It’s a new day in Texas for black men embedded within college football’s coaching world.
It’s not enough of a social tectonic shift for the RNC to start another #RacismEndedWhen hashtag, but the watershed moment should be noted. On a Friday night 53 years ago, the jagged racial epithets and slurs directed on the field by Longhorns players towards Syracuse’s Ernie Davis, resulted in a brawl during the first half of the 1960 Cotton Bowl. The incident represented one of the darkest periods in Texas’ football history. Flash forward and the night of the 2013 Cotton Bowl served to open a radically different chapter in the Longhorns annals.
A dozen years ago, college football experts expected Charlie Strong to become the first black head coach in SEC history during his tenure as Lou Holtz’s South Carolina defensive coordinator.
“Charlie Strong should be a head coach. He’s anxious to be, and he and I have talked about how you get a head coach’s job. I know we’re going to lose him eventually.” Holtz advocated for Strong in 2001.
However, there were concerns that Strong’s interracial marriage would prevent him from ever being offered a major head coaching job. It took another nine years for him to get his shot at age 49.
When Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich introduced Strong as the head coach he immediately spent the first minute introducing Strong’s wife Victoria and their two daughters. The gesture was translucent.
Strong quickly revived the Louisville program from the nadir of its post-Petrino depths. Jurich fought against echoing Holtz’s sentiment after Strong turned down overtures from Tennessee last December.
“If that’s what we have to do, we will fight everybody tooth and nail to keep him,” Jurich pledged to the media in 2012 after they won the final Big East title.
In turn, Strong quoted “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” author Stephen Covey. “You can buy a person a lot but you can’t buy his heart.” said Strong.
Louisville upped the ante by approving a $1.4 million raise for Strong.
However, when Texas’ oil money and (over)zealous football fanbase comes calling, you listen. Unfortunately, Jurich was blindsided when Strong interviewed with Texas’ Steve Patterson for their head coaching vacancy without informing him as he had done before speaking with the Vols.
This wasn’t a ploy to receive a raise. The Houston Texans may not have been interested in Lovie Smith, but the Longhorns need no Rooney Rule or Fritz Pollard Alliance to scoop up their football architect.
Unless he pulls a Billy Donovan and backs out (James Franklin is Texas’ Plan B according to the Austin-American Statesman), he’ll begin his venture further South into Texas’ progressive bastion in Austin to become head coach of college football’s wealthiest program. Out of respect for Jurich whom Strong is meeting with on Saturday morning to negotiate his $4.3 million buyout, Strong hasn’t formally accepted the position yet, but many believe it’s simply a formality along the lines of asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. According to Sports Illustrated, Texas and Strong have agreed to a five-year contract that is valued at $5 million per year, a $1.3 million annual upgrade over his current $3.7 million base salary.
While Missouri was putting the finishing touches on a Cotton Bowl victory inside Jerry Jones’ Dallas Palace, the eyes of college football were focused elsewhere in Austin, which has made it a habit of scene-stealing in the last month. College football’s highfalutin Kanye West snatched the mic from Oklahoma State, Missouri, Ohio State and Clemson to remind us all that they were going to let those two compelling matchups finish, but Texas is the top coaching job available in America.
We should have known something was afoot in Austin on Friday. There was movement all throughout the day as Art Briles and Jim Mora Jr. affirmed commitments to their respective programs through written statements. That same day, during Late Night with Jameis Winston aka Florida State’s BCS National Championship Game Q&A presser, the effervescent FSU quarterback who had Texas atop his preferred collegiate choices as a high school recruit, quipped that he’d want Jimbo Fisher to take him along if he were snatched away by the Longhorns. That won’t happen now, but if it’s not too late Teddy Bridgewater would make a suitable substitute for Winston, Case McCoy or David Ash.
Lost amidst the fervor surrounding the Bridgewater years at Louisville was Strong’s head coaching leadership. Texas noticed. Just two days after Bridgewater announced his intentions to enter the NBA Draft, Strong will reportedly be offered the Texas Longhorns head coaching job. He’ll also accept according to Orangebloods.com’s pesky Texas insider Chip Brown.
Thirteen black head coaches embarked on the 2013 season. Two were fired midseason. Once Strong tattoos his name on a contract, then does the hook ’em horns in a celebratory press conference, David Shaw, Kevin Sumlin and James Franklin take a backseat to Strong as the most conspicuous African-American head coach in the nation.
Sumlin is still holding it down at Texas A&M, while Strong will get to remain within earshot of Bridgewater, whom many expect to be drafted No. 1 overall as the Houston Texans’ franchise quarterback. There won’t be any avant-garde offenses coming to Austin. Bridgewater was Louisville’s prized prospect, but the defensive unit was their bread and butter. Strong is more philosophically aligned with Nick Saban than he is Art Briles.
