Texas athletic director Mike Perrin has spoken with Charlie Strong about concerns with the football program as well as their objectives going forward after back-to-back losses riddled with defensive miscues and three blocked extra points, multiple sources told HornsDigest.com.
Through four games, Texas’ defense is giving up a Big 12-worst 38.2 points per game (116th of 127 teams nationally), on pace to be the worst scoring defense in school history.
One source close to the situation told HD Strong would have to go 8-4 in the regular season to have a chance at hanging onto his job.
“There seems to be an uneasy truce right now between the Tower and BMDs (big-money donors) that 8-4 could save Strong’s job,” the source said.
The Tower is where you can find the offices of UT administrators, led by school president Greg Fenves. UT officials privately denied Wednesday there was any set number of wins Strong has to reach to keep his job.
Sources said Fenves was adamant that Strong would get the entire 2016 season to try to turn around the program, which is 13-16 in its third year under Strong.
“There will be no mid-season firing,” a source close to Fenves said Wednesday.
Fenves tweeted out support for Strong on Wednesday as the Longhorns (2-2) prepare for Saturday’s Red River Shootout with rival Oklahoma (2-2) in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Las Vegas has Texas as a 10-point underdog against OU. It’s the fourth straight season the Longhorns have been a double-digit dog to the Sooners, although Texas has won two of the last three meetings, including last year’s 24-17 upset as a 16-point dog.
Perrin declined to comment to HD about any discussions with Strong but indicated his brief appearance in the back of Strong’s Monday press conference was a show of support for the coach.
On growing speculation that his job may be in jeopardy, Strong said Monday:
"I told our players, 'We have eight games left, you go play and let me worry about the rest.’”
HD has been in contact with several influential UT donors, and there is growing unrest about Texas’ direction under Strong following back-to-back road losses to Cal (50-43) and Oklahoma State (49-31).
The most alarming concerns, they said, were the defense - considered Strong’s expertise - giving up one, embarrassing big play after another followed by Strong demoting one of his play callers during the season for a second straight year.
“It seems to take a crisis for Strong to finally address a problem,” one key Texas donor told HD. “Whether it’s on the field in terms of in-game adjustments or off the field in terms of hiring the right coaches, the answers seem to come too late.
“No one disputes Strong is a good recruiter, good with his players. But every time there appears to be progress, there’s a backslide. I mean demoting a play caller in-season, in year three - after doing it on the other side of the ball the year before - is a big backslide. CEOs of companies get fired over stuff like that.”
On Monday, Strong announced he was taking over the defense and assigning coordinator Vance Bedford to coaching a secondary that has regressed and simply looked lost the past two games. Strong and Bedford helped Florida win the 2008 national title in the same roles.
It is the ninth staff change among his nine assistant coaches Strong has made since arriving in 2014 (only LB coach Brian Jean-Mary is in his original, hired position). Strong changed out four offensive coaches after last season to allow new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert to bring in a couple guys versed in his offense (OL coach Matt Mattox, RB coach Anthony Johnson), and those moves have paid off as the offense has gone from 26.4 points per game in 2015 to 41.2 ppg in 2016.
Staff position …………………..Original staff ……………………..Currently
Play caller/QBs ……… Shawn Watson/Jay Norvell ………. Sterlin Gilbert
Coordinator/O-line ………… Joe Wickline ……………………. Matt Mattox
Running backs ……………Tommie Robinson …………. Anthony Johnson
Receivers …………….. Les Keonning/Jay Norvell ………Charlie Williams
TEs ………………………….Bruce Chambers ………………… Jeff Traylor
Coordinator …………………….Vance Bedford ………..…… Charlie Strong
Linebackers ………………….Brian Jean-Mary ……………Brian Jean-Mary
D-line …………………………. Chris Rumph ………..….………..Brick Haley
Secondary …………………….Chris Vaughn ……… Clay Jennings/Bedford
Only former DL coach Chris Rumph left voluntarily for another job (Florida).
Last year, Strong trusted Shawn Watson to change the offense from pro-style to up-tempo in the off-season only to strip Watson of play calling after a season-opening, three-and-out-a-thon in a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame.
Currently, the defense’s 38.2 points per game given up are on pace to replace the school-record worst 33.3 ppg given up by John Mackovic's team during a 4-7 Opponent-Goal-Post-Tear-Down Tour in 1997.
"If Strong wins seven games, he's fired,” one influential donor told HD even before the Oklahoma State loss that dropped the Longhorns to 2-2.
“Fenves will be forced to fire him. Trust me. Our conference is winnable with our talent. And Strong deserves the credit for bringing in the talent. And I love what Charlie stands for in life with his core values. It's clear that resonates with recruits and their families. But what's killing Charlie, too, right now is Tom Herman.
“The sense is Herman has gone 13-1 with a win over Florida State and then beat Oklahoma with less talent. And the sense about Charlie is, right when you think he's kickin' ass and taking names, like against OU and Kansas State last year or against Notre Dame this year, he serves you a (expletive) sandwich. And too many people right now think Herman, a former graduate assistant at Texas, is the next Urban Meyer or Nick Saban."
Texas had three extra points blocked against Oklahoma State (one was returned for two points by OSU) after the Longhorns had an extra point blocked and returned for two points by Notre Dame - a play that allowed the Irish to tie the game at 37-all and force overtime.
Despite the special teams snafu, Texas beat then-No. 10 Notre Dame, 50-47, in double overtime, in one of the most electric atmospheres in the history of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
After a 41-7 rout of UTEP, Texas had a new, high-scoring offense under first-year coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and an unflappable freshman QB in Shane Buechele.
