A few thoughts as we wait for Charlie Strong's first press conference as the Texas Longhorns' head football coach.
You live in a pivotal moment in college football history. The BCS is dead. Defenses (good ones, anyway) have caught up with offenses. This means that MNC's will have more C in them and less M, and that you get to the bowls that matter less by managing media narratives and bitching about Cal than you do by winning actual football games when it matters.
It is at this juncture that Texas retired its CEO coach and hired a bona fide football coach, and a defensive mind at that. I am convinced that this is no coincidence. In this new football universe, Texas is still Texas and finds itself in a former AQ conference that lacks a championship game. Texas and Oklahoma, therefore, have the best launching pad for the championship until the next round of realignment. Smart coaches want to be here, and a smart AD just hired Charlie Strong for a reason.
But Texas' coaching search has been a real eye-opener, not about football but about the idiots who talk and write about football. You know, the stuff you heard on the radio this frozen morning?
Consider that it's supposed to be a problem that Texas hired a man, in Charlie Strong, who is supposed to be a football coach. Everyone acknowledges that he's a football guy, that he's genuine, that his players would run through walls for him, that he finds good players, gets the most out of them, keeps them out of trouble, and graduates them. But Charlie Strong's failure (already!) is that he is no Mack Brown. Where's the CEO? How will he handle LHN? What about his press conferences?
I ask you:
- How many football games will you remember 'till the day you die? OK, now how many press conferences?
- Remember Mack Brown's first press conference? How often did his gameday coaching live up to his performance on the podium?
- You ever see footage where they show a coach coaching? Was that more or less informative than when the coach was at the podium? You think the producers at LHN are worried about getting content out of Charlie Strong? Really?
- Which is more important to you: a coach who can control his lockerroom, or a coach who can control the media narrative?
While I'm kicking a dead medium, I should at least cite one example of a reporter who gets it.
But Strong's more lasting legacy -- and the one that will be far more difficult to replace -- came in ways that were not seen by the public or even most media. I don't know Charlie Strong. He has coached here four years, and yet I must still make that statement. I spent no time with him one-on-one. Most media members did not. He was guarded. He confided in few people, and even fewer reporters in his time in Louisville. And yet you don't have to know a man personally to tell that he's a good man. You can see the results of his presence. The esteem with which Strong and his staff were held by U of L players is something I've seen with no coach that I've ever covered. It bordered on reverence.
There are questions, but I don't see them in the press right now. Maybe I missed them, but the smart money is waiting to see what moves Strong makes on offense. Assembling an offensive staff at Texas is as big a moment, or nearly so, as the hiring of Strong himself. If he proves as adaptive on offense as he has been on defense, then "Saban" will be a punchline in Texas in the years to come, rather than a refrain in a minor key.
But back to the peanut gallery: it is not a question of how Strong adapts to the media culture at Texas, because the media is itself in a crisis with no clear solution on the horizon. What remains to be seen is, instead, how a medium in crisis monetizes the content that Strong's activities provide. No football coach can manage the new, decentralized media because no one can. LHN can simply point a camera at Strong, he doesn't have to take the mic.
Besides, the last person that young media users trust these days is a smooth talker at the podium. He's not an authority, he's a comedic trope.
Ingrown with the cozy, clubby culture of failure in Bellmont is the culture of a failing medium. What you and I see as disappointing season after disappointing season, journalists see as marketable drama. Mack Brown made it easy for them by repeatedly circling the wagons, cherry-picking the stats, and generally being a Texas football coach out of central casting. Charlie Strong will make it harder for sports journalist to file the same shitty copy day after day, and that's a good thing.
In a few minutes, the Big Deal will be Charlie Strong's first press conference. Right? I'll watch and listen, but I know that I'm listening to a respected man playing his weakest hand where it least matters. Let the writers parse and the twits tweet. That's what they do. For me, the hires, the recruits, the practices and scrimmages, those will be like one Christmas morning after another, all leading up to College Football's new year. Let's stick to the stuff that matters.