Dozens of Texas football players lined up in the back of the Centennial Room in Darrell K Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium as head coach Charlie Strong addressed the media Monday.
The group, many with tears in their eyes, watched as their third-year coach made the case to return to Texas for a fourth year. And when Strong finished taking questions, his players gave a standing ovation and embraced him as he walked away from the podium.
“I just wanted to let everyone know how much we care for that man,” senior linebacker Tim Cole said.
The players know the writing may be on the wall for their head coach. Strong came into the season carrying immense pressure and expectations. Coming off 6–7 and 5–7 seasons in his first two years, all eyes were on the former Louisville coach to turn the burnt orange around.
But after falling 24–21 to Kansas — a team previously without an FBS win since November 2014 — all signs of progress are lost. Texas now sits at 5–6 in danger of missing a bowl game for the second-straight year.
“So many people are counting on us to move this program forward,” Strong said. “I look at just how far we’ve come. Yeah, the wins and losses, they don’t stack up.”
Strong entered the program with numerous hurdles to overcome. The team was devoid of talent following the departure of head coach Mack Brown. Entitlement and a satisfaction to merely put on the uniform pervaded Texas’ locker room.
“I don’t ever want to blame coach Brown because he’s been unbelievable for me,” Strong said. “There have been changes we needed to make.”
And Strong has had a resounding affect on the Longhorns since arriving on campus in 2013. He’s emerged as a role model for his players: a man who prioritizes developing his athletes as people on and off the field.
“He’s [taught us] the acceptance of life, how life works, how people work and tying football back to everything,” senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. said. “I think the maturity and growth of a young man coming from different situations speaks value.”
Still, at a place like Texas where every win is counted and the coaching staff is always under the microscope, becoming a role model isn’t enough. Strong changed Texas’ culture for the better, and his players’ unwavering support shows it.
But he failed to translate those changes into wins on the field. The loss to the one-win Jayhawks marked just another brutal defeat over the last three years — a 24-0 loss to Iowa State, a 50–7 trouncing to TCU and a 41–7 loss to BYU also come to mind.
“We know what he’s trying to build here,” Cole said. “I know [fans and media] have been frustrated with how things have been going. But things are definitely going to turn around for the better.”
While Cole and his teammates preach progress and future gratification — Strong said this group “will win a National Championship” — those words mostly fell on deaf ears. The team has emphasized similar sentiments for the last three years, including Strong saying the team will never lose five games again after a 6–7 finish in 2014.
Texas needed Strong to change the culture and reel in talent, and he succeeded on both counts. But Strong failed to yield the necessary results on the field, with the peak of the team’s frustrations coming late into his third season.
Now it’s time for change; it’s time for someone else to build off Strong’s achievements and take the program to its next step: winning football games.