The timeline of Texas football will look back at early December of 2015 as the moment Texas football moved forward or took a serious step back.
All eyes right now are on Mike Perrin and school president Greg Fenves, who has decided to remove the interim and make Perrin Texas’ athletic director through the 2016-17 school year.
Perrin’s interim agreement was through August 2016.
No pressure. The next week will basically make or break the Perrin era as AD … as well as the Fenves era as president – in many ways – as both men have vowed to support football coach Charlie Strong moving forward.
If they are prepared to do everything it will take to back that up and Texas football finally starts showing signs of returning to a Top 10 program, the Longhorns’ athletic program can start to heal.
A misstep because of poor preparedness and/or communication for an AD and president who are green as spring grass at crossroads moments like this one, and UT athletics may take years to recover.
UT is closing in on a time when it will need to raise nearly $1 billion for projects that will include a new basketball arena (estimated at $450 million to $600 million as well as a renovation of DKR’s south end (estimated at $200 million to $300 million).
If Texas has any hope of jump-starting fund-raising – for athletics or even projects for the central university - it has to get football going.
And that leads to football coach Charlie Strong.
Whether you think Strong is the right guy or the wrong guy to lead the Texas program, Perrin and Fenves have said they are all-in on Strong returning as coach in 2016.
The difference between words of support and aligning the forces and money needed to actually show support can be worlds apart – especially at a politically charged campus like Texas.
When Strong eagerly took the Texas job, he saw the mystique, the tradition, the recruiting base, the resources … the mountain top.
What he found was a broken place, where the president and regents had been at war for two years. Where that president ultimately fired a 32-year iconic athletic director and a football coach who helped win Texas’ first national title in 35 years.
Where the athletic director who was praised for hiring the first African-American head coach of any men’s sport at Texas proved to be a divider and cut Strong’s resources to less than what he had at Louisville.
Before we go any further, let me state where I am on Charlie Strong.
To me, it all starts with a coach’s ability to recruit, get players and develop them.
If you’re a great CEO football coach at a politically charged program like Texas, but you’re not doing a good job evaluating and/or developing talent, you’re CEO strengths are wasted.
So the first question I always ask about Strong is:
Is he doing a good job of evaluating, recruiting and developing players?
My answer to that is yes. I see freshmen all over the field on track to develop into All-Big 12 and/or NFL players:
OL ……. LT Connor Williams, RG Patrick Vahe
WR …… John Burt and Ryan Newsome
RB……… D’Onta Foreman, Chris Warren and Kirk Johnson
LB…….. Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler, Breckyn Hager
DE ……. Charles Omenihu
S ………. DeShon Elliott
CB ……. Holton Hill, DaVante Davis, Kris Boyd
That’s 15 impact freshmen right there and I didn’t even include the QB position (because I’m not yet sold on Heard and wanted to see Kai Locksley this season – oh well).
But the top 2016 QB in the state – Shane Buechele - is committed to Texas. And if you don't have an answer at quarterback, returning to the Top 10 becomes a fantasy.
Is Strong getting players?
Is Strong the right fit as a CEO to handle the politics of being the football coach at Texas?
But I said when Texas let go of athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Mack Brown – go find an AD who can schmooze the boosters (Oliver Luck would have been ideal), so he can hire a coach who eats, drinks and sleeps the football end of it to rebuild the program from the ground up.
That obviously didn’t happen.
Texas hired Steve Patterson as AD, who alienated his coaches, boosters, fans – everyone – and not only provided zero cover for Strong, but made Strong’s job more difficult.
That list, including firing two of Strong’s most important allies (football PR man John Bianco and academic support chief Brian Davis) without consulting Strong, has been well documented here in HD ONLY over the past year.
But Cher is not walking through that door belting, “If I could turn back time! …”
So let’s get to where things are now.
Mike Perrin is an AD who can handle the booster stuff for Strong while allowing Strong to focus on football. Perrin talks to all the big-money donors at UT.
And that’s enormous.
