On paper, Texas’ decision to fire Charlie Strong and replace him with Tom Herman makes sense. Strong went 16-21 during his time in Austin, becoming the only coach in Texas history to have three consecutive losing seasons. Herman went 22-4 in the same span at Houston and already has built relationships throughout the Longhorn State that can carry over into his new job.
However, the whole situation is just sad. Strong was the most sought-after head coach in the country when he was hired in 2013, but was immediately criticized by Texas mega-booster Red McCombs. That was not a great way to start. Strong did not deliver on the field and carries the blame for getting fired, but Texas fans – and that includes the boosters, who are essentially fans with money and power – are partly at fault too for their lack of support.
Whether Herman works out or not, Texas fans need to have a reality check as it begins this new era. Here are five truths they need to accept immediately.
5. Texas is a State Like Every Other One
Yes, Texas did win its independence from Mexico and joined the United States as a republic. I don’t know how that makes the ancestors of Texans different from those that sailed from Europe and defeated the British, but Texans have a different air about them and believe crazy things about their state. You’ve probably heard a Texan say that his or her state flag is the only one allowed to fly as high as the U.S. flag (Not true. There is no law prohibiting any flag from flying that high) or that Texas can secede from the United States at any time (the Supreme Court struck that notion down in the late 1860s.). There is no way that mentality is not carrying over to the flagship college football program of the state and it is not healthy.
4. Your Record is Good, but Not Magnificent
For a school that considers itself to have one of the premiere college football programs, Texas has an impressive record. The Longhorns have won four national championships and 31 conference titles, but let’s take a closer look. Eighteen schools have as many national titles or more than Texas, who won three of those four titles in the 1960s. Also, 26 of its conference titles came in the Southwest Conference (SWC), which declined significantly in its last two decades. After Texas won it all in 1970, the SWC did not produce another national champion before dissolving in ‘95. Even in the SWC, Texas had waned, winning only four conference championships from 1978-95, a period where Arkansas left for the SEC, Texas A&M and Houston were put on probation and SMU received the “Death Penalty.” Only the arrival of Mack Brown returned the program to the level it enjoyed in the 1960s and ‘70s under Darrell Royal.
3. Recruiting is Not Like it Used to Be
Texas, California and Florida by far have the most five-star recruits in the country, but the days of stockpiling recruits the way programs used to in the 1960s and ‘70s are over. Programs are only allowed to give out 85 scholarships, which results in an average of a little more than 20 a year. In recruiting players, the Longhorns are competing with the 11 other FBS schools in Texas and the countless others across the country that recruit the fertile Lone Star State. They may be the state’s biggest program, but they can only sign so many recruits from a talent pool that has many fishermen.
2. Rebuilding Takes Time
This is not the ‘70s and Texas is not in the SWC anymore. Rebuilding may take time and every program can attest to how a few seasons of bad recruiting classes can set a program back. Brown’s success dropped off in his final four seasons and despite recruiting well, Strong had a worse run. Herman may turn the tide immediately, but he will have to do so in a conference with six other programs that can truly compete.
1. The Boosters Need to Shut Up
Strong had turned Louisville’s program around and was considered the best head coaching prospect in the country when Texas hired him in 2013. The fact that McCombs said Strong did not belong at “what should be one of the three most powerful university programs in the world right now at UT-Austin” was just stupid. McCombs’ alternative was to go after Jon Gruden, who has consistently demonstrated that he is happier broadcasting for “Monday Night Football.” Why he thought he could be the one booster to actually sway Gruden to leave was just arrogant and destructive to the new coach who was just hired. Nevertheless McCombs was right about one thing. Texas should be one of the three most powerful programs in college football, but it is not and with the exception of five glorious years with Vince Young and Colt McCoy, has not been for decades. I can’t help but think meddling by boosters has played a role in that.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.