After a road loss to West Virginia where the Longhorns decided to douse themselves in gasoline and flick turnover matches at each other, Texas is left with a piteous 4-6 record and two games remaining on the schedule. Texas Tech and Baylor loom and 4-8 seems more probable than 6-6. When was the last time Texas Tech "loomed" in a context that wasn't about cotton? Or Fruit of the?
I checked in with my friends Kevin Dunn and Chad Hastings on their Austin radio show yesterday (in my humble estimation, the fourth best mid-market afternoon drive time sports radio show in America. #1? Grimey and The Nutsack) and Kevin asked me a very simple question that gave me pause.
Ever see a tiny Asian man from behind and think it's an attractive woman? Yes, all of the time! In fact, just yesterday, I was walking to the gym and Sorry, that was our text conversation.
"Is Charlie Strong still the answer as head coach at Texas?"
The simplest queries are always the toughest. I wanted to answer an unequivocal yes and coolly lay out the affirmative reasons - practical, financial and political - that require Strong get at least a third year. Instead, I stammered a yes and then spent the rest of the time explaining...well, you know, it kind of depends. Aside from my bulletproof ability to provide nearly mediocre radio, I learned that my steely resolve - born of practicality as much as unfettered belief - had some cracks in it.
The truth is, we - and Strong - are in a tight spot. And my nagging ambivalence about Strong isn't disrespect for a man I truly admire, but uncertain certainty that once the tide turns against anyone or anything sufficiently - whether righteously or borne of impatience in a social media era that turns ripples into tidal waves with alarming speed - that it's impossible to do anything but evacuate from the impending tsunami and declare the town a disaster zone. We're not far from that point. If it's later revealed that the wave crested at six feet and only swept away an abandoned pool toy on the beach, we'll, thems the breakers.
Strong is sitting at a unique tidal confluence of bad inheritance, horrific bad luck, his own poor staff decisions, stubbornness and inflexibility, hooplehead panic, specious WE ARE TEXAS reasoning, his team's uninspiring play on Saturdays, managing roster by honest principles rather than Machiavellian necessity, an unfriendly schedule that didn't provide enough lay-ups and an athletic department that couldn't provide the structures and advice that would maximize his ability to succeed.
If Strong loses to Texas Tech and Baylor, everything and anything is possible. Does one of those options include a hasty buyout followed by a media shitstorm? Sure. Or Strong making a play for Miami or wherever else he can coach up hungry, three star dogs away from the entitlement that permeates blue blood programs? Possible. Could Strong bunker down, finish out the recruiting class, hire an OC and then 2016 decides whether we continue to fish or cut bait? You bet. All of these options are possible, though some are more plausible. Each also depends on the remaining results on the field and the sense of dread or relief it inspires in the fanbase and his bosses.
The math isn't just whether or not some big alums are willing to write a check. It's also lost revenue, season ticket sales, fan apathy, media reaction, the opportunity cost of lost/gained recruiting classes, the best available candidates available, political tenability, whether or not a quality OC will come to Austin for what could be a one year contract. And a lot of other factors. As the philosopher Jeffrey Lebowski once said,"There are a lot of uh facets to this, man, a lot of uh interested uh parties."
Everyone wants to predict the future, but right now the old Hollywood adage that nobody knows nothing about anything couldn't be more appropriate. Because no one really does. Strong's camp is largely impenetrable (he doesn't have a PR machine and old media's voice is largely comprised of panderers and doddering morons) and the one site that has some marginal access is not adept at typing coherent sentences, much less producing the Federalist Papers. It's all blind men and elephants.
Brown and his assistants leaked like a small bladder at Oktoberfest to media, influential alums, anyone with an opinion and an audience. Including us. To manipulate, cajole, inspire, threaten and mollify. Strong doesn't have useful media interlocutors. He doesn't have Charlie Men to tell his story or set the record straight. Or to tell useful lies to buy time so that he can create the foundation he requires. He's not wired that way and he's not a political animal. His paid helpers in Bellmont, who should be taking up the slack, communicate by pointing at stick figures and grunting and his hiring AD was more interested in leveraging Longhorn coozie sales in Chengdu.
Strong does his talking on the field. When that product chokes out a hoarse death rattle, it's easy to lose faith. Strong and his adherents should be selling the freshmen, more changes in staff and the many precedents of coaches who got kicked early but rose to deliver knockouts. Ceaselessly and endlessly. But he's a tad busy. Nor is it in his wheelhouse. And there's no structure around him to do it. So now he's subject to forces far beyond his control. Except what he can control on the field.
God help him.