to Iowa State and got shut out 24-0, causing all the momentum and excitement after victories over Oklahoma and Kansas State to come crashing down as if pianos were falling out of the sky in Austin.

At that point, Strong probably knew he'll move in a new direction on offense with a new play-caller next season but certainly couldn't say anything about it - and still can't - with two games left to play (and possibly three - if there are not enough 6-6 or better teams to fill the slots in 41 bowl games).

Whether the frustration of all the weeks and months of being told no by Steve Patterson have taken their toll on Strong, the bottom line is Strong, Perrin and Fenves need to be working hand in hand, in constant communication at this point, with Strong detailing his plans to Perrin and Fenves, so that everyone knows what to expect and Texas can move forward quickly when the time comes.

At the end of the day, Strong has done a good job of evaluating talent, recruiting and developing players - everywhere he's been (Florida as DC, Louisville and Texas).

The state's No. 1 QB for 2016 Shane Buechele is arriving in January with WR Collin Johnson. More offensive help will arrive in June: WR Reggie Hemphill, OLs Denzel Okafor and Tope Imade and TE Peyton Aucoin. And I think Texas believes it's in good shape with some other top offensive targets.

I've said I think 85 percent of UT's problems right now are related to the offense. Strong knows he has to address the offense in recruiting, and he is. 

The most important decision to the immediate futures and day-to-day work lives of not only Strong - but also Perrin and Fenves - will be the person Strong entrusts with the direction of the offense moving forward.

If Greg Fenves and Mike Perrin are serious about giving Strong the chance to reset things - and it requires guaranteed contracts for the offensive coordinator and any other assistants brought in - then the time is now for Strong, Perrin and Fenves to get on the same page, so a transition forward will be swift and united.

For a change.

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