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Texas hasn’t officially fired its football coach, Charlie Strong. Officially is the operative word here. There is no way Charlie Strong is returning to the Longhorns next season, certainly not after losing to Kansas and falling to 5-6 in his third of three uninspired, unimpressive seasons in Austin.
Reports locally and nationally say the decision has been made. While Texas is a program famous for being full of gossips who assume what they know (or believe) is the law, the reports are more than reputable and plausible. The end is the end and this looks like the end.
Except here was Texas athletic director Mike Perrin on Sunday issuing this statement:
“There are a number of rumors out there about the status of Charlie Strong. I’ve said it all along, we will evaluate the body of work after the regular season. We have a game to get ready for on Friday, and I hope our fans will come out and support our team. We’ll discuss where things stand after that.”
Maybe Perrin thinks he and his administration are doing Strong a favor by allowing him to coach out the season as a not-fired coach, in this case a game against Texas Christian.
Maybe Perrin sees wisdom in the adage that a coach should get the full season to show what he can do and then and only then be judged by the final product.
It’s nice in theory, especially after a tough loss in, say, September when fans are grumbling and overly emotional. All is not always lost. Ask USC.
After 11 games though, this cake is baked. Strong has led Texas to a 16-20 record and is losing worse than ever. The program lacks a heartbeat. It has just seven recruits committed, an impossibly low number for such a desirable institution in a state surrounded by football stars who grew up dreaming of the place. (Even lesser schools already have commitments in the high teens, low 20s). The Longhorns could beat the Horned Frogs 222-0 on Friday and it wouldn’t change a thing. Perrin doesn’t need one more game to evaluate this.
Maybe Perrin thinks Strong deserves the dignity of being told directly his status and not through unnamed sources gabbing to the media. This is true. And that’s why Strong should have been told the evaluation has been made, even if the paperwork isn’t done yet.
This is Texas and this is 2016. The place is an informational sieve in a modern media age. Everyone is going to talk, especially when there’s a guy at the University of Houston making everyone drool over the future.
You can’t wait anymore. These days, you can’t act soon enough. You can’t schedule a sit-down “evaluation” for the following week. Not recognizing that reality is the leadership equivalent of losing to the Jayhawks.
Perrin and whatever crew of self-important people who needed to be in on this decision should have gone to Strong on the way home from Lawrence, thanked him for his efforts and told him it was over. Then they should have asked him if he wanted to coach against TCU or not.
The announcement should have come in a dignified manner on Sunday, a press conference with the chance for the UT administration, players, parents, fans, alum and anyone else there to praise Strong for being a man of great character, duty and work ethic.
He’s a good guy and a good coach and he’ll still be a good guy and a good coach again once he pulls his moving van out of Austin.
You do it that way and Sunday becomes a day of praise for Charlie Strong, not one of non-believable official statements, further speculation and everyone focusing on the negative … the firing to come.
The rest of the week, especially if he chose to coach against TCU, would have been a chance for everyone to remember what Strong did well – most notably serve as a dutiful teacher and role model for his players. Those kids could have addressed the media by discussing what he meant to them and how thankful they are to have played for him (wins and losses aside) rather than get stuck in the clichéd netherworld of this death march.
If nothing else, Strong could have begun rebuilding his brand. He’s going to be a head coach again. He’s only 56 years old and regardless of the struggles at Texas, he went 37-15 at Louisville, including 23-3 in his final two seasons. He recruited the Cardinals current senior class and many of the juniors.
The guy is good. Yet this week is all about how he is bad.
Look, it was cutthroat when LSU fired Les Miles in late September, just four games into the season. There were hurt feelings and cries LSU acted too harshly.
Sometimes what needs to be done needs to be done. The end was the end. For Miles it was probably the best thing possible. LSU did him a favor.
Miles had time to work through the stages of grief. He rested up. He contemplated how he’d do things in the future. He took some trips and watched other teams’ offenses. He’s spent the last month on a media tour to remind people just how desirable of a hire he is. He isn’t on CBS each Saturday wearing a forlorn look of frustration. He looks ready to hit the ground running.
Charlie Strong will have to wait to start that process, shuffling through another week of toxic drudge and conflicting reports and a game broadcast Friday in which everything is about how he failed and is about to be canned. It was all completely avoidable.
Firing him isn’t the cruelest thing Texas can do to Charlie Strong. Not firing him on Sunday was.