While All Hope Is Not Lost, It Is Time for Change at Texas

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterOctober 8, 2016

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 03:  Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns looks on as the Longhorns take on the TCU Horned Frogs in the second half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Before the case can be made that an extraordinary college football coach should lose his job, one must first come to terms with the reality this profession is unjust and unforgiving.

That, more than anything, is why the Texas Longhorns will likely not give head coach Charlie Strong the appropriate time to see his extensive rebuild through. Not because he hasn’t done everything asked of him when it comes to resurrecting a dormant giant. Not because he isn’t good at what he does.

But because once public perception turns on you—and you could make the argument Strong never had the opportunity to make a good impression—it’s nearly impossible to escape. 

It impedes progress. It serves as an obstacle for all the good you're doing. It follows you no matter where you go. It’s not fair or reasonable, but it’s the impasse Strong finds himself stuck in now. 

Saturday’s 45-40 defeat to the No. 20 Oklahoma Sooners in Dallas was a microcosm of the last two-and-half years: wildly successful at times, wildly unsuccessful at others, innovative, frustrating and emotional.

When asked following the game how badly he needed a win, Strong didn’t hide from what has become a public discussion about his future.

"I need ‘em all," he said.

The Longhorns never stopped fighting. Even when Oklahoma seemed to put the game out of reach, Texas pushed back. 

Up until the very last play—an elongated, disjointed, lateral-happy sequence that resulted in lost yardage as the clock bled out—there was a mindset that the Longhorns could overcome the deficit.

Ultimately, it was all too much. The missed assignments. The missed tackles. The yards. The touchdowns. The things that have hindered this program all year were right there for the world to see.

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 8: Linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch #23 of the Texas Longhorns sits on the bench during the fourth quarter of their loss to the Oklahoma Sooners on October 8, 2016 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Image
Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

Texas lost a game that carries more weight than any other on its schedule. Strong was unable to duplicate last year’s victory over a rival, a moment that allowed him a rare week of stability and hope.

There was optimism about the future then, and there most certainly still is now.

But after giving up 672 yards of offense to the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl—the second-most ever to the program—a familiar uneasiness resurfaced. This comes only six days after Strong bet on himself.

With his defense in shambles, he demoted longtime friend Vance Bedford and took over play-calling responsibilities.

"The way we've played on defense is unacceptable," Strong told reporters earlier in the week. "So I'm gonna run the defense. I'm going to coach the defense."

It was unreasonable to anticipate this unit would somehow be functional this quickly. Schematic issues and tackling woes can't be solved in six days with a new voice, and they weren't.

"We haven't fixed it. 672 yards (allowed)," star linebacker Malik Jefferson said following the game. "That's not fixed."

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 8: Running back Samaje Perine #32 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs through an attempted tackle from safety Jason Hall #31 of the Texas Longhorns on October 8, 2016 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Image
Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

The offense did its part, which it has all year. That’s a testament to Strong and his hire of offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who has reshaped the philosophy.

It’s a product of landing a quarterback who could change the outlook of the program soon. Again, another thing Strong has done well. The Longhorns finished with the nation's No. 3 recruiting class in 2016, according to Scout. In 2015, they had the No. 7 class. 

True freshman Shane Buechele, who finished with 245 passing yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma, looks to be good at worst and exceptional at best. He, along with Jefferson, is a symbol of the present and future.

But that future is still undefined. It looks better than it has in some time, even without the results to match.

One has to look beyond Strong's 13-17 record as Texas head coach to see how much healthier this situation is now than it was three years ago. 

Strong inherited a mess. The roster Texas gifted him with had gaping holes. Instead of patching up the walls and imperfections, he gutted it all in hopes of building something everlasting.

Knowing fully what he was embarking on and the time necessary to see it through, Strong pressed forward. When the losses came early, he didn’t budge. He adjusted.

He made changes to the coaching staff, a process that suddenly feels far too routine these days. Philosophies were altered. Recruiting enjoyed a glorious uptick.

For the greater good of a program that seems destined to change hands sometime in the next two months, Strong put everything on the line to make Texas work. And it will work, eventually.

There is something to be said about this deliberate and elaborate method to restore a program that has offered little love in return—something it will admire and appreciate in time.

But there reaches a point in a coach’s existence at a school when something has to give. There comes a time when, despite all of the good that is being done, a new voice and plan are necessary. The future can only serve as a carrot on the end of the stick for so long. Promises of better times eventually need to be met.

Three years at a school is by no means an eternity. You could argue that Strong deserves more time, and that’s not necessarily wrong.

If this were a job that valued progress and expectations reasonably, we would celebrate his efforts. But this is not that job. In particular, this is not that school. 

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 8: Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns reacts to a Sooners fumble during their loss to the Oklahoma Sooners on October 8, 2016 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

Texas has to be better than it is right now, elaborate rebuild and all. The two victories this season have come to UTEP and a Notre Dame team that is in the midst of a lost season.

The three losses—all consecutively—have come against quality teams. The 144 points those teams scored form a large gap between where Texas is and where it hopes to be.

At 2-3, with more than half of the season remaining, that breaking point is near. Strong knows it. The players know it. The fans, even those who are appreciative of his efforts and mindful of the journey, can sense it too.

That’s not to say Strong won’t have the opportunity to win back his job with the remaining games. Given everything he has endured and what he’s done to recharge this program, he’s earned that chance.

"That's something I've never considered," Texas athletic director Mike Perrin told reporters when asked if the Longhorns would consider an in-season coaching change.

Barring a dramatic winning streak to close the year, however, Texas should not wait any longer. This is just not working—not at the pace Texas is expected to win at given what it has done and all the glorious resources in place. 

That doesn’t mean the seeds Strong planted won't be full-grown three years from now, once the roster has been completely overturned. And when the Longhorns do start to win at a Texas-like level again, Strong’s efforts won’t go uncelebrated. At least they shouldn't.    

The hard part of this tremendous makeover is complete. Now it just needs someone to see it through. That is not fair or just. It never is. But no one ever said it would be, either.  

          

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @KegsnEggs. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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