SOURCES: MIKE PERRIN, CHARLIE STRONG TALK
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) ready to move on to a new football coach 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.”
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.
- Strong’s lack of support for 20 months from former athletic director Steve Patterson - from refusing to provide financial support for quality control coaches, Joe Wickline and even ping-pong tables in the players’ lounge to lying to Strong about changes in academic support to raising season ticket prices an average of 21 percent before the 2015 season (after a losing season) - set Strong and his staff back immeasurably in his first two seasons.
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 treatment of then-running backs coach Applewhite after it was divulged that 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’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.
TAYLOR’S TEXAS PLAYER PREVIEW OF RED RIVER SHOOTOUT
One of the biggest rivalry games of the year takes place Saturday in Dallas.
HD’s Taylor Estes takes a look at the thoughts of Texas players heading into the OU game as well as questions surrounding head coach Charlie Strong’s future:
DT Chris Nelson
On what to expect from OU:
“They run hard, they’re big, but as a front, we’re going to give them a hard time. We already know that, we’re going to give them a hard time.”
On Charlie Strong:
“We’re very aware of (the questions about Strong’s future). He’s a great coach and we’re going to play hard for him regardless.
“We are very accountable for that. Coming from my standpoint, I don’t put anything on the coaches. We’re the ones out there playing, and I feel like we need to step up.”
LB Malik Jefferson
On player's accountability on defense as it pertains to Strong's future:
“It’s high. That’s the problem. People look at the coaches and take it out on the coaches. But we’re out there missing tackles. That’s something that we have to do on the field while we’re out there playing. We’re out there missing a lot. They go over that stuff with us.
"That’s not just one person’s fault, that’s all of our faults for not being accountable for each other. The coaches are going to take all of the heat, and I just don’t think that’s fair. We’re the ones out there making the plays. We have to do what they tell us to do. They put us in a position to have success, it’s time we go out there and do what we have to do.”
On stepping up his leadership:
“(I) have to take account of all of the other 10 players on the field when (I'm) out there. And when the backups come out there, (I) need to make sure they know what they’re doing too. I just want to make sure everybody is ready and that starts in practice.”
On if he has played well this season:
“No, I haven’t. I haven’t done anything to impact this team and that’s my problem. That’s what’s eating me alive right now.
"Of course, I know how to grow from it and look forward. There’s bigger things out there. I have to make a bigger impact. If it’s not stat wise, I don’t care. I just want to make an impact on the team where they have success and we have success for each other.
“I’m not doing anything, honestly. And it’s not helping the team at all. That’s the problem I have is because I’m not making an impact on this defense. That’s what I’m looking forward to do the next eight games, I’m gonna make sure I do it.”
On if he is playing out of position:
“I’m fine where I’m at. I’m comfortable where I’m at playing inside. I know I can run from sideline-to-sideline. Of course, it’s harder when it’s inside because you’re taking on 300-pounders head on. But that doesn’t bother me.”
On why he’s not making more plays:
“It hurts. It’s like stuff you see when you’re a young boy playing football. It’s easy tackles and easy mistakes that we made all game. We hurt ourselves, and that’s the part that really hurts because we shot ourselves in the foot a lot."
On what to expect from Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong:
“DC Strong – he won a national championship at Florida. I mean honestly, I expect the same thing. I expect him to go out there and call plays to put us in successful spots, and us going out there an executing and do what we have to do.”
On the pressure Strong is facing:
“I understand there’s a lot of pressure. Everyone is giving him heat for what’s going on, but we have to take responsibility too as players. That’s part of the leadership I need to step up and do. I need to take responsibility for what happens on the field because I’m on the field.
"That’s something all of us are going to have to look forward to. All of the seniors are going to have to step up, everybody is gonna have to move up and we’ve got to grow up. It was a growing pain for us last game and it’s what’s important to us now.
On if defense needs a new voice - as Strong suggested:
“He wants us to play loose and he wants us to have fun. That’s the problem. We’ve been missing that fun factor and that comes down to us as players. When we lose that fun factor, you don’t go out there, you don’t have fun and you don’t make plays.
"We should be celebrating more with each other. We should do a lot more stuff together, and it’s going to show. I just can’t wait until it actually shows. It’s going to be very soon.”
On if it’s hard to have fun when defense is losing:
“It’s very hard to have fun when you’re giving up 50 points.”
On going from No. 11 in the country to two embarrassing losses:
“I’m not going to let that determine our season. We’ve lost two games, and I’m not going to let it continue to bring us down. When we were ranked No. 11 in the country it was cool, but now it’s time to just go back, go win games and win this conference.”
On why fans should believe Strong is the guy:
“It comes down to us believing in us. They need to believe that we can do it. It’s not on Coach Strong, it’s on all of us. We all have the pressure to go out there and win games.”
DE/LB Breckyn Hager
On staff shakeup:
“Any player that loves their coach will understand the pressure and want to do better for them, so yes, we understand. We know we’ve got to go do everything that we can to help these guys and they’re going to do everything to help us. I’m just glad Coach Bedford is still on the staff. I’m happy he’s here. We need him now more than ever.”
On why is Strong the guy:
“You’ve got to listen to us as players. We’re saying he’s a great coach. We love him as a coach. Getting a new coach is just going to set the program back. We have one of the best in the business; you’ve got to keep him. He’s not only just a great coach, he’s a great man that’s helping us become better men. We’re blessed to have him. Our fans have to realize that and listen to the people that are being coached by him every day.”
