Grading the Hire of Charlie Strong at Texas: Did the Longhorns Find the Right Coach?

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Is Strong the right answer at Texas?

Grading the Hire of Charlie Strong at Texas: Did the Longhorns Find the Right Coach?

Texas is arguably the No. 1 job in college football, and the first assignment on new athletic director Steve Patterson’s plate was to pick a replacement for Mack Brown. After a three-week coaching search, Patterson hired Charlie Strong away from Louisville to lead the Longhorns back in national title contention.

Strong compiled a 37-15 record in four seasons at Louisville. Over the last two years, the Cardinals were 23-3 and claimed bowl victories over Florida (Sugar) and Miami (Russell Athletic). Prior to taking over at Louisville, Strong cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Florida and South Carolina. He also made stops as an assistant at Ole Miss and Notre Dame.

Although Texas slipped at the end of Brown’s tenure, he guided the Longhorns to nine consecutive seasons (2001-09) of at least 10 wins, including a national title in 2005. In addition to his success on the field, Brown was a perfect fit in Austin. The job demands at Texas are a little different than some other BCS programs, and Brown was able to master the booster glad-handling and television obligations with the Longhorn Network.

With Brown’s tenure and job obligations in mind, it brings us to an evaluation of Charlie Strong. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for Texas, followed by the final grade.

Positives for Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong

Strong is simply a football coach
It’s a simple statement, but Strong isn’t particularly keen on media obligations or anything other than coaching football. While there are more responsibilities at Texas other than the X’s and O’s, Strong excels when he’s recruiting, developing talent or getting his players ready to play. Louisville went 15-21 in the three seasons prior to Strong’s arrival. During his four-year tenure with the Cardinals, Strong compiled a 37-15 mark and led Louisville to four consecutive bowl games. The Cardinals also finished No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll in 2012. While Louisville never worked its way into national title consideration under Strong, the program clearly improved under his watch. And given what Strong accomplished at Louisville (a top 25-30 job), he should be able to win at a high level at a program with more resources. Strong isn’t the flashiest coach, but he wins games and knows how to build a program.

Strong is one of the best defensive minds in college football
Before he was selected by Tom Jurich to be Louisville’s coach in 2010, Strong was regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation. Strong coordinated South Carolina’s defense from 1999-02 and Florida’s from 2003-09. Both of those units had several highlights under Strong, and Louisville ranked inside of the top four in the American Athletic/Big East in total defense in each of the last four years. The Cardinals finished No. 1 nationally in total defense in 2013, allowing just 4.2 yards per play. Strong could bring Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford (a former Texas defensive back) to Austin, which should ensure the Longhorns own one of the nation’s best defenses under his watch.

Talent developer and toughness
It’s a bit of a cliché, but Strong is going to bring toughness to Austin. While that element is tough to put into statistics, something was missing from Texas over the last few years. Under Strong, the Longhorns certainly won’t be accused of not having a physical team. And while Texas can reel in top-five recruiting classes with ease, that talent has to be developed more successfully. Expect Strong and his staff to do a better job of turning recruiting hype into All-Big 12 talent. According to 247Sports.com, in four years at Louisville, Strong never recruited a top-25 class. He should have no trouble with recruiting at Texas, but to win 37 games (23 in the last two years), with no top-25 recruiting classes shows how much talent development and coaching matters. Expect that to continue for the Longhorns.

Negative for Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong

Non-football obligations
As mentioned above, a chunk of Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas was filled with obligations to the Longhorn Network or other media duties. Who knows what Strong and Patterson worked out, but this setup seems a little odd. Strong isn’t crazy about media obligations, yet is taking over a job with a television network and a larger media presence? With the extra resources and staff in place, Strong should be able to have some extra help to ensure he’s not overwhelmed with game preparation and media. In addition to the media, booster glad-handling will be a part of the job. Is Strong ready to give up some of his football time to appease those areas?

Final Analysis

There’s very little to dislike about this hire for Texas. Strong is easily one of the top-25 coaches in the nation, and his recruiting connections in Florida will only add another area for Texas to expand its reach. Strong will add some much-needed toughness in Austin and should develop talent better than the previous staff has done over the last few years. So while this seems to be a good hire for Texas – and one with few negatives – on the surface, this feels like a strange fit. As we mentioned earlier, Strong could have agreements already in place to minimize his obligations with the media, boosters and Longhorn Network, but it’s a concern for a coach who prefers to focus only on what transpires on the football field. Expect Strong to win a lot of games at Texas, and once we see how things transpire with the off-the-field obligations by next year, this hire could be upgraded to an A.

Grading Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong: B+

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