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Padanilam: Strong firing not warranted

| Wednesday, November 30, 2016

As the regular season nears its close, college football fans have their eyes on one of two things: the College Football Playoff and the coaching carousel that is already in progress.

Several programs have already pulled the trigger on new hires. But there’s one in particular where that trigger seemed a little premature: Texas’ firing of Charlie Strong to replace him with Tom Herman.

There is no doubt that Strong’s record of 16-21 over his three seasons in Austin, Texas, left a little more to be desired. But during those three seasons, it felt as though Strong’s tenure as the first African-American head coach for the Longhorns was doomed from the start.

The fact is that Strong was never really given a chance or the support he needed. From the very beginning, the all powerful Texas boosters — the very boosters who had put pressure on Texas to make the coaching change it ultimately did — didn’t support his hiring; one only need to think back to Longhorn booster Red McCombs’ comments in 2014 following Strong’s hire, when he said Strong “didn’t belong” at Texas and called the hire a “kick in the face.”

It didn’t help matters when Strong’s only administrative lifeline and the man who hired him, former Longhorn athletic director Steve Patterson, was fired in just his second year on the job, tightening the already short leash the University had on Strong.

But that short leash was disadvantageous from the beginning, too. After all, Strong was succeeding Mack Brown, a well-respected and accomplished coach who also had already watched the program begin to decline, especially at the quarterback position, in his last several seasons. Strong came in with Brown’s players on the roster, not his own, and was expected to make it work anyways.

So when he didn’t after three seasons, just one season after his recruits finally composed the majority of the roster, Texas decided to let him go and bring in the coaching market’s hottest commodity to replace him.

Texas ignored the respect Strong’s players had for him, evident from the threatened boycotts by his players after reports of his firing leaked a week early ahead of the Longhorns’ season finale. It ignored that Herman’s Houston team had just as much of a tendency to lose to inferior teams as it did to show up for its games against nationally ranked teams.

It simply decided that a change needed to be made, and it prematurely pulled the plug on Strong’s tenure to make the splashy move of signing Herman.

Ultimately, it’s a move that could appear successful as soon as next season in the win-loss columns, but it won’t be due to any coaching change. The fact is that Strong built Texas into a deep pool of young talent, a pool which he admits is about one year away from competing at the heights the University and its fans were expecting. With freshman quarterback Shane Buechele, sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson and junior running back D’Onta Foreman as its core — in addition to the top-10 recruiting class they have coming in — the Longhorns are set to contend as soon as next season, and they have Strong to thank for that, even if Herman is the one who will get to reap the benefits.

There’s no doubt that Herman is a good football coach. But it seems that Texas was quick to forget that so is Strong. He built up a young core for the program, and most importantly, he helped develop his players as both athletes and men.

So while Charlie Strong might no longer be the head coach at Texas, we should expect him to find another job — and thrive in it — very soon.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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