Charlie Strong took the podium Monday following his fifth loss of the season. But unlike the weeks following the Longhorns’ defeats against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or Kansas State, Texas’ head coach took a decidedly more optimistic tone with the media.
“The thing I really liked is how hard we competed and how hard we played,” Strong said. “We need to finish the year strong and take care of business.”
Sitting at 5–5, the Longhorns are in jeopardy of ending the season without a winning record for the third consecutive season. Texas is now 16–19 with Strong at the helm, a far cry from the success expected of him when he took over in 2014. And while the rumors surrounding Strong’s job security have dampened over the past few weeks, Strong knows he will be thoroughly evaluated by athletic director Mike Perrin and University President Gregory Fenves at the end of the season.
“I’m sure the president will take a long look at it,” Strong said. “But we just have to stay focused and finish out our last two games of the season.”
However, Strong noted the team’s improved play over the past few weeks. Texas’ upset victories over then-No. 8 Baylor and Texas Tech showed a Longhorn team gaining momentum as well as confidence from its young roster.
Perhaps the best possible argument for retaining Strong is his team’s youth. The Longhorns have accumulated 111 starts from freshmen and sophomores this year, the most in the FBS.
The young roster has seen its fair share of frustrations, from physical errors to mental miscues, but ultimately has shown improvement over the course of the season. Both of Strong’s past two recruiting classes have been ranked in the top 10 in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite, and have the talent to progress into the core of a Big 12 contender.
“[The underclassmen] are real mature for their age,” junior wide receiver Dorian Leonard said. “They came in ready to make plays … They do all the extra things, all the little things that matter.”
While Texas is far from the top of the conference this year, Strong insists the foundation of the Longhorn program is solid. With freshman Shane Buechele secured as the quarterback of the future and scores of young talent on the roster, Strong believes he can get things back on track in Austin if given another year.
“When guys walk into a game now, they expect to win,” Strong said. “You like how much pride they have now and how competitive they’ve become … Now it’s about having a good end to the year.”