Getting blasted by TCU on Thanksgiving night put an ill-fitting cap on Charlie Strong’s first (regular) season as Texas’ head coach.
The Longhorns came into the game riding a three-game winning streak built on a nasty defense and steady improvement from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. This story is supposed to end with UT upsetting TCU in front of a national audience and serving notice that Texas is back. At the very least, Texas was supposed to scare the horns off the Frogs before succumbing late to a team that is gunning for a shot at the playoff.
Instead, Strong’s first regular season campaign ended in Mack Brown-like fashion: a blowout that revealed a steaming pile of uncertainty behind center.
But even if the end felt pretty Mack-ish, Texas fans should think twice before executing that sell order on Strong this morning.
Frankly, this entire season has been an extended demolition of what Texas was under the previous regime. Mack built a house on sand. He brown-nosed his bosses — the real ones, not the people above him on the org chart — and focused on finding the right people to have around him. The idea was to have good assistants and a stockpile of lauded recruits. The rest would work itself out.
That approach can work. Texas won a national championship nine years ago, for crying out loud. But it can foster a rudderless, inmates-running-the-asylum culture, too. There was plenty of evidence that the Longhorns had atrophied to that point late in Mack’s regime.
Fast forward a year, and there’s little doubt at this point about who’s in charge on the 40 Acres. Strong and his staff removed numerous holdovers from Mack’s recruits. They also operated with a clearly articulated vision of what they want the program to look like.
Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford transformed the Longhorns’ underperforming defense into one of the better units in the entire country, helping to boost the draft stock of guys like defensive tackle Malcom Brown in the process. Offensively, coordinator-in-name Joe Wickline built a serviceable line out of spare parts. Meanwhile, coordinator-in-fact Shawn Watson implemented a balanced philosophy that should serve the ‘Horns well if they can find a solution at quarterback. (Granted, that’s a big if.)
In reality, 2014 represented the equivalent of a redshirt year for Strong and his staff. After 12 games, they should have a better sense of what they’re working with and what they need. More importantly, they got a chance to de-program a team that was soft and undercoached.
Ultimately, Strong will have to win some games. He might not have a lot to show for it now, but he started the ‘Horns in the right direction.