Texas Football: Coaches Charlie Strong Should Add to His Staff

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

Texas Football: Coaches Charlie Strong Should Add to His Staff

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    Charlie Strong was officially introduced as the 29th head football coach of the Texas Longhorns on Sunday, according to a statement released by the university.

    "I'm excited...to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country," Strong said in the statement. "Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year."

    Competing on a national level every year, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Just ask Mack Brown how easy these past three seasons have been. When guys like Manny Diaz are running your defense, there's only such heights a team can reach.

    Accordingly, Strong's first (and perhaps most important) endeavor as Texas head coach this offseason will be appointing a new staff. With offensive coordinator Major Applewhite expected to leave and defensive coordinator Greg Robinson never viewed as more than an interim option, there are some very important slots left to fill.

    Here are some names Strong should look at.

Vance Bedford

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    Continuity is important, wherever it can be salvaged, for a new coach accepting a high-profile gig, and Vance Bedford has coached under Strong for quite a while now.

    Bedford was the defensive backs coach at Florida in 2008 and 2009, when Strong was the Gators' defensive coordinator. He followed Strong to Louisville and served as his defensive coordinator these past four seasons, most recently leading a unit that ranked third in the nation in yards allowed per play.

    More than anything, though, Bedford is a former Texas Longhorn himself, having played defensive back between 1977 and 1981 before getting drafted to the NFL. He would give Strong both schematic continuity and a conduit to the Austin faithful.

    There's a chance Louisville offers Bedford Strong's old position of head coach, in which case this could get complicated, but for now, he appears a logical choice to head the Longhorns defense.

Shawn Watson

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    Watson might be a hard name to lure in, despite his obvious ties to Charlie Strong. Louisville's offensive coordinator is a candidate to assume head-coaching duties with the Cardinals, and according to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, he's also drawn some interest from the NFL.

    There's a reason for both of those things. Watson is a skilled developer of quarterbacks, most recently helping mold Teddy Bridgewater into a potential No. 1 overall draft pick. He also coached Taylor Martinez as a freshman at Nebraska, when the young QB took the Big 12 somewhat by storm.

    Strong has a defensive background, so whoever assumes offensive coordinator duties will be given a lot of responsibility. They'll basically be leading their own unit, with little interference from the boss.

    Watson's track record and Big 12 familiarity make him an ideal candidate. Between him and Bedford, Texas fans sorely want Louisville to make an outside hire at head coach.

Jerry Gray

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    If Vance Bedford is indeed offered the head-coaching position at Louisville, it would be hard for him to turn down the opportunity, even for a chance to be at Texas.

    That would leave Strong looking for a new defensive coordinator for the first time in his head coaching career, so someone with a lot of experience—both at the position and, again, in Austin—would be necessary. And no candidate jumps off the page more than Jerry Gray.

    Like Bedford, Gray is a former Texas defensive back, and he also served as the Longhorns assistant head coach/defensive backs coach in 2011. After that one-year stint under Mack Brown, he was hired as the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator, where he's served the past two seasons.

    With Mike Munchak out in Tennessee, it remains to be seen if Gray can hold his job with the Titans. If not, he might arguably be a better option to lead Texas' defense than Bedford, despite being (ostensibly) Strong's second choice.

Patrick Suddes

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    This might be cheating, since Suddes is already part of the Texas staff, but I list him as a reminder to coach Strong and the new regime: The Longhorns cannot afford to lose this guy.

    Serving his first year as the Director of Player Personnel in Austin, Suddes has done a fantastic job at helping Texas weather the storm of the Mack Brown saga. He spent eight years learning under Nick Saban before arriving in Austin, and he's one of the most valuable, methodical recruiting minds in the country.

    ESPN Texas beat writer Max Olson, who himself has a background in recruiting, agrees that retaining Suddes would be a smart first move for the new regime. If he leaves, both this and future recruiting classes stand to suffer, despite Strong's own ability to recruit.

Stan Drayton

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    Drayton coached running backs at Florida from 2005 to 2007, serving on the same staff as Strong under Urban Meyer. He currently serves the same position under Meyer at Ohio State, but it's not like Drayton can't be had.

    Meyer did, after all, essentially run Drayton out of his job in Gainesville following the 2007 season. The two have since amended their differences, and Drayton followed him to Columbus after being re-hired with the Gators in 2010, but perhaps there's still a sour taste?

    Whether it's as running backs coach or something even better—why not throw him a bone like co-offensive coordinator?—Drayton would be a valuable addition to the offensive brain trust at Texas.

    He knows Meyer's scheme about as well as anyone, and he did a magnificent job grooming Carlos Hyde into a monster for this year's Buckeyes. What's the downside of poaching him?