I openly admit I’m rooting for Charlie Strong at Texas. Not only because I believe in the slow, methodical build instead of the instant gratification we demand in our microwave society. But also because I reject the ingrained Old Boys Club that football (and many other sports) can still be.
Despite our modern ability to fact-check instantaneously, and have buckets of information poured into our laps with a few finger taps, guys that have friends in the coaching industry often stay in the coaching industry despite obvious failures at their job. And if you can gladhand and tell some charming stories on the cocktail party circuit, even better. You’ll never have to work again.
This was Mack Brown. He’s a damn good storyteller, once upon a time was a damn good coach, and he’s still pretty damn beloved. But his charm far surpassed his effectiveness by the end, and Mack rode that into the sunset. You can still catch the folksy Mack spinning yarns in the television studio or during games in the booth, and he’s best suited there. Because otherwise he’d be running a premier football program into the ground. Some say Mack is too old at 65 anyway to be running a team. But that’s only a year older than Nick Saban, who still seems to be doing just fine, thank you.
Strong has to battle the ghost of Mack’s popularity (especially with media he cozied up to) every day. He’s not part of the football in-crowd, nor is he going to light up a booster event with tales of his grandpappy hunting squirrels back in Cookeville, Tennessee. So Strong’s rather steely demeanor, his all-business attitude, is not as fun or endearing as Mack. But Strong had to rip up the old carpet in Austin, take a sledgehammer to the foundation, and start building a new floor. Because Mack left the windows open during the storm, let the basement flood, then held a cigar party as the water rotted the base boards.
It’s only been two years and two games with the Longhorns for Charlie but he came into this season with a target already on his back. People said if he didn’t win (and win big) this year, Tom Herman or some other hot commodity would take his job. All Strong did was win 23 games and a Sugar Bowl in his final two seasons at Louisville. But he’s not Saban and he’s not Jimbo, he wasn’t the Horns first choice, and he hadn’t finished above .500 at UT. Plus, dadgummit he just didn’t seem as likeable at Mack.
Nevermind that Mack whiffed on just about every quarterback prospect in state for the last six years he was there. Starting in ’06, he missed on Matt Stafford, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty, Johnny Manziel, and Jameis Winston (who wasn’t a Texan but said he would’ve gone to UT had he been offered). You gotta try really hard to screw up that badly.
Mack turned North Carolina into a winner after back-to-back 1-10 seasons, and won UT a national title on the back of Vince Young in ’05. But his teams incredibly only won the Big 12 twice, and finished with 5+ losses three of his final four seasons in Austin. The Longhorns shockingly didn’t have a player drafted by the NFL in ’14, the year after Mack left. That was the first time the Longhorns were shut out since 1937. The baseboards had rotted.
Strong got his signature big boy win of the season on Opening Night against Notre Dame in dramatic fashion. He was carried off the field by his players. He’s opened up more in the press, he’s smiled more than he used to. His #11 Horns have an exciting freshman quarterback, and loads of exciting young talent. They look like a contender in a wide-open Big 12. And I’m happy about that. Because we’re all outsiders in some way, and Charlie has battled that in his tenure at UT. It’s far from a finished product in Austin, and a loss at Cal this weekend may have all the good vibes dissipating once again. But Strong’s commitment to building this thing the disciplined and responsible way is finally paying off, and Mack’s adorable yarns feel more empty by the day.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.