Head coach Charlie Strong is running out of options.
The third-year head coach has gone through eight different assistants since he arrived on campus in 2013. And after taking over the defense from now former defensive coordinator Vance Bedford on Monday, Strong has now demoted his original offensive and defensive coordinators in a three-year span.
“You’ve got to change with the game and you’ve got to do what you think is best for the program,” Strong said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do is just piece it together and make sure we do what’s best.”
And while taking over the playcalling may help Texas’ withering defense — the team ranks last in the Big 12 in points allowed — it signals a bigger problem: Strong is backed against a wall.
He said he doesn’t think the move is a desperate measure for a desperate time. But without any coordinators left to take the fall, the burden to fix the Longhorns’ woefully inadequate defense falls solely on Strong’s shoulders.
“It’s not this big desperation all of the sudden,” Strong said. “I’ve done it before and I can see where I can help us. Sometimes you feel like you need new energy and eyes, and [I’m] hoping this will be a good move for that.”
Strong’s future at Texas looks bleak in the national media. Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel reported that Texas plans to move on from Strong after the season since the team lost 49–31 to Oklahoma State.
Additionally, big-time Texas booster Red McCombs told the San Antonio Express-News “it doesn’t do anybody any good to drag it out” if the University plans to cuts ties with the head coach.
But Strong’s future at Texas shouldn’t be written off yet. Texas still has eight games to play. And Strong still has time to prove himself, especially if he succeeds as the defense’s play-caller.
“He won a National Championship at Florida [as defensive coordinator] and honestly I expect the same thing,” sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I expected him to call plays to and put us in successful spots.”
Strong’s players still voice support for their head coach. Jefferson said the players need to take more responsibility for the team’s struggles.
“People will look at the coaches and take it out on the coaches,” Jefferson said. “But we’re out there missing tackles.”
The program found itself in a similar position last year heading into the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns entered the matchup coming off a 50–7 loss at then-No. 4 TCU, stirring up skepticism in the national media regarding Strong’s future.
Texas then came out and shocked then-No. 10 Oklahoma, 24–17. Strong’s players lifted him on top of their shoulders, sending the message that their head coach wasn’t done yet.
Still, the Longhorns’ struggles continued throughout the rest of the season as the team finished 5–7.
Strong has the chance to replicate last year — a win over the No. 20 Sooners would silence his doubters at least temporarily. His players are rooting for — and trying to help — their coach as he tries to regain the trust of the fanbase.
But this time, Strong must sustain his success. There is nobody else to blame.
“All the players love Coach Strong and all the coaches love Coach Strong,” sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “Why are [fans] turning their back on him? We are out there playing the game and we know he’s a great coach and we’re telling you now, he’s the best in the business. Any other coach would just be second best.”