Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Strongest Choice For Baylor

I have a certain affinity for Baylor.  My sister went there.  She met my brother-in-law there, and they now have two hilarious boys that call me Uncle Matt.  Through them, I know a bunch of their friends from Baylor.  They invited me into their fantasy football league, and they've done an exceptional job of tolerating the lone Longhorn in the group.

In addition, my very first job interview after college was in Waco.  It's a surprisingly pretty town that's only been accentuated by the brand new McLane Stadium, Baylor's gorgeous new stadium right on the Brazos River.

Plus, I've always a great time at Cricket's, Waco's venerable college pub.  But Waco is a tough sell to many, especially now.  Most still associate Waco with the Branch Davidian cult and massacre of the early 1990s.  Many more associate Baylor with the Dave Bliss scandal of 2003 where he lied about his ties to murdered basketball player, Patrick Dennehy, and accused the deceased Dennehy of dealing drugs in order to deflect the fact that he was paying him under the table.  

Most recently, though, Baylor is thought of as the Baptist university that hired Art Briles, an architect of a high-flying offense, and a Christian man who looked the other way when women came forward with allegations of rape by his football players.  At least two different players were convicted of sexual assault under Briles' watch, and no discipline was handed down against running back Devin Chafin despite the fact that Briles and the team chaplain both knew about the incident.  

Baylor dismissed Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw and university president Ken Starr in wake of the scandal.  Baylor has spent these last few months trying to maintain a cohesive football team despite all the upheaval, and is now searching for a new coach due to interim coach Jim Grobe's decision to move on from the Bears.  

Baylor's leading candidate so far is California's Sonny Dykes whose 41-45 lifetime record is apparently good enough to at least consider a lateral move from the liberal utopia of Berkeley to conservative bastion of Waco.  Perhaps it's because no one else really wants to take on the challenges of picking up the pieces from the successful and troubled Art Briles, but the Dykes rumors seem to be uninspiring at best.  

Dykes finished his 2016 campaign with a 5-7 record, and apparently this is good enough because he's the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes.  Maybe Sonny Dykes will be a good fit, but this choice reeks of nepotism and a good ol' boy networking con job.  The hiring of Dykes really doesn't speak to an act of contrition towards the women that have been aggrieved due to the Briles administration.  In addition, Dykes' interest in the job seems disingenuous at best given that he has a 19-30 record in his four seasons at California, and has been in danger of losing his job as a result.  Dykes interest may be more proactive given that he may not be in the Bay Area for much longer anyway.  

If a 41-45 lifetime record is the best Baylor will consider, they need to consider that there's someone else out there, someone else who finished with a 5-7 record this year too, but who is a way better fit for the situation the Bears are in now.  

I won't take back anything I've said about Charlie Strong.  Strong's tenure at Texas was chaotic at best.  It was marred by inexplicably bad coaching decisions, wretched special teams play and inconsistent preparation.  That said, Strong is absolutely the best candidate for Baylor job given the pedigree of coaches they are currently leaning towards for three reasons.

1.  Hiring Charlie Strong is a fantastic PR move.

Strong would bring to Waco his five Core Values for his players: honesty, no drugs, no stealing and no weapons...and treating women with respect.  For a school rocked by sexual assaults by its football players, Charlie Strong would absolutely bring back integrity to a Christian university in desperate need of reform.  In addition, Strong would have absolutely no issue removing potential predators left over from the Briles regime.  Strong would rather abdicate wins than tolerate misogyny.  

Hiring Strong would send a clear message to the community, to the university and to college football, that it is ready to shed its shameful past, and clean house by any means necessary.  Furthermore, when the NFL was trying to figure out how to rehabilitate its image after the scandals involving Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, Commissioner Roger Goodell turned to Charlie Strong for advice during a breakfast meeting in Austin.

Goodell is perhaps the most powerful man in sports, and he flew down to Austin to figure out how to change.  Waco is just up the road.  Baylor would be wise to listen to him now that he's available.  

2.  Charlie Strong knows the Texas recruiting trail.

Let me get this straight.  Baylor is heavily courting a guy who has no head coaching experience in the state of Texas.  His biggest claim to Texas is his dad.  He has spent the last four years in Berkeley, CA, the cultural antithesis to Texas.  And now Baylor thinks this is the guy who is going to convince guys to come to Waco?  

That's absolutely ridiculous.  Charlie Strong just finished the 2015 recruiting campaign with the eleventh best class in the country, and the best in the Big 12.  Baylor would be foolish to consider a guy who has spent the last four years as an outsider to the state when a guy who knows the recruiting trails in Texas incredibly well is available, and only lives 90 minutes away.

3.  Both Strong and Baylor are in need of redemption.

Baylor needs redemption way worse than Strong for all the reasons previously stated.  But Strong needs this too.  He needs to be able to prove that he can take his Core Values and win elsewhere.  Furthermore, we have seen coaches fail miserably in one place, surface with a different team, and win in resounding fashion.

Bill Belichick was dismissed from Cleveland.  He found redemption and four Super Bowl rings in Foxboro.  More recently, Gary Kubiak presided over a 2-14 disaster in Houston, only to win a Super Bowl ring two years later in Denver.  

Baylor needs to prove that it can win with integrity.  Strong wants to prove that integrity is integral to winning.  Strong and Baylor seem like they need each other at this point in time.

I sincerely hope that Baylor reconsiders their choice of coaches.  Maybe Sonny Dykes is a good man who will do well in Waco, but based on what I've read and seen, it sounds like a pick rooted in desperation rather than in confidence.  

I'm not sold on Charlie Strong, the football coach, but I know one thing for certain.  He won't tolerate that Good Ol' Baylor Lie.  

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.