Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sweat The Small Stuff. The Real Reason Why Charlie Strong Failed

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew Charlie Strong was not going to work out in Austin.

October 11, 2014 against OU.  The Longhorns outgained the Sooners 482-232 in total yards.  They had 24 first downs to Oklahoma's 11.  And yet with 12:50 to go in the 4th quarter, Oklahoma was leading 31-13 in part because of Texas' 11 penalties.  Charlie Strong seemingly came unglued at several points in the first half, screaming at his players and his coaches.  He looked uncomfortable and panicky.  The Longhorns statistically were in many ways better, but were being thoroughly outplayed by the Sooners when they had the ball.  Strong preached consistently about discipline when he took over the program, but both he and the team looked as if they had none of it.

The Horns cut the lead to 31-20 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter after a six-yard touchdown toss from Tyrone Swoopes to John Harris.  The defense got a stop, and with 4:57 left to go in the game, Swoopes scampered for a 12-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 31-26.

Do the math right here for a moment.  You have to go for two in this scenario.  And this is where Charlie Strong failed.  They didn't have a play ready to go.  He looked panicked.  The players looked confused.  A timeout was called.  A play was drawn up.  

And it failed.  The Horns never got the ball back, and the score never changed.  They lost 31-26.

It was that moment amidst the confusion that I knew Charlie Strong was not going to work.  Even stoner doofuses playing Madden knew what had to happen in that situation.  The fact that he and the team weren't prepared for that scenario spoke volumes about how good he really was.  They were down by eleven in the fourth quarter.  Strong had to know that in order to tie the game, a two-point conversion was necessary immediately after a touchdown.

They were down by three scores in the fourth quarter because the team was undisciplined.  And they ultimately fell short because Strong was unprepared for a moment that everyone except him knew was coming.

Put simply, the fact that Strong didn't have something ready in that instance was inexcusable.  Worse yet, I knew that this wasn't something that could be fixed.  It's one thing to make that mistake if you're a rookie coach screwing up at a high school level or at an NAIA school.  But to make that mistake in the Big XII?  Charlie Strong was vastly out of his element.  He was a defensive coach whose first major head coaching gig was gift-wrapped with a future NFL quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, and a Louisville schedule that had more cupcakes than a PTA bake sale.

Gone were the days of preparing for East Carolina, Tulane and Central Florida with a future Minnesota Viking running the offense.  Strong had to work with a good, but not great, Tyrone Swoopes against Stoops, Snyder, Patterson, Gundy and Briles, and played over the last three years in a fashion that was so inconsistent it would make a schizophrenic blush.  They beat OU and Baylor in dramatic fashion.  They lost to maybe the worst FBS school in Kansas.  They were shut out by Iowa State.  They won the game of 2016 in double overtime against Notre Dame.  They were blanked by Notre Dame in 2015.

The Longhorns weren't a football team.  They were a car ride with Billy Joel.  Moreover, the end result of the last three years actually makes Strong look like a hypocrite.

Charlie Strong preached discipline the second he stepped onto the 40 Acres with the same fervor that Hulk Hogan had to the Prayers, Training and Vitamins.  To be fair, he emphasized many key points that are essential like going to class, graduating and treating women with respect.  No one really faults him for bringing honor to these values, nor should they.

But I think Strong missed a huge component of discipline, and it was to his own detriment and the Texas Longhorns.  The idea of discipline is often something dramatic we conjure up in things like boot camp.  Discipline is cloaked by figures like Vince Lombardi or Catholic school nuns.  We think of stern task masters making us do things we don't want to do.

In reality, discipline is so much more than that, and oftentimes less dramatic.  Discipline is getting to work on time.  It's being prepared for meetings.  It's making sure you have enough money in your bank account.  It's resisting the doughnut for breakfast, and the cocktail at night.

This is where Strong failed.  Charlie Strong wanted to be a symbol like Vince Lombardi so badly that he forgot reality.  Vince Lombardi isn't reality.  The single mother making sure she gets to work on time with gas in the car, and food on the table for the kids is.  Discipline isn't just a big idea, but a series of much smaller actions.

Smaller actions like not committing penalties.  Like not screaming at your coaches when the chips are down.  Like not making contact with an official in a crucial moment of a game like the way Strong did in the 2015 Oklahoma State game.  Like knowing what to do when your team scores a touchdown when you're down by eleven points in the fourth quarter.

It's unclear if Tom Herman will be man to right the Texas ship.  But on October 11, 2014, it should have been really obvious that Charlie Strong was just a captain only out to capture his Moby Dick of Discipline, completely oblivious to the ocean around him.

Call him a failure.

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