From the earliest days of Charlie Strong’s tenure as head coach of the Texas Longhorns, something felt a little off. He was tense sitting between president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson, mixing up his words again and again. “I’m gonna make sure that we build—that we represent the tradition and the history of this great program,” he said. “We will work like it’s 4th and 1—4th and inches more than that, and just make sure that our—el—our Texas Exes are so happy with the product that we put on the field.”
Three years later, Texas Exes were decidedly unhappy with Strong’s product: three consecutive losing seasons at a school where that hasn’t happened since before WWII. I watched every game of those three years, and I still cannot tell you with absolute certainty whether or not Strong is a good or bad coach. I can simply tell you that he was the wrong coach for Texas. It was a horrible fit.
Perhaps it was a personal crusade after being told “no” to so many coaching jobs or perhaps it’s just the way he’s wired, but the one word that sums up Charlie Strong for me is stubborn. Everything was to be done his way. Texas plays in a high-scoring conference? Strong hired a coordinator to run a pro-style offense. Texas has the most high school football talent in the country? Strong looked to Florida to buff up his recruiting classes. Texas’ head coaching job is 50% coach and 50% politician? Strong wouldn’t play ball with Red McCombs and the other boosters.
And he was slow to react. Coach Strong brought offensive coordinator Shawn Watson back after a horrific first year, only to have to fire him after the opening game of year two. When defensive coordinator Vance Bedford stumbled his second season, Strong retained him as well. And once again, his hand was forced midseason. He never learned.
In his eyes, it seemed, it was Charlie against the world. He didn’t need the brand of Texas behind him. He would be his own brand. His teams were going to play “Charlie Strong football,” he was going to force Texas high school football coaches to trust him, and everything would work out just as he planned.
But you cannot coach Texas the same way you coach Louisville. He was going 35 on the highway.
Now, Tom Herman is in the driver’s seat. His introductory press conference could not have been more different from Strong’s. Herman was so sure of himself, confident but not cocky. He was giddy with excitement. He mentioned “the great state of Texas” multiple times. More than anything, it was clear that he got it. He understood the Texas Longhorns. You could see that he felt like he had just been handed the keys to a Porsche, and he couldn’t wait to take it out for a spin.
Strong wanted to “put the ‘T’ back in Texas,” make the program tougher. But that’s not Texas. The university, like the state it represents, is all about excess. Everything is bigger in Texas, as the saying goes, and that should be a motto for the football team, too. That’s what Herman is trying to bring with him. He is hitting the right notes in interviews (“flagship university in the greatest state in the nation,” “multiple national championships,” “integrity and class.”). He is one of the most innovative offensive minds in the sport. He is working on turning the Longhorn Network into a recruiting machine, ramping up coverage of the football team. He is kissing the right asses, praising Texas high school football coaches and creating near unanimous support among the big money donors over his hiring. In one week, Herman has already how more aptitude as the Longhorns’ head coach than Strong ever did. Strong coached like he was driving a Prius. Herman’s driving the way a Longhorn is supposed to drive: fast and in-your-face.