But right now, a growing number of emails coming in to Fenves and Perrin are undoubtedly expressing concern about if Strong is the right long-term answer at Texas.
And those emails will only intensify with another loss Saturday at Baylor in a shipwreck of a season.
So are Fenves and Perrin really all in on Strong like they say they are?
Because if they are, Fenves and Perrin need to do the following:
#1 … Do for Strong what Texas did for Mack Brown after an 8-5 season in 2011 and announce a contract extension immediately.
Texas coaches are doing in-home visits right now with some of the best 2016 players in the country at their positions – guys like S Brandon Jones, RB Devwah Whaley, LB Jeffrey McCulloch, LB Dontavious Jackson, OT Jean Delance, OT Patrick Hudson and DT Jordan Elliott …
Everywhere the coaches go right now, they are hearing about a hesitation to commit to Texas because competing coaches are telling them, “You’ll have Charlie Strong as your coach for one year, and then he’ll be fired.”
And the Texas coaches can say, “Don’t listen to that stuff. Coach Strong is going to be fine.”
But recruits aren’t going to take the word of a coaching staff on the hot seat.
When rumors were prevalent after a 5-7 season in 2010 and after an 8-5 season in 2011 that Mack Brown was going to be fired. The website Sports By Brooks even reported the firing was imminent.
The rumors started affecting recruiting.
Texas responded by extending Mack’s contract from 2016 to 2020. The extension didn’t change the buyout if Mack was to be fired, but it was a statement from the university that Mack wasn’t going anywhere.
We can only imagine what questions Brian Jean-Mary, Chris Vaughn and Jeff Traylor are getting in recruits’ homes about Strong’s future or what questions Strong is getting when he calls recruits.
So if Fenves and Perrin are all in on Strong, then announce a contract extension ASAP, so that his efforts to get players in the 2016 class aren’t undermined.
Even if you look at it cynically and think Strong is the wrong guy and will be fired in a year, Texas fans should still want to assist this staff in recruiting right now so the roster is stocked for the next guy.
If that means a carefully worded extension, so be it. Look at it as helping get great players to Texas (as opposed to giving anything to a coach who still has to prove it to you).
#2 … Get ready to spend some serious money (probably close to $8 million, including guarantees) on new additions to the coaching staff.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR - We gave you hint after hint that TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie would be the first one to get a call from Texas to come to Austin and fix the Longhorns' offensive woes.
Cumbie doesn't call plays at TCU (co-OC Doug Meacham does).
But Cumbie is seen as a top QB coach already for his work in helping turn Trevone Boykin from a great athlete into one of college football's top quarterbacks.
Most importantly, Cumbie is seen that way by Texas high school coaches and that has translated to Cumbie being one of the top recruiters of QBs in the state.
Cumbie was the lead recruiter on TCU 2016 QB commit Brennen Wooten and 5-star 2017 QB commit Shawn Robinson.
The plan would be for Cumbie to bring the same energy and expertise to the Texas offense that he helped bring to TCU, including a completely different, up-tempo way of practicing (defensive-minded Gary Patterson had to sign off on that when he brought in Cumbie and Meacham when they helped TCU go from 4-8 in 2013 to 12-1 in 2014).
I'm told Cumbie and Texas run-game coordinator Jeff Traylor have a good relationship built on Cumbie having recruited players from Gilmer when Traylor was there.
The hope would be that Cumbie's passing expertise and Traylor's power spread run-game expertise would finally give Texas a united offensive vision and meeting room that would empower players and instantly be reflected on the field.
(The players always know when there’s discord on a coaching staff – and there’s been a TON of discord this year, which has been reflected on the field in coach and player performance.)
I’m told by those close to Cumbie that he will take Charlie Strong's call after the regular season ends this weekend.
But when Strong makes that call - after giving Gary Patterson a heads up - Texas had better be prepared for the terms it’s going to take to bring in Cumbie and possibly a new co-defensive coordinator - most likely a three-year guaranteed contract at close to $1 million each.
That’s $6 million right there.
Perrin and Fenves have said they support Strong's return in 2016 - unequivocally - as well as a reset of this coaching staff. Well, now is the time to show it.