The Longhorns were 2-0, ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll and finally seemed poised for the ‘Wow’ turnaround fans have been waiting for since 2009.
The past seven seasons, Texas is a highly mediocre 43-37 (.538), including 6-7 and 5-7 in 2014 and 2015 under Strong.
But just as fans started dreaming about a turnaround similar to TCU’s after an offensive makeover under defensive-minded Gary Patterson (from 4-8 in 2013 to 12-1 in 2014) - a sequence of events unraveled that might have Strong shopping for some asbestos underwear:
THE TURNING AROUND OF THE TURNAROUND TIMELINE
Sept. 17 … The Longhorns squander three, 10-point leads in a 50-43 upset loss at Cal in which the defense gives up 18 plays of 11 yards or longer, including TD passes of 29, 29, 23 and 12 yards.
Sept. 19 … The Monday after the Cal game - heading into a bye week - Strong announces he’s going to get more involved in coaching the defense - from game-planning, to scheme and personnel - and vows to get the defense fixed.
"And it's on me. I've coached defense,” Strong said. “I know defense. I know how to stop people. And that's why it's on me also, not just our defensive staff.
"We're going to get it fixed. I said we're going to get it fixed. And we're going to do that.”
Sept 25 … Les Miles is fired at LSU after a last-second loss at Auburn. Speculation begins that LSU might be interested in Houston’s Tom Herman.
Oct. 1 … The Longhorns’ defense gives up 19 plays of 10 yards or longer, including TD passes of 54, 52 and 36 yards as well as a 30-yard TD run and has three extra points blocked in a 49-31 loss at Oklahoma State.
It is Strong’s 10th loss of 18 points or more in 29 games at Texas (35 percent of his total games coached in Austin).
Oct. 3 … Strong announces at his weekly press conference he will be taking over the defense and that coordinator Vance Bedford has been demoted to coaching the secondary.
WHAT SUPPORTERS OF STRONG ARE SAYING:
- Texas’ defense got lit up in the last two games - on the road - against two of the better QBs in college football - Cal’s fifth-year senior Davis Webb, who leads the nation in passing yards and passing TDs (22) and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, who is 7th in passing yards.
- Even in a 50-47, double-OT win at home over Notre Dame, Texas’ defense was up against an elite QB in DeShone Kizer, who is 12th nationally in passing yards.
- The Texas defense is improved against the run, giving up 153.8 yards per game on the ground (3.6 yards per carry) after giving up 219 ypg and 4.5 ypc last season.
- The offense is in good hands with first-year play-caller Sterlin Gilbert and freshman QB Shane Buechele with 2017 QB commit Sam Ehlinger on the way.
- Back-to-back Top 10 recruiting classes have produced a bunch of impact players already, at every position, proving the best talent on the team is still young and maturing.
- Right now, Texas would have 19 returning starters in 2017 with strong safety (Kevin Vaccaro/Dylan Haines), inside receiver (Jacorey Warrick) and TE (Caleb Bluiett) the only positions with senior starters.
- In a conference in which Baylor is repeatedly featured on Outside The Lines for poor decisions involving rape and assault claims made against BU football players, Strong is seen as an example of how coaches teach core values to players. Strong was sought out by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and VP Troy Vincent in 2014 on how to teach players to treat women with respect.
WHAT IF TOM HERMAN …
… was to become the new football coach at Texas?
I’m hearing from very reliable sources that if Herman was to become the coach at Texas, there would be serious objection from some key UT administrators to Herman bringing former Longhorns’ QB and current UH offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to Texas with him.
Because UT’s retention of then-running backs coach Applewhite after it was divulged Applewhite had sexual relations with a graduate student trainer for the football team back in the 2008 season is currently the basis for a discrimination lawsuit against the school filed by former women’s track coach Bev Kearney.
Kearney, a six-time national championship coach at Texas, resigned in January 2013 after being told she would be fired for having a a two-year relationship with one of her female student-athletes 10 years earlier - a relationship that was brought to the attention of UT officials as Kearney was about to get a significant raise.
Kearney’s lawsuit has been tied up in appeals courts by Texas for the last two-plus years. After the 3rd Court of Appeals rejected UT’s motion to dismiss Kearney’s lawsuit, UT filed a motion for rehearing with the 3rd Court, which was also rejected.
So Texas has now appealed their motion to dismiss the case to the Texas Supreme Court.
Kearney’s attorney, Jody Mask, said he has taken Kearney’s case on contingency and is undeterred by UT’s actions in the case.
EXTENDED!!! HD'S RED RIVER SHOOTOUT SPECIAL - 3 MONTHS FOR PRICE OF 1 - TODAY ONLY!! TIL MIDNIGHT!!
As Texas and Charlie Strong enter a make-or-break part of the schedule, get the best UT team and recruiting coverage for the next three months for the price of one - just $4.95 - as part of HD's RED RIVER SHOOTOUT SPECIAL! TODAY ONLY!
1. Join the HD family right now by selecting the "1-Month Pass" option RIGHT HERE (no promo code required)!
2. Then, head over to the "Horns House" forum at HornsDigest, where you can find all the insider information on Texas, where Charlie Strong stands and the future of the Big 12.
3. Enjoy HD’s attack-free message board community, where you are pulling up a bar stool among friends, and, of course, unparalleled insider information from Chip Brown, who has 25 years worth of connections covering Texas; Jason Higdon, the Yoda of Texas recruiting; and team and recruiting coverage from Taylor Estes!
TODAY IS THE ONLY DAY OF THE OFFER! IT ENDS TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT CT!