Charlie Strong told ABC/ESPN television announcers the day before Saturday’s Red River Rivalry game that his University of Texas football team didn’t need a signature win, it just needed a win. What he might have gotten was far more significant than either a signature win or just a win.
What the head coach got was a program-saving, job-saving win.
With its stunning 24-17 win over No. 10 and previously unbeaten Oklahoma, the Longhorns quelled the fan base and the doubters and took Strong off of whatever hot seat he might have been on.
And let’s be clear about the use of the adjective “stunning.” It was all of that and more. Astonishing, really, given where Texas had come from in bringing a 1-4 mark into the game. Remember, the Longhorns had just been embarrassed last week at TCU, giving up 30 points in the first quarter and 50 for the game. That was on top of giving up 30 in a loss to Oklahoma State, 45 in a loss to Cal, and 38 in a season-opening loss to Notre Dame.
Strong was completely into the game, pumping his fist at good plays – Jerrod Heard made a heady play late in the game on a first-down run by not going out of bounds and keeping the clock moving – and body-bumping his players.
The players put him on his back and carried him off.
That celebration around Charlie Strong is a clear indication of how these players feel about him. Good guy, good coach.
— Jay Wallis (@KYTXJayWallis) October 10, 2015
He came into the postgame press conference all smiles, high-fiving some writers and jokingly giving Texas beat writers a hard time for not picking the Longhorns.
Charlie Strong you're so emotional about this win it makes me wanna cry with you
— Bobby Blanchard (@bobbycblanchard) October 10, 2015
The funny thing is, Strong might have been labeled “embattled” for all the wrong reasons. Yes, he made a change of coordinators but change happens. He needed to shake things up, knowing full well 1-4 could have been 3-2 if not for the heartbreaking losses to Cal and Oklahoma State.
But the problems that had plagued him through this, his second season, regarding transfers and lost players were for disciplinary reasons. And, of course, it’s not Strong’s fault for cleaning up the program – nor is it his fault that his former boss, athletic director Steve Pederson, disengaged the fan base and nearly cut off the program’s biggest donors by not understanding the culture of Texas football. Or, worse, by not wanting to understand.
All of that fell on Strong. Was he close to getting fired? I would say that, using the vernacular of college football, that his seat was tepid and not necessarily hot.
But given the results on the field the last few years, and what has transpired this year, the fan base was restless and certainly in need of a win that would turn the program around. To do it against Oklahoma is a defining moment right now for Texas.
You know, I remember when Charlie Strong was introduced as Texas’ coach two years ago. He looked like the most uncomfortable person in the room, with a face and body language that all but screamed “Get me out of here!” I don’t think he had second thoughts, but I’m not quite sure if he was prepared at that moment for what was to come – taking one of the most prestigious yet pressured-packed jobs in college football.
To see him smile, to celebrate, to enjoy this victory is what the game is all about.