The reset could very well take a three-year guaranteed contract to land Cumbie with a salary at close to $1 million per year. (Texas DC Vance Bedford makes $800,000 annually, while Shawn Watson is making $650,000.)
What if Cumbie wants to bring in a couple position coaches of his choice?
Perrin and Fenves need to have all these answers by the time Strong reaches out to Cumbie following the Baylor game.
DEFENSIVE STAFF - And then we come to the defensive side of the ball. From the moment Chris Rumph left Texas as D-line coach to join Jim McElwain's staff at Florida in February, I've been waiting for the name Clint Hurtt to come up. And it's now or never.
Hurtt was Strong's defensive line coach at Louisville who ended up being sanctioned by the NCAA for violations tied to Hurtt's time at Miami as recruiting coordinator under Randy Shannon during the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
Hurtt was given "show-cause" by the NCAA, meaning any school that hired him would have to go before the NCAA and explain why it was hiring him and be prepared to face magnified penalties if any future violations occurred.
There is no doubt Hurtt got tied up in the Miami scandal (in Hurtt's defense, he didn't become DL coach and recruiting coordinator.
But there is also no doubt Hurtt was one of the best recruiters in college football as the DL coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisville under Strong.
Hurtt helped land QB Teddy Bridgewater, S Calvin Pryor and WR DaVante Parker - all went on to become first-round NFL draft picks.
I’ve been told Hurtt’s presence is rock-star like. One person compared it to WWE star Mark Henry, the world’s strongest man.
First of all, Hurtt is huge. And his presence is as big as he is with recruits, I’ve been told repeatedly.
“If you turn Sonny Cumbie and Clint Hurtt loose on this state in recruiting, you have a total game-changer,” an ACC assistant coach told me.
Strong believes in Hurtt so much that Louisville AD Tom Jurich kept Hurtt despite the show-cause penalties, and Strong turned down Tennessee at the last minute (when the Vols hired Butch Jones) after Tennessee balked at Hurtt being a member of Strong's staff.
Hurtt's show-cause ended in mid-October. I'm convinced Rumph left Texas in February because he thought Strong would be looking to bring in Hurtt at the first opportunity.
Well, here we are.
Hurtt is currently in his second year as the assistant D-line coach for the Chicago Bears, and he probably wouldn't leave a chance to get vested in the NFL's pension (it takes 5 years) for anything less than a DC or co-DC position.
Considering this year’s defense will set the all-time record for yards per game allowed by Texas – currently 450.2 ypg (replacing 2013’s total of 407 ypg) – Perrin and Fenves can justify bringing in Hurtt for a salary at or near Bedford’s $800,000.
Here’s the concern: Perrin and Fenves have never been in a high-stakes situations like the one, where they have to be able to get things green-lit by the chancellor and regents in a heartbeat.
There is nothing on their calendars the rest of the week that will compare to having all the answers to ensure Strong gets exactly what he wants this time in resetting this staff.
Perrin and Fenves need to drop everything else they’re doing and involve chancellor William McRaven on everything that needs to happen next - so the regents are ready to approve all the money that will be required to make these changes.
I’ve written – ever since Steve Patterson was fired in mid-September – that Perrin and Strong needed to become best friends. They needed to be communicating ALL THE TIME.
Moments like this are the reason why.
If Texas leaders are truly all in on supporting Strong, they’ll also reach out to him to make sure they know exactly what is needed to move forward.
Strong has been lied to by his former boss and isn’t the most trusting of souls to begin with. So he may not feel comfortable blowing up the phones of McRaven or Fenves to make sure they are on the same page with Perrin.
Here are the consequences of Texas mishandling this week: Strong doesn’t come out of the reset with the coaches he wants/needs and ends up feeling unsupported heading into next season.
That will leave the program heading for a sizable crash and will then make the lives of Fenves and Perrin more complicated, because of the fallout of football falling apart any more than it has.
And it may not ultimately be Cumbie, although I believe that is Strong’s first choice.