On issues the defense facing:
“Missed tackles and not getting off on third downs. We’ve got talent, we know that. We practice tackling every day. It comes down to the players. Of course Coach Strong and these coaches are men so they’re going to take the blame, but that’s us. We’re letting y’all down. We’re going to fix that and get after it this week.”
How important is a win? And can a win turn around the program?
“Everything. Everything I’ve ever worked for in my life. Right now we’re at a point where we could go up or down. I’m telling everyone it’s time for us to go up. It’s time to show Longhorn nation what we can do. I’m very excited to get after it this week.”
OL Connor Williams
On offensive issues in second half:
“I think there are just a few third down conversions and a few simple mistakes – like holding penalties and such – that are just killing our drives. We can easily fix and we’ll be able to fix it.”
Is the team staying together while facing adversity?
“We’re facing adversity right now. We’re going through it as a team. We know what we’ve been through and we know the ability that we have, and we’re trying to be the best.
“I love Coach Strong. I have the upmost respect for him. I know at the end of the day he’s going to do everything he can to help us win and make us become the best players we are.”
Can the team ignore outside noise about Strong's job security?
“We’re not focused on that and the coaches don’t want us to be focused on that. What they want us to do is go in and play the best to our ability, which is what they have always wanted us to do. We don’t need to focus on that. That’s not something we can focus on. We can’t control that and we can’t control the talk (about Strong’s job security).”
QB Tyrone Swoopes
On the offense’s second half issues:
“I think just coming out with the same fire and intensity you have in the first half is important. I don’t feel like we’ve really done that these past couple of games.”
TIME FOR FOOTBALL ANALYTICS WITH ZACH FAULISE
One of our HD contributors (and members) - Zach Faulise - did some digging at Football Insiders into their S&P Rankings to take a look at where Texas is right now as a program and where the Longhorns stack up with their opponents.
From Football Insiders:
The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play and drive data of all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays).
The components for S&P+ reflect opponent-adjusted components of four of what Bill Connelly has deemed the Five Factors of college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, and finishing drives. (A fifth factor, turnovers, is informed marginally by sack rates, the only quality-based statistic that has a consistent relationship with turnover margins.)
Through week 5 of the 2016 season, Texas is ranked 37th overall in the S&P, with wins against Notre Dame and UTEP and losses to Cal and Oklahoma St. Texas still has to face Oklahoma, Iowa St, Kansas St, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas, and TCU.
Notre Dame (2-3) is ranked 43rd overall in the S&P.
UTEP (1-4) is ranked 126rd overall in the S&P.
Cal (3-2) is ranked 53rd overall in the S&P.
Oklahoma St (2-2) is ranked 36th overall in the S&P.
This means Texas is 1-1 against teams with a significantly worse S&P and 1-1 against teams with a comparable S&P. Keep in mind that these stats are subject to change as the season progresses. The rest of the teams left on the schedule are ranked as follows:
Oklahoma (2-2) is ranked 12th overall and is considered significantly better than Texas.
Iowa State (1-4) is ranked 77th overall and is considered significantly worse than Texas.
Kansas State (2-2) is ranked 50th overall and is considered comparable to Texas.
Baylor (5-0) is ranked 15th overall and is considered significantly better than Texas.
Texas Tech (3-1) is ranked 45th overall and is considered comparable to Texas.
West Virginia (3-0) is ranked 47th overall and is considered comparable to Texas.
Kansas (1-3) is ranked 118th and is considered significantly worse than Texas.
TCU (3-1) is ranked 20th and is considered significantly better than Texas.
Texas Record against teams significantly better in the S&P since 2010: 2-16 (.111) (2-10 under Strong).
Texas record against teams significantly worse in the S&P since 2010: 27-5 (.843) (8-1 under Strong)
Texas record against comparable teams in the S&P since 2010: 12-16 (.428) (3-5 under Strong)
Texas has 3 teams considered significantly better, 2 considered significantly worse, and 3 which are considered comparable. Using the averages presented above, we should win both of our significantly worse games, 1 or 2 of the comparable, and at best 1 of the significantly better teams putting us at 7-5 on the season.
Where things stand today:
The Oklahoma State game was a terrible performance by the defense, specifically the secondary. No one is arguing the fact that heads need to roll, but from this point on Charlie Strong is going to have to prove that Vance Bedford was the problem. For most of you 7-5 is unacceptable even if we win the bowl game and I completely understand. That being said this analysis is somewhat a moot point until we see Strong’s effect on the defense. The offense is ranked 9th in the country and ahead of teams like Ohio State and Baylor, which should mean if Strong can turn this defense around (currently ranked 97th in the nation!!!!!) that our season is salvageable. If I were Oklahoma I would establish the run game early, and run as many crossing patterns, screens, and deep PA route combos as possible. Force the UT DB’s to communicate and execute their zone coverages, force Breckyn and Roach to slow down their game with some zone reads, and pound the rock right at the interior of our defense. If they’re successful this game will be either a shootout (where our TRFR QB and TRFR OC go up against veterans on the OU offensive side) or a blowout, and in both cases Strong probably loses his job barring some unforeseen circumstances. Last week I said that the Oklahoma State game would define Strong’s tenure at UT, and I believe that to still be true. If these young men come to play for their head coach UT will win this game just like last year, and I don’t think it will be even close. If not, the BMD’s will not sit around idle while their burnt orange messiah (Tom Herman) is courted off to LSU, USC, or FSU. 35-28 Texas with a late game winning drive by Shane off an OU turnover.
(HD CONTRIBUTOR ZACH FAULISE)