It remains to be seen how Charlie Strong will do in year one as Texas' head coach, but there's no denying he's good at one thing: pouring an ice-cold bucket of water on high expectations.
Via Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman, Strong downplayed the Longhorns' chances of playing for a national title in 2014-15 during a promotional tour stop (of all things) in Fort Worth:
We have everything available, and I don’t know why we can’t be successful. There’s no reason for us not to be. Now, I can’t tell you how soon it’s going to be. Don’t hold me to that. Don’t say, 'Ooh, Coach said next year we’ll be in the national…' We will not be in the national championship game.
Before going any further, Strong later clarified his comments during an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.
We still have a long ways to go now. We still have a lot of work. You look at it, having the chance to get through spring ball. You look at it, just talent-wise with what we have right now. It’s a lot of work. To get to that game, you have to have a really good football team, and I just don’t know how good we are right now.
That's a reasonable statement, one that didn't have to be made at all. Strong is being realistic. Texas hasn't performed to expectations since 2009. Heading into this season, the 'Horns have important question marks at quarterback and offensive line.
Above all else, Strong is attempting to change a culture in Austin 16 years in the making. That's hard, if not impossible, to do instantly. Revisionist history says that Nick Saban never struggled at Alabama, but he went 7-6 in his first year (2007), losing at home to Louisiana-Monroe.
Saban's "Process" hadn't paid dividends yet. It takes time.
As Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs, who opted to return for his senior season, noted after Saturday's spring game, "You’ve had no choice but to buy in [with Strong] or leave" (h/t Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News).
Carlton also tweeted an excellent point. Strong is a disciple of former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, and few coaches were better at downplaying expectations to the masses than Holtz.
A thought on Charlie Strong/Texas title game quote: Strong considers Lou Holtz a mentor. And no coach downplayed expectations like Lou.— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) April 22, 2014
Strong's comments shouldn't be viewed as a negative, but the problem with the "what have you done for me lately?" mentality is that it's morphed into "what have you done for me today?" As wrong as that is, it has been reinforced by coaches like Auburn's Gus Malzahn, who took the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game in year one last season. That's noted by Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:
@Matt_HayesSN Post-Malzahn turnaround, especially. Malzahn will have rabid fan bases expecting 1-year turnarounds everywhere.— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) April 22, 2014
Will the 'Horns make a national championship appearance in 2014? Strong told The Fan that he doesn't know because he doesn't have expectations. Fans and administrators do, though. At $5 million a year, Strong is going to have to get there sooner rather than later.
Will Texas make a national title appearance next season?
But this is year one for Strong. He was hired because he's considered one of the best coaches in the country. Like every coach, he deserves time to confirm that. Brown didn't win a national championship until year eight and with one of the best players in the country, Vince Young. It's not that the 'Horns weren't good before 2005, but other factors, like Oklahoma's national power streak, played a role as well.
In short, it's hard getting to the national championship, but some programs are better equipped to do it than others. Texas is one of those programs, and Strong said as much.
But there's nothing wrong with calling it like you see it.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.