Texas blood courses through Briles’ veins, but he has never fielded a particularly stout defense and that may have worried boosters and athletic department officials who consider defense a valuable building block for perennial national championship contenders.
Louisville finished the season ranked second nationally in scoring defense. Texas defense in the final years of Browns tenure was about as ironclad as Tiger and Elin Woods prenup. Since Strong assumed the reins at Louisville, the Cardinals defense has been seventh nationally in points allowed, sixth in yards allowed, and third in sacks per opponent dropback.
While many believed Texas wanted a coach who could navigate the vast battleground of Texas high school football. Strong’s recruiting pipeline is based in Florida. Texas decided not to opt for a regional recruiting manager. That mindset is what led Mack Brown to not pursue Winston.
According to Rivals.com’s National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell, Texas has only received seven commitments from high school players beyond its state borders since 2010. The program trudged to a 30-21 record during that span. Meanwhile, I ridiculed Brown mercilessly in September for passing on recruiting Winston because Alabama wasnt a pipeline state. Patterson used the Winston lesson to recruit outside the Texas pipeline for their head coach.
Strong can stump throughout the South.
Last month, I discussed Winston and Brown’s Garden of Forking Paths after he resigned hours before Winston’s Heisman coronation. Texas is where Will Muschamp and Strong’s paths intertwine.
For one, Strong has been associated with the Florida program for over 30 years. His first coaching job was as a Florida graduate assistant in 1983. A year later, he was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M during a season that ended with the Aggies defeating Auburn in the Cotton Bowl.
Florida’s prodigal son returned as the outside linebackers coach in 1988, left in ’89 then returned as an assistant from 1991 through 1994. Strong was hired as defensive coordinator in 2002 by Ron Zook and remained there through the end of the Urban Meyer administration, even temporarily serving as the interim head coach for the 2004 Peach Bowl.
After bouncing to Louisville, Strong dipped heavily into South Florida’s recruiting pools for talent like Bridgewater or Damian Copeland and many believed he was biding his time until Muschamp was ousted following the 2014 season. Strong’s future as the Florida head coach appeared to be manifest destiny. He even went so far as to accidentally refer to Florida as “we” at his introductory press conference. On the other hand, you could have said the same thing about Muschamp as Texas head coach a few years ago.
Muschamp and Strong essentially traded jobs. Muschamp was Mack Brown’s coach-in-waiting as recently as 2010. Strong crossed paths with Florida one last time during the 2013 Sugar Bowl when his Cardinals pulled off one of the largest upsets in BCS bowl game history over the Gators, who were two touchdown favorites. Texas looks like they won that pseudo swap.
Florida can look to the left to locate their barf bags. Now for the negatives.
It will be curious to observe how Strong adjusts to the intrusion of the Longhorn Network and the added burden of serving as the Longhorns ambassador. Like Saban, Strong can be a bit prickly towards the media and the Cardinals coach closed Louisville practices to the media this season.
The Longhorn Network has brought millions of dollars in revenue to the athletic department. Here’s what Brown told the Associated Press about the Longhorn Network’s disadvantages back in October of 2012.
“I didn’t ask for it,” Brown said Monday, noting he’s worried that the six hours a week he spends taping three television shows and the network’s access to the first 30 minutes of daily practice may tip opposing coaches to player injuries, tendencies and schemes.
Brown said he and Baylor coach Art Briles discussed it before Texas (5-2) beat Baylor 56-50 on Saturday.
“It’s in Waco. Baylor sees every practice,” Brown said. “We’re a little overexposed.”
“It’s a true advantage (for opponents). They can watch our attitude, they can watch our coaches,” Brown said.
The coaching carousel is now in full swing as Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich must find a head coach to replace Strong as they venture into the ACC next season. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and Duke’s David Cutliffe are the early favorites. The Cardinals program has evolved from a petri dish in the last two decades thanks to ESPN’s partnership facilitating their rise, but ESPN’s $300 million investment in the Longhorn network proved to be more influential.
However, upon further inspection some of his previous qualms with the Louisville press had to do with their media neglect not overexposure. Apparently, Strong was so upset about the Louisville Courier-Journal not giving his spring practices enough coverage while Kentucky and Louisville hoops advanced to the Final Four that he banned them. Strong will find himself with a quandary that is the inverse of the coverage famine that he dealt with as the auxiliary focus beside the nation’s most lucrative basketball program.
He will no longer do his work outside the limelight. Rick Pitino is the face of Louisville’s athletic program, but for the first time Strong’s is more prominent on the NCAA landscape.