New Texas coach Charlie Strong: who he is, what it means.
It was the highest-profile job opening in the state of Texas, and on Sunday afternoon, it got filled.
After months of speculation, the University of Texas announced on Sunday that it has hired Louisville coach Charlie Strong to be the 29th head coach in Texas Longhorns history. Strong takes over for Mack Brown, who resigned in December after 14 years on the job.
As with all coaching hires, there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s take it one step at a time.
Who is Charlie Strong?
Strong is 53, and while Louisville is his first head coaching job, he’s been around the coaching game for a while. After playing at Central Arkansas, he bounced around as a graduate assistant at Florida and Texas A&M (under Jackie Sherrill) before his first “real” job coaching wide receivers at Southern Illinois. From 1986 to 1998, he held various assistant jobs – mostly on the defensive side – at Florida, Ole Miss and Notre Dame.
Then, in 1999, Strong caught his big break: defensive coordinator at South Carolina under Lou Holtz. It was there that he first burst on the national scene, and it wasn’t long before Florida scooped him up to be their defensive coordinator. He stayed at Florida from 2002-2009, and gained acclaim as one of the brightest defensive minds in the nation.
In 2010, Louisville – after firing Steve Kragthorpe – hired Strong as their head coach, his first head coaching job. Things started slowly with back-to-back 7-6 seasons, but after Strong’s influence was truly felt, the Cardinals caught fire, going 11-2 with a Sugar Bowl win in 2012, followed by this year’s dazzling 12-1 season.
As mentioned before, Strong is generally considered a defense-first coach, and his defenses tend to be very multiple – meaning they’re not tied down to a single scheme – and very aggressive – meaning you’ll see a lot of blitzing.
But if you’re expecting a gregarious guy holding press conference after press conference, you may be disappointed. Strong is generally known as a private guy, a soft-spoken guy, but brings immense energy to a football program.
Also worth noting: Charlie Strong is the first black head coach in Longhorns football history. And, with Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, the state of Texas has two black FBS coaches for the first time.
Why Might This Be A Great Hire?
Well, plain and simple: Charlie Strong wins. To do what he did at Louisville – Louisville! – is pretty remarkable. It’s a small sample size – just 53 games – but his 37-16 record is mighty impressive.
He’s also known as a strong recruiter, and his teams play a style of football that players want to play in. Plus, having a guy who may be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft – QB Teddy Bridgewater – just come from Strong’s program is a major selling point.
And beyond all of that, Strong’s defensive background is crucial. Everybody can score in the Big 12; the ability to stop the other team is what’s begun to separate the contenders from the also-rans. In that regard, that should pay dividends.
Why Might This Be A Bad Hire?
Charlie Strong does not bring any real inroads to the Lone Star State with him. He has spent one year coaching in the state of Texas, when he was a graduate assistant under Jackie Sherrill at Texas A&M nearly 30 years ago. Since he’s been the head coach at Louisville, his program has not signed any players from Texas (though Louisville does have one verbal commitment from a Texas player, Fort Worth All Saints RB Daniel Gresham, for 2014). Recruiting players in Texas is key to being the head coach at Texas, and Strong is more-or-less starting fresh in that regard.
(Yes, Strong has tremendous ties to Florida, where he’s routinely plucked many great players [like the aforementioned Bridgewater]. But importing players to play at Texas is like bringing your own steak to a steakhouse.)
Furthermore, as I mentioned before, being the head football coach at Texas is being part-coach, part-politician. We don’t know how well the soft-spoken Strong will be able to deal with that part of the job.
Charlie Strong is a darn good football coach. Talk to folks around the college football world, and they’ll all agree: Strong is a star. But he faces significant challenges, both internally and externally, that he won’t have faced at Louisville. How he fills out his staff will go a long way toward determining how he’ll handle those challenges, which in turn will determine exactly how successful he’ll be.
Texas is a big job. Charlie Strong is a good coach. Can he get the Longhorns back to national prominence? Only time will tell.
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