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If Texas is firing Charlie Strong, here’s why

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In Austin, a few big moments aren’t enough to save you.

Notre Dame v Texas Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Charlie Strong era in Texas is coming to an end, according to multiple reports. The Austin American-Statesman’s Brian Davis and Kirk Bohls were the first to report Sunday evening that Texas had decided to fire its head football coach, with an announcement perhaps coming on Monday. Multiple other outlets, including ESPN, have confirmed.

Texas athletic director Mike Perrin released a statement that didn’t deny the decision but pushed back gently.

This follows a loss to Kansas and a Sunday full of reports that the Longhorns were weighing when and how to most respectfully handle the coach’s departure. Now that the shoe’s reportedly dropped, Texas players seem uniformly devastated.

The former Louisville head coach and SEC defensive coordinator has two more years on a five-year contract he signed in 2014, and Texas remains on the hook for more than $10 million in base salary owed to him.

Strong has compiled a record of 16-20 in three years in Austin, including 5-6 this year. The Statesman report doesn’t say whether Strong will coach Texas’ regular season finale against TCU, but one source said his staff was “getting ready” for the game.

Strong is done as the head coach at Texas because this:

and this ...

... are not enough to keep your job in Austin.

Progress showed up, then was nearly immediately stamped out.

You see, it’s unfortunately not just about those big wins over Oklahoma in 2015 and Notre Dame in the 2016 season opener. Those produced the indelible images that made you think, “Wow, he might just get this thing righted.”

Strong was fired because whenever something positive got going, it was immediately followed by what seemed like 10 negatives.

The Red River Rivalry win in 2015 was followed up by the Longhorns being shut out on the road against Iowa State, 24-0, two weeks later.

Before the season started, Strong told SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey this about what a win over ND would mean.

Two weeks after the win over the Fighting Irish, the Longhorns gave up 507 yards against Cal and lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Bears for the second year in a row.

Texas followed up that Cal performance with an absolute wet fart against Oklahoma State in which they had three extra points blocked and a field goal missed en route to a 49-31 loss. They also gave up 555 total yards to the Pokes.

After that, Strong took away the defensive play calling duties from defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, marking the third straight year with a coordinator change for Texas.

But the defensive struggles continued even after making the switch. During the loss to Oklahoma, the team Strong was able to beat by a touchdown in 2015, Texas’ defense gave up 672 total yards to its biggest rival, which obviously doesn’t bode well.

Texas then proceeded to lose to Kansas State and West Virginia, but the straw that finally broke the camel’s back was the Longhorns’ historic loss to Kansas during Week 12. The 24-21 loss marked the first Kansas victory over Texas since 1938.

Strong looked visibly distraught when asked about his job security after the defeat.

The defense remained downright offensive.

The Longhorns had been doomed by the lack of a quarterback, but freshman Shane Buechele looks more than promising. In the season opener, he threw for 280 yards, and Tyrone Swoopes offered a bruising change of pace that really looked like it could work. Under new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, the high-octane attack has made the Horns look much better than they have in the past.

The issue is, Strong has one of the best defensive backgrounds of any coach in the country, yet Texas got worse as a unit during his tenure. After his first season, the team fell from 28th in yards per game allowed to 107th. Year 3 promised improvement, but only delivered marginally. Before Week 12, the defense was ranked 70th in the nation.

Houston head coach Tom Herman is a factor here.

The truth is, when you have a head coach 164 miles away that’s beating teams like Oklahoma and No. 5 Louisville, the question has to be asked inside closed doors from the Texas boosters: “Why aren’t we, the biggest and baddest school in Texas, doing that?” ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported on Nov. 19, after Houston’s 36-10 domination of Lamar Jackson and Louisville, that Herman was Texas’ No. 1 guy.

Thursday morning, Herman had a 21-3 record as a head coach at Houston, with an impressive resume as an offensive coordinator at Iowa State and Ohio State. He’d entered the season as a no-doubt coaching star after a Peach Bowl win over Florida State, then boosted his shine with a win over Oklahoma.

The expectations in Austin were not necessarily unrealistic.

You can count on probably one hand the teams that are in the Longhorns’ zip code on the college football landscape. Texas should compete for a Big 12 title, if not the national title, every single year.

With its resources and brand equity within the state, there is no excuse for the last seven years of Longhorns football under Mack Brown and Strong. It’s not like the program has been near the top of the mountain and fallen short lately. The Horns have missed two bowl games and watched in-state foes Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M all taste various amounts of glory while they have failed to even tread water at times since 2010.

It will now be up to someone else to return Texas to national prominence. Strong just couldn’t keep any momentum going to get it done.

If you’ve got a shot at a job like this, you have to consider it, pressure and politics and all.

From our August interview with him:

"I remember before I took this job, I had a guy tell me, ‘You may not want to take that job because of what all comes with it. But you can’t tell them no either,’" Texas head coach Charlie Strong says while seated at a table in his office.

"I wasn’t going to let anything scare me from taking this opportunity. There’s only what, five jobs that are maybe like this one?"

"So, this same guy said to me, ‘Look, you may not have followed everything about Texas that closely.’ And I said, ‘No, I haven’t followed the program the way you have, but I’ve seen them play.’ And so he says, ‘You’re gonna have a lot of work to do there. But you’re going to go in there and get the work done no matter what. Because you cannot tell them no.’"