What’s next for Texas and Charlie Strong?
After a week of mixed signals, the Longhorns fell to 5-7 with a 31-9 home loss to TCU on Friday. That’s only going to make Strong’s seat hotter, regardless of whether Texas decides to keep the coach moving forward.
Strong’s three seasons have produced a 16-21 record; that might not be enough to save his job.
Here are five possible scenarios for the program:
Option 1: Keep Strong in the hope it works
Texas could decide to give Strong a fourth year, citing Mike MacIntyre at Colorado as an example of that fourth season making a difference. Here’s another argument — albeit a thin one — for Strong. The Longhorns have lost seven games each of the last three seasons. In Strong’s first year, that margin of defeat was 21.1 points per game. In Year 2, it was 18.1 points per game. This year, it was 8.9 points per game, and Texas lost five games by seven points or fewer. You can give Strong one more season with an offense built around Shane Buechele and see what happens. Maybe this team is close. It would be a big leap of faith to try to find out.
Option 2: Keep Strong and set him up for more failure
This is the worst possible option. It happened at Michigan with Brady Hoke, at Miami with Al Golden and even at LSU with Les Miles. Sometimes when it’s over, it is, in fact, really over.
There’s so much pressure to deliver that if Strong gets off to another slow start and we’re talking for a third straight season about his job status when the Red River Rivalry rolls around, then this will prove to be the biggest waste of time possible for one of college football’s blue-blood programs. If Texas keeps Strong, then he will be held to at least a nine-win minimum in 2017 — maybe more. Is that fair? You’ll hear these three words: “This is Texas.” Strong probably won’t overcome that. Given that likelihood, it’s going to be hard to justify giving him a fourth year.
Option 3: Fire Strong, hire Tom Herman
This looks like the best-case scenario despite reports LSU is in the mix for Herman . The problem is that Texas seemingly is making a decision based on which way the wind is blowing with Strong and which the way wind is blowing with Herman, who suffered a third loss in his second season at Houston on Friday. That has led to a swirling wind and one big mess.
That loss to Memphis might cast doubt on Herman, but it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. Urban Meyer — whom Herman coached under at Ohio State — was 17-6 in his first two seasons with Bowling Green. Herman has, to some extent, followed that blueprint. He hasn’t lost home games and has gotten the Cougars into the playoff discussion. Texas is 10-8 at home under Strong.
Give Herman more talent and more depth, and better things will happen. You don’t want to miss out on Herman and watch him become the next big thing.
Option 4: Aim higher and succeed
The Jon Gruden rumors are already out there, and this job is big enough to pull the “Monday Night Football” analyst out of the booth if he really wants to coach. The Nick Saban rumors will follow at some point. Texas is a top five job — at least in theory — but the program entered Rivalry Week ranked 65th in winning percentage among FBS schools since 2010. The Longhorns are 46-42 after the loss to TCU. Would Saban take on that rebuild? Would Gruden really want that? Is there another candidate not named Herman that works? These are questions that require an honest assessment of the program.
Option 5: Aim higher and fail
If Texas misses out on Herman and aims for Gruden or Saban and misses, then what happens next? You know what happens next. That’s how the Longhorns end up with somebody like Les Miles. He has Big 12 experience. Miles helped lead a turnaround at Oklahoma State before taking over at LSU. Texas could spin that all it wants, but Miles would be one of the fallback candidates if all these other scenarios don’t pan out. In some ways, that’s how Texas ended up with Strong in the first place.