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Texas can't fire a head coach without it being a sloppy, public mess

Charlie Strong’s awkward nightmare isn’t a new thing in Austin. Remember Mack Brown and Rick Barnes?

Oklahoma v Texas Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Texas has decided to fire head football coach Charlie Strong, according to a bunch of reporting on Sunday. This outcome seemed a foregone conclusion after the Longhorns lost Saturday to woeful Kansas. When word leaked out, players were devastated.

But Texas appears willing to let Strong’s fate officially hang in the balance for a little while longer. Athletic director Mike Perrin pushed back on reports of Strong’s firing without actually denying he’d decided to fire his coach:

There are a number of rumors out there about the status of Coach Strong. I’ve said it all along, we will evaluate the body of work after the regular season. We have a game to get ready for against TCU on Friday, and I hope our fans will come out and and support our team. We’ll discuss where things stand after that.

Strong has a standing press conference at noon ET on Mondays. That’s a common time of the week for head coaches to huddle with beat reporters and talk about that week’s game. But surely, Texas won’t have Strong take the podium with all this swirling. Right?

Holy hell, Texas!

Texas appears content to let Strong dangle all week, even though it’s become almost totally impractical for the Horns to retain him beyond this year and with boosters leaking word that they’d like to hire Houston’s Tom Herman.

Strong’s apparently going to be fired soon. Having him coach the last game could be fine; he’d get one last week with his players, and fans could give him a final ovation for being a respectable leader who ran a tidy, if not successful, program. But why the drama?

It’s not clear why the Longhorns won’t just get on with it, whether Strong’s going to coach a last hurrah on Friday against TCU or not. Who’s being served here?

This kind of ending is nothing new for Texas. Remember Mack Brown?

In 2013, Texas pressured longtime head football coach Brown into stepping down, a reasonable decision on the surface.

It wasn’t a firing, officially, because Texas wanted to show some respect to a coach who’d gone 158-48 over 16 seasons in Austin. But it was clear to almost everyone that the Brown era had run its course.

Longhorn legend Earl Campbell summed it up at the time:

Very hard [to advocate his ouster] because Coach Brown is a very good man. I just hope he doesn't stay...he's done some great things. The program, he brought it back, and we don't need it to get run down where somebody has to start all over again.

Brown eventually stepped down, and AD Steve Patterson hired Strong to replace him. But the manner in which Brown left was about as awkward and drawn-out as possible.

As Yahoo’s Pat Forde reported:

The source told Yahoo Sports that Patterson arrived at the football building with a jarring change of heart for Brown: You need to resign. That was the decision of University of Texas president Bill Powers, and Patterson was the apologetic messenger. The source said Powers, a longtime friend and supporter of the football coach, abruptly yanked the rug out from beneath Brown after supporting his continued tenure the previous two days.

Thus the 16-year Mack Brown Era at Texas was terminated not by the coach himself, but at the insistence of an embattled school president. Although the school's official release and every public statement has said Brown decided on his own to step down, he was pushed – after being told the decision was his.

The entire timeline of Brown’s exit is sort of preposterous and includes unflattering looks for both the coach and the school. A sampling, from around the time Nick Saban was rumored to have serious interest in the Texas job:

December 13, 2013

Brown finally has his long-awaited meeting with Patterson and Powers. Just hours after the meeting, news breaks that Saban has signed the extension with Alabama, killing one half of the rumor. At almost the exact same time, news breaks that Brown has reportedly told people he's staying. Texas fans, who have thought for weeks that Brown was finally gone, are apoplectic.

December 14, 2013

It turned out that wasn't the case. One day later, Brown announces his resignation, effective after the Alamo Bowl.

December 15, 2013

Brown delivers his final presser as Texas head coach, praising the university, expressing high hopes for the program's future, and saying, "the standard is set really high here. And I'm danged proud we were a part of that standard." His lawyer, a Texas megabooster, fires up a whole new round of rumors.

Texas’ penchant for bizarre, prolonged, public firings goes beyond football.

Texas also forced out Rick Barnes, its most successful men’s basketball coach ever, after the 2014-15 season and no shares of Big 12 titles or Elite Eights since 2008. Barnes was reportedly told he’d return to Texas after the team’s first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament.

While Barnes said that he doesn't want anyone to think he's bitter and said it wasn't fair to talk about the discussions he held with Patterson, the most lengthy pauses during a press conference that featured the former head coach actively holding back tears at several points came when he was asked about the circumstances surrounding his departure.

Barnes admitted that he was "surprised" when the leaks from the university came out on Thursday saying that he would have to remove his assistants or be fired himself. Athletic director Steve Patterson had told the longtime head coach that he would return for another season in the direct aftermath of the NCAA Tournament loss to Butler in the round of 64, even as Patterson notably refused to offer any public comment.

Previously, Patterson reportedly told Barnes he’d have to fire his assistants to stay. That didn’t happen. Barnes and Texas separated in what was billed as a mutual parting of the ways. Nobody outside Texas’ administration seemed to see it that way, though.Why Patterson couldn’t just oversee a normal firing of Brown, now an ESPN analyst, or Barnes, now Tennessee’s head coach, is an open question. The same goes for Perrin now.

It’s clear that treating coaches poorly on their way out the door isn’t a Patterson thing or a Perrin thing.

It’s a Texas thing, and it hasn’t gotten to look any better with age. (Though Perrin’s Texas did just manage to handle longtime baseball coach Augie Garrido’s reassignment without too much drama.)

Firing each of these coaches was a justifiable decision. Doing so amid leaks and uncertainty isn’t.

When Strong took this job, he knew he was heading into a place with its own political world and orbit of influential, talkative boosters. From a preseason interview with SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey:

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.’ He said, ‘You gotta take that job. It doesn’t matter.’

This guy said, ‘You may not have followed Texas that closely. I coached in Florida and Kentucky, and I grew up in Arkansas.’ 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.’ The guy told me this: ‘You’re gonna have to go in there and get the work done no matter what. Because you cannot tell them no.’

I was going to take it. I was not going to let anything scare me from taking this job. There’s only what, five jobs maybe like this?