The most heavily scrutinized name in coaching in 2014 won't be Nick Saban, Urban Meyer or Jimbo Fisher. It will be the new head coach at Texas, Charlie Strong, because after landing what some might call the best coaching job in all of college football, it's up to him to produce.
Of course, coaches don't typically go very far without big dreams and aspirations of leading at the best programs. At Texas, Strong will have the opportunity to become a legend of the game if he can lead the Longhorns to the promised land. It's an ideal opportunity and the very pinnacle of the profession.
And Strong has former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to thank for it.
Let's begin by taking a look at Strong's background, which revolves almost exclusively around defense. His work with Florida's defenses in the mid-to-late '00s initially helped land him the Louisville job in 2009.
The hire proved to be a good one for the Cardinals, as a defense that gave up nearly 30 points per game in 2008 became one that gave up just more than 12 points a game in 2012. Coaching up players on that side of the ball is something Strong has proven adept at time and time again.
But Texas wasn't looking for someone to come in and fix the defense because there weren't many issues to begin with. After giving up consecutive 40-point games to BYU and Ole Miss, the Longhorns turned things around and only allowed 40 points in one other game, a 47-40 victory over West Virginia.
In fact, the defense held Baylor to just 30 points, Oklahoma to 20, Texas Tech to 16 and an explosive Oregon offense to just one offensive touchdown in the Alamo Bowl. Make no mistake about it, Strong's reputation as a smart defensive mind likely wasn't the main reason for Texas' interest in him.
To discover how Strong did peak the interest of the Longhorns' athletic department, one might start by looking at the biggest problem Texas has faced over the past four seasons: quarterback play.
Ever since Colt McCoy finished his senior season, the Longhorns have struggled to find anyone who could consistently move the ball down the field without making mistakes. In 2010, former 5-star recruit (per 247sports) Garrett Gilbert suited up and proceeded to toss just 10 touchdowns to go along with 17 picks.
A year later it was Gilbert, Case McCoy and David Ash combining to throw for 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Things started to look up in 2012 when Ash took over the job and threw 19 touchdowns with only eight interceptions, but an injury in 2013 forced the younger McCoy into action. Once again, the play at the signal-caller position was mostly dreadful.
Texas has athletes on defense. Texas has a stable of running backs as well, led by Malcolm Brown and Jonathan Gray. But the Longhorns have not found the solution at quarterback, which means the recent coaching search had to begin and end with someone who knew the position and could coach the talent there into becoming leaders of the offense.
What Strong did with Bridgewater was remarkable, and while the stat sheet isn't the answer to all of life's football questions, it's a pretty good place to start here.
As a freshman in 2011, Bridgewater threw for a little more than 2,100 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 picks. That's a nice starting place, but there was obviously a ton of room for improvement. Which is exactly what happened next.
In 2012, the signal-caller threw for more than 3,700 yards with 27 scores and only eight picks. And in 2013, he had nearly 4,000 yards passing, 31 touchdown throws and only four picks. Not only does this show a player getting better and better, but those kinds of numbers are good enough to practically earn you a statue in Austin.
Most importantly, Bridgewater came to play when it mattered the most. In last year's Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, he threw for 266 yards and a pair of scores against a downright nasty Gator defense. In the Cardinals' lone loss in 2013 to UCF, he still threw for 341 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. Finally, in his last game in a Louisville jersey, Bridgewater threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns against Miami.
Because of his development in just three seasons, the NFL-bound quarterback now has a neat little career that can be put at the top of Strong's coaching resume. It may only be one quarterback, but under Strong's guidance, Bridgewater became one of the best passers in the nation.
Which, as folks in burnt orange can tell you, is something the Longhorns desperately need at the moment. We're not going to question the effort or heart of a Case McCoy, but sometimes sports can be harsh: The younger brother of one of the all-time Texas greats was simply not getting the job done.
Now enter a coach who has proven he can take a quarterback and mold him into something great. You think that might be something the Longhorns are looking for in the next man to lead their football program?
From the outside, it seems like a good fit, if only because Strong did great things at Louisville and has proven himself to be a solid coach. But there were plenty of guys out there with similar traits and proven success that would have jumped at the chance to coach at Texas.
Strong stood out because of his work with Bridgewater, the player he can thank most for helping him land his current gig.
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