So the Good Old Boys settled for something less. Charlie Strong is a good man and a fine football coach, but he is not Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh, Jimbo Fisher, David Shaw, Mark Dantonio, Jim Mora Jr., the ghost of Vince Lombardi or one of numerous other marquee names dropped into the Texas swirl. The GOBs talked a big game, but in the end, their full-quill-ostrich boots were hip-deep in b.s.
Never, ever should Texas, blessed with its own 24/7 TV network and America’s wealthiest athletic program, hire a football coach who still must prove himself on the elite level. That accurately and fairly describes Strong, who did credible work at Louisville and coached outstanding defenses as a coordinator at Florida but isn’t the sort of blockbuster hire that promises immediate dominance and national championships. Fact is, Texas tried to woo several of those dazzling names to replace a tired Mack Brown, but the job wasn’t as must-leave-appealing as the program’s scheming regents and billionaire bluebloods assumed. A new athletic director, Steve Patterson, tried to do much of his legwork and recruiting quietly, without the political interference that scares off some candidates. But he acknowledged at one point that not all coaches viewed Longhorn Nation as a drop-everything career move.
“There’s interest that’s sincere, and there’s interest that’s, `Help me get a better contract,’ ” Patterson said.
Who would fit that category? Saban got a better contract. So did Fisher, Dantonio, Mora and, I’m told, the ghost of Vince Lombardi. Texas was used and abused, which has to bring smiles to those in the college game envious of its resources, including ESPN’s $300- million Longhorn Network investment over the next 20 years. If the idea was to hire a coach who would inspire an instant, no-doubt ascent into the final four — or whatever we’re calling the playoff system that kicks off next season — Texas instead landed a coach who will be perceived in the state as a notch below Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Baylor’s Art Briles until he starts dominating on the field. This does seem like a political move for recruiting and image purposes, in that Strong is Texas’ first black football coach. But in a state that is supposed to be bigger and better than the rest, a program that is supposed to be bigger and better than the rest fell short of aspirations.
This is a job that smacks of being in political office. Strong, unlike Brown, is not known as a schmoozer. When Gov. Rick Perry calls, or a regent wants a favor, he may or may not pick up the phone. Media? Does ESPN really expect a man who has feuded with reporters to sit down for a Longhorn Network interview when it pleases? Saban wouldn’t have tolerated that stuff, either, but he has four national titles on his resume. Strong went 37-15 at Louisville and ceded the conference title this season to Central Florida, which stunned Briles and Baylor in a BCS game.
Briles wanted the job and would have been a better idea. He is a Texan through and through, having coached high school ball in the backwater before turning Baylor, heretofore a coaching graveyard, into a national sensation. But the GOBs look down their noses at all things Baylor and couldn’t bear to “stoop” for Briles.
So they reached for Strong. “Charlie is a man of great integrity, with a wonderful family, who is well respected inside and outside the game,” Patterson said. “Our committee and former lettermen helped create an extensive selection criteria and after visiting with Charlie, it was clear he met them all. He led championship defenses as an assistant, a resurgence at the University of Louisville with double-digit game winning seasons, and twice (has) been selected conference coach of the year.”
Said Louisville AD Tom Jurich: “I told him I gave him an A-plus-plus for the way he changed the culture here, not only from the football standpoint of wins and losses but the type of kids he recruited, the type of coaching staff he assembled, what they did academically, we had very few problems off the field, I was very impressed with that.”
Jurich tried to top the financial package offered by Texas. He couldn’t. “Texas, that’s a premier, premier job,” he said. “So let’s call it what it is. Let’s don’t try and hide from it. It’s a premier job in a fabulous city and a great opportunity for him. I just wish him the best.”
He’s going to need all the well-wishes. It’s a difficult job for any man, much less one whose hiring is more meh than monstrous.