And Strong needs to be very careful in how he constructs his offensive staff, because Traylor, one of his best recruiters right now, I’m told, has been offered at least one play-calling offensive coordinator position and may have another.
By this time next week, we may well know if everything discussed here was handled correctly or incorrectly. Strong needs his support now for recruiting purposes. Fenves and Perrin need to have answers now – because once the season ends on Saturday, every minute will count.
There can’t be any more miscommunication like the past 20 months.
The immediate future of Texas depends on it – not Texas football – the immediate future of the University of Texas, in terms of giving to the central university.
Texas is at a crossroads unlike I’ve seen in my 23 years covering the university, because of all of the recent change in leadership and huge projects being taken on, such as the medical school, or about to be taken on (such as a new basketball arena and renovated south end of DKR).
I’m told those athletics projects alone will end up being priced at close to $1 billion.
If the university wants to start building the excitement and willingness to give needed to cover $1 billion, it needs to get this week right.
That’s not overstating it.
If there are missteps this week, the morale and growth of Texas athletics – and the university – could be at risk for the immediate future.
STATUS UPDATE ON "THE PREDATOR"
Spoke with a source today about Malik Jefferson and there is legitimate concern that he might not be able to play this weekend due to his injured ankle, which he twisted against Texas Tech.
Jefferson has yet to practice this week and, word is, there is no telling if he will be able to practice. The coaches would like to get him at least one practice under his belt this week in order for him to play.
The good news regarding Jefferson, I'm told, is that he is no longer suffering from that stomach big that seemed to stick with him for most of November.
J GRAY GOING TO PLAY?
Spoke with a source today regarding Johnathan Gray and it sounds like the senior is doing everything he can to play in his last scheduled game as a Longhorn.
When asked if they thought he'd play, the source thought he would.
The source said Gray, who missed last week’s game with a toe injury, is moving around better but is still noticeably not at 100 percent.
LATEST WITH UT HOOPS RECRUITING
There are really no new names to report when it comes to basketball recruiting.
The two main targets remain five-star center Jarrett Allen and four-star shooting guard Andrew Jones.
Texas feels OK with Allen at the moment but is in no way in the clear, not by any means. This is going to be a tight race down to the wire. In fact, it would not be a stretch at all to think that Kansas was in the drivers seat at the moment.
The same could be said for Jones. He's seems to be trending toward the Jayhawks too. Again, a ways to go before either make up their mind.
@@@@@ATTACKING THE SHARK
Four-star linebacker Jeffrey "The Shark" McCulloch told me today that he has an in-home with the Longhorns scheduled or next week but that Chris Vaughn and Brian Jean-Mary stopped by to see him on Tuesday.
McCulloch tells me he is not yet sure if he will take an official visit to Texas.
There is some belief that McCulloch could take an official to Texas A&M on Dec. 11, which, of course, is the same weekend the Longhorns are inviting several of their biggest targets to visit. That's not a great sign for UT.
However, the fact that Vaughn and BJ both saw him this week and then will again see him next weeks lets McCullouch know just how much he means to them. That consistency could pay off in the end.
Some other schools that will factor in here are Michigan, Notre Dame, and Stanford.
SHACKELFORD WEIGHING HIS OPTIONS
Caught up with Kansas State offensive line commitment Zach Shackelford to see if Texas coaches had made arrangements for an in-home visit yet. He said that UT was going to stop by tomorrow [Thursday].
When I asked him if he'd end up taking an official to Texas he responded, "I probably will if we can work out a date."
I then asked him what kind of chance the Longhorns had with him, to which he replied, "Just waiting to see what coaching changes happen."
BOYD AIN'T WORRIED BOUT NUTHIN
Reached out to see if the Texas coaches had scheduled an in-home with Longhorns commitment Demarco Boyd.
"Nah, I don't know anything," he said. "I'm chilling. It's cool if they don't schedule one. Doesn't stop me from going to the school. I'll be there in four weeks anyway."
If there is one player to watch this weekend for the Longhorns to get you excited about next season I'd go with Breckyn Hager.
