Excerpted from the 2014 Longhorn Football Prospectus: Thinking Texas Football.
The Optimist's View
Texas coaching hires, like most presidential elections, are an exercise in oversteering from the previous regime. The merits and charms of the previous office holder begin to wear on the electorate, new weaknesses reveal themselves and former supporters eventually offer a sharp rebuke to the very attributes they treasured just a few years before. Over the last 60 years, Texas has oversteered more sharply than a sleepy drunk on an icy road who feels the lights of an eighteen wheeler burning his dumb, droopy eyelids open; bawling as he spins the wheel wildly, his buttocks clenched fiercely on rich Corinthian leather. That's a kind description of UT's traditional hiring process. In the drought between Akers to Brown, we'd have had better success throwing darts at a phone book.
With apologies to DX Bible and his predecessors, modern Texas football began when a youthful, energetic, disciplined and relatively unknown 32 year old Darrell Royal replaced the middle-aged, laid back Ed Price in 1956 (Coach Price was most notable for holding practices in which gorgeous coeds flirted and picnicked with bored players on a grassy rise near the sideline); the legendary Royal left 20 years later with his handpicked successor ignored, replaced by the "outsider" Fred Akers who brought a polished image, popular psychology theories and a recruiting trail vigor that UT administrators coveted. After much success and an ugly rough patch, Akers was eventually overthrown by the Royalist faction and former player and DKR defensive coordinator David McWilliams, who preferred old boots to dress shoes and spoke in a reassuring Texas drawl, was "brought home" to restore Texas pride.
When that failed the predictable oversteer was to an icy "outsider" named John Mackovic who preferred pinots to points prevention. Finally, Texas got it right with Mack Brown - the outsider who became the ultimate insider, who healed the wounds of the Royal divide, brought together warring factions, worked the recruiting trail like a maestro, talked buzzards off of meat wagons and kicked quite a bit of ass. Sadly, his bitter denouement ended with staff self-satisfaction, yes-men run amok and more time spent making internet enemies lists and being the symbolic mayor of Burnt Orange than coaching up his players.
The latest oversteer is a Fast and The Furious style spin-out, but instead of featuring Vin Diesel slathered in arm butter, it has yielded the University of Texas' first black head football coach, Charlie Strong. A sure sign of progress is that while we all acknowledge the important historical implications of his hire, his race gets mostly a shrug of indifference. Can he coach?
Yeah. He can coach. I'll spare you the resume. If you bought this preview, you don't need it. Strong's sensational rebuild at Louisville and his decade of elite defensive coordination speak for themselves. If other programs were too slow in snapping up a winner, that's on them. Not Charlie. He's an elite talent identifier, recruiter, developer and implementer who hires no-nonsense, experienced football coaches, let's them do their jobs, and has zero interest in any activity that doesn't yield character formation in his players or wins on the football field. Texans may like a little sizzle, but they still want the steak.
Strong is all steak. Rare.
Strong is at Texas to coach football. Period. As for the talking heads and the deluded fans that believe the head coach at Texas must be the ultimate politician, that was simply Mack Brown's genius in attempting to define the job by his strengths, making him seem even more indispensable and his departure that much more unthinkable. Mack Brown Texas Football? Not quite. Texas Football is bigger than any one man. Fortunately, those of us with access to memory, history books, or can read the name on our stadium understand that the Texas legend most similar to Charlie Strong was the greatest coach in Longhorn history, Darrell Royal. Royal didn't have much time for nonsense, either. Every few years, the gridiron gods smile on Texas and provide us with the right man at the right time. This is the oversteer our steers need.
The Longhorns' greatest enemy has never been an on-field opponent - it's complacency. When Texas is focused and on-point, it's a fearsome juggernaut. Charlie Strong is about as complacent as a starving wolverine standing on a deer carcass circled by coyotes. It's real simple. He's going to recruit good, hard-nosed players, deploy them intelligently, coach the hell out of them at their position, hold them accountable as students and athletes, put them in simple but flexible schemes that free them to play the game they love and let opponents learn that a game against Texas is a legalized street fight and they're coming in armed with pillows. Games aren't won by press conference domination or ring-kissing billionaires. So Charlie failed his Toastmasters class and doesn't want to hear rich alumni babble about their golf game? Makes us like him even more.
As for the 2014 season - we'll probably win 10 games, but who cares if we don't? Maybe we experience growing pains. Perhaps Ash's health doesn't hold or we're racked with injuries. Perhaps the new system takes time to yield wins. It doesn't matter. Football isn't that hard when you take care of the foundation. Good habits are inevitable. Cream rises to the top. This is a decade hire, not a one year hire. If your attention span only functions in milliseconds, go follow Kim Kardashian on Twitter and watch Skip Bayless. When we're playing for the national championship four years from now, remember those doubts you had and chuckle at how hard you tried to make it all seem. This is Texas. We just hired a kick-ass football coach with a chip on his shoulder the size of a redwood.
The rest is inevitable.
The Pessimist will be along shortly to offer his rebuttal in Part II. And in Part III, the Realist will wrap it all up.
This introductory excerpt represents just 2 of the 201 pages of our 2014 Texas Football Preview. If you're a serious Longhorn or Big 12 football fan who values smart writing and even-handed analysis, it's well worth your time.