Charlie Strong's Texas hasn't been regular Texas. Strong has coached two full seasons in Austin, and he's gone 6-7 and 5-7 after taking over a depleted roster. This is one of the 10 or so most prestigious college football programs that's ever existed, with all the money in the world and an overflowing recruiting base.
Is that finally solved? No one knows for sure, but after Sunday, it kind of looks like it's changing for the better. The Longhorns never stopped having considerable talent, and against Notre Dame, they harnessed it, winning a 50-47 barn burner that will surely go down as one of this season's premier games. Texas had a national spotlight and delivered.
On Aug. 5, SB Nation's Steven Godfrey sat with Strong for an interview in his office. The two talked about how Texas could go about bettering itself, and Strong had a very specific prescription in mind.
"See, that’s the moment you jump out and — boom — something good happens. The message carries. It’s happening now, but when it really changes is when you beat a Notre Dame. It’s still a work in progress. You go win one you’re not supposed to, and then it really takes over. That’s really it.
That’s really it.
Honestly, it really could be.
Strong’s program always recruited like gangbusters, signing up a top-seven class this cycle, partly due to Art Briles' downfall, and top-10 class the February before that. Strong managed that coming off a bad season each time. Not that he's never had good wins, because he beat eventual Playoff semifinalist Oklahoma last year. But he's never had a good win that's led to other good wins, and that's the chance Strong's now given himself, with a maturing roster and an offense that finally makes sense.
This year’s class is still sitting in the low 50s, even though four of only seven verbal commitments are rated four-stars. Strong has demonstrated he can recruit even when he can’t win, so what’ll happen now that he can? Texas, with apparently great freshman quarterback Shane Buechele and Sunday night overtime hero Tyrone Swoopes heading up a skilled and deep roster, is not going to be nearly as bad as it’s been.
In April, Bud Elliott explained after talking to Lone Star State recruits, that many of the state's best players appear to be taking their time to see if Strong or Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin can deliver. Both had big Week 1 wins.
Strong's always been a Signing Day closer. His predecessor, Mack Brown, voraciously chased early commitments. Strong’s approach is different, like he explained to SB Nation.
"Well, I think that what happened when coach [ Brown] was here, he would get guys who committed early. So that was the pattern here, what they were used to," Strong says. "So I’ve always been of the mindset where you wait for guys. Not so much that you wait for guys, but you build. I want to know where they’re coming from. Try to find out about their background. So, I just take my time."
Strong has a bunch of responsibilities outside coaching his football team. He’s got to deal with media like us, fans like the thousands who packed Darrell K. Royal Stadium on Sunday, and boosters like the ones who give Texas so much of its money.
"You win and you’re fine with the boosters," he told Godfrey.
Well, Strong just won. He’s probably going to win next week against UTEP, too, and it’s a good bet he’ll do the same against Cal in two weeks. Strong’s Year 3 has started in smashing style, and he’s got a great chance to further it.
When Godfrey met with Strong, he asked him whether he’d ever considered not taking the Texas job when he got the offer around New Year’s 2014.
"I wasn’t going to let anything scare me from taking this opportunity" Strong said. "There’s only what, five jobs that are maybe like this one?"
That means there’s lots of bad when you lose, but it means there’s a higher level of good when you win. And after Sunday, it seems like Strong’s got a lot of good.