DALLAS – The question was asked Tuesday, it will be asked next week, next month and, probably, all season. It’s the Longhorn, rather than the elephant, in the room.
How many games does Texas coach Charlie Strong need to win in order to keep his job? Seven wins? Is eight enough? What’s it gonna take?
Making his third appearance at Big 12 Media Days, Strong understands about all the chirping regarding his “hot seat.”
“The expectations here are always high, which they should be and why would you want it any other way,” said Strong, who is 11-14 in two seasons. “They should (be high). There is no reason for us to go 6-7 and 5-7 and you want to see progress. I totally agree with that and we should, and that’s what we’re working for. Our goal is to win every game.”
That’s the goal but the reality is that by the end of September, the noise level could be deafening. The Longhorns open the season Sept. 4 at home against Notre Dame and then have a tough road game at Cal – led by former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb – on Sept. 19.
UT will open Big 12 against Oklahoma State on Sept. 26 then travels to Fort Worth to play TCU on Oct. 3 before facing Oklahoma in Dallas on Oct. 10. Realistically, going 3-3 in those games could be considered as a best-case scenario for a team that is unsettled at quarterback and has a talented defense that last season couldn’t get third-down stops to get off the field.
The Longhorns opened in South Bend last season and were embarrassed in a 38-3 loss. The game matches two of the winningest programs in college football history but it’s most important for the home team.
“The Notre Dame game is so important, it’s going to put the stamp on the season,” Texas senior safety Dylan Haines said. “We have the advantage because they’re coming to our place, they’ll have to deal with 105 degrees. Hopefully we can wear them down.”
(105 degrees? Whether it’s the thermometer or seats, everything is about heat in Austin.)
Strong’s predecessor Mack Brown had the nickname of “Mr. February” because of his strong recruiting classes that only once delivered a national championship. The current UT coach has continued to stockpile talent. With underclassmen occupying a number of key, productive positions, finding leadership is the key.
“It’s better than it has been,” Strong said of the leadership. “If you harp on something enough I think they get the message and they’ve gotten the message.”
Strong hired Sterlin Gilbert to be the team’s offensive coordinator. He spent last season at Tulsa and learned his spread, up-tempo style as an assistant at Baylor. With the Big 12 averaging more plays per game than any other conference, Texas hopes to finally get in step offensively. The Longhorns were eighth in scoring and total offense last season.
“What you would like to see happen is you want to see progress,” Strong said about the implementation of the new style. “You want to make sure that you get someone who can command the offense, someone that can move the ball but you have to be very balanced. If we’re able to establish a running game, then I think it’s going to make it a lot easier for our quarterback.”
And who will that be? Freshman Shane Buechele enrolled in the winter semester and was impressive in spring practice. Senior Tyrone Swoopes made an impact as a short-yard specialist last season while sophomore Jerrod Heard was last season’s starter.
Near the end of his interview session, Strong was jokingly asked if he had made his quarterback choice earlier today.
“Yeah, I did that earlier … Trey Holtz,” he said.
Holtz, a senior walk on quarterback, is Lou Holtz’s grandson and just a name and a number on the roster.
“Yeah, my seat’s really hot,” Strong said, laughing. “It would be on fire. I wouldn’t make it to halftime. … It would be on the scoreboard: Fired.”
Laughing in July … laughing or crying in December? That’s the 2016 season for Charlie Strong and Texas.