He should see an increase in snaps this week with injuries around him at linebacker. Add in the fact that he was once committed to the Bears and that his brother, Bryce Hager, morphed himself into one of BU's all-time great defenders, and you can bet that he's going to play like his hair is on fire... even more so than he already does.
I've heard nothing but good things about him in practice this week. Let's see if it transfers over into the game.
VANCE BEDFORD WEIGHS IN ON HIS FUTURE
Texas is on pace to having the worst statistical defense in school history this season. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford is well aware of the statistical woes and claims missed opportunities is partly to blame for the unit’s performances.
“When you win four games, you’re going to be bad at areas. Sometimes we sit here and sugar coat things, but I’m a realist. You guys know how I am. It’s a year of missed opportunities. It’s a year of inconsistencies. And that’s why we are where we are today.
“You go back to Oklahoma State: A lot of penalties, missed opportunities on a couple of takeaways that were called back because of penalties.
“Just imagine the interception Kris Boyd had in that game when they called roughing the passer.
“Or when there was a fumble call and we didn’t get it because the quarterback had one hand on the ball, so we didn’t get it.
“You look at last Thursday, the missed interception that we had, that’s how they scored their first touchdown.
“Those are things that have happened to us this year, and because of that, you’re going to lose ballgames and your statistics are going to be bad.
“When they go bad, you don’t get it back. If you start off well, your stats will be good. If you start off poorly, it’s hard to ever get it back.”
The Longhorns have allowed an average 450.2 yards per game this season and the performances have caused questions about Bedford’s future at Texas. While Charlie Strong has not addressed the futures of his assistant coaches, Bedford is aware of the possibility of being replaced.
“You always as a coach have concerns about (job security). In the 1970s, Bum Philips said there are two kinds of coaches: Coaches who have been fired and coaches who are about to be fired.
“So if you are hired, you’re about to be fired. It’s just a matter of when. And that’s what this job is all about.
“Explain to me how Mark Richt, who was 10-3, is without a job. Explain to me how Les Miles, who has 11 wins a year, if he would have lost the A&M game, there’s a good chance he might not be there.
“Those are prime examples of what I just said. So every year, am I concerned about not having a job? Of course I am.
“Charlie hasn’t said anything to anybody. But as a head coach, that’s what they’re supposed to do. To keep coaches working hard and on the edge, a lot of times you don’t tell them certain things. Therefore, you stay motivated and they motivate people around you.
“Same as your jobs. You need to stay motivated, because if not, someone else will take your job. Somebody is always in the wings wanting what you have because they think they can do it as well as you can.
“So I’m like an old dog. I know somebody is behind me. I don’t ever look back. I know what’s back there, but I’m looking ahead. I don’t look through the rearview mirror when I drive my car. I’m looking through my windshield because I know what’s back there.
“That’s my mindset in whatever I do. I take the approach of I’m going to work the hardest because this could be my last day.”
Even though he is not happy with his unit’s performance this season, Bedford wants to see how other programs hold up when facing Big 12 offenses.
“I’m still waiting for somebody to stop one of these teams in our conference. I said last week, Arkansas, which is playing outstanding football, couldn’t stop Texas Tech.
“Michigan State a year ago in a bowl game was No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation on defense, and they never stopped them cats (Baylor).
“When people play the teams in our conference, and we get no credit, I’m waiting to see one of these teams out there who’s doing all of that talking about what our conference is or isn’t, come stop Baylor and TCU, and then you can come tell me that we don’t play good defense because nobody else has stopped them.
“Arkansas has some big time players and some future draft picks and (Texas Tech) went up and down the field on them.
“Michigan State had a first round corner and the guy from Baylor made him look like a fifth round pick. He was a first round corner.
“So all of those guys out there talking, all of the media people talking all that noise about what people are not doing in this conference, let them put on their uniform and go against them teams.
“They’d be spanked, just like they are spanking everyone else. Everybody got their mouth so I’m going to have my mouth today and say come stop them people, shut your mouths and lets ride.”