For the past 15 years, there were a few things to count on at the annual Red River Showdown in Dallas: greasy food, a stadium divided and Mack Brown and Bob Stoops pacing opposite sidelines, leading their teams in one of the greatest rivalries in college sports.
There will still be fried Oreos on Saturday, and there should be an equal sampling of burnt orange and crimson in the stands, but, for the first time since 1999, Brown, former Texas head coach, won’t be opposite Stoops at the Cotton Bowl this weekend.
In Brown’s place will be new Texas head coach Charlie Strong, who is making his debut in the rivalry. While he hasn’t had any experience coaching in this specific one, Strong is no stranger to emotional rivalry games.
“I’ve been involved with Florida-Georgia and Florida-Florida State,” Strong said. “The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is a special rivalry. We know how big it is.”
In his best attempt to get a feel for just what it will be like to run out of the tunnel with Big Tex looking on this weekend, Strong has been talking to some of his staff members who have experience representing the Longhorns against Oklahoma.
“Just having a chance to sit down and talk to [defensive coordinator] Vance Bedford and [wide receiver coach] Les [Koenning] and [Marcus] Tubbs as guys that have played in it,” Strong said. “And you have [tight ends coach] Bruce Chambers who coached in it. They all know how big this game is.”
Strong’s replacement of Brown at the helm of Texas, signifies the beginning of a new era in the historic matchup. In a sport where players change every few years, the coaches are often the only constant. With Brown and Stoops each having been so successful at Texas and Oklahoma, respectively, their rivalry became almost as big as the one between the schools.
That certainly won’t be the case between Strong and Stoops — at least not for a while — but the two do have some history together and share similar defensive-minded philosophies.
“Bob and I are friends,” Strong said. “When I was at Florida, I was leaving Florida and he was coming in. I respect him and the job he’s done there in Oklahoma. He’s an unbelievable coach and, not only that, just a really good person.”
Stoops had similar praise for Strong, who has impressed him with what he’s been able to accomplish since arriving in Austin.
“I think a lot of Charlie Strong and the way he coaches.” Stoops said. “I know he is going to continue to work that program and we will see a team that will be motivated and ready to play. They are a team that is capable and again, they beat us just a year ago.”
Saturday’s game will be the first chapter of a new era, but Strong and Co. are hoping to pick up right where last year’s team finished — with a win.