The Big Mac Blog

Charlie Strong era looking like John Blake tenure

Happier Times: Texas head coach Charlie Strong celebrates with the Golden Hat after defeating Oklahoma 24-17 in 2015.
Happier Times: Texas head coach Charlie Strong celebrates with the Golden Hat after defeating Oklahoma 24-17 in 2015. Star-Telegram

This will be perceived as Racism 101, but Charlie Strong’s time in Austin is beginning to show sad similarities to the John Blake era in Norman.

If you insist on finding a white dude, go with Mike Sherman.

Strong is attracting players to Austin but his team is not winning, and it’s looking like UT is set up for the next guy (rhymes with Tom Herman) to succeed the way coaches should at the University of Texas.

Former athletic director Steve Patterson’s parting gift to UT has been the hiring of the coach not enough people wanted to start. The decision to hire Strong was not widely accepted by influential fat cat boosters, namely Red McCombs; barring a dramatic turnaround #TexasStrong will be #TexasOver at season’s end.

Strong has run through eight assistant coaches in the last two years, and on Monday he said he would take over defensive play calling responsibilities from Vance Bedford. This is the last card Charlie can play.

After a dramatic, and inspiring, season-opening win against Notre Dame in Austin, the “new look” Horns are starting to look like the same Horns under Strong: Erratic and not good. The defense - which was a Strong forte at Louisville and as the defensive coordinator at Florida - has allowed 99 points in the last two games, both losses.

All good, established and storied football programs go through dog years – USC right now. Alabama under Mike DuBose/Dennis Franchione. Ohio State under “Earle Cooper” (Earle Bruce and John Cooper). Oklahoma under Gary Gibbs and John Blake.

These are the programs that have more money than Qatar and such a decided advantage that no down cycle should be this long.

Given the money and resources invested into the football programs at Baylor and TCU, both of those teams should be expected to defeat UT every so often. Neither, however, should be allowed to leap ahead of a Texas for this long.

A transition that began under Mack Brown and has only continued into the Charlie Strong era, which in its third year looks like John Blake did in Norman.

In 1996, Blake famously replaced Howard Schnellenberger to become the first African American football coach at OU. The Sooners were trying to find someone to win like a Bud Wilkinson or Barry Switzer. It was not Gary Gibbs. It wasn’t Howard.

So OU tried Blake, who previously had been an assistant on the college level as well with the Dallas Cowboys. Blake landed recruits, but his teams didn’t win. The Sooners were 12-22 in his three years, and he never finished with a winning record.

The rap on Blake was that he was not terribly organized and his teams often reflected that. After his third season, Blake was fired and replaced by Bob Stoops, who in his second season won a national title with mostly Blake’s players.

Whether it was with tough-coach rhetoric, or kicking players off the team, Strong has succeeded in changing the culture of UT football from that of a country club to a football team. He’s landing five-star recruits, but he’s not winning.

The addition of freshman quarterback Shane Buechele gives UT its first legit passer since Colt McCoy, but he’s still a freshman and he can’t play defense.

It’s not that Strong’s record in Austin is ish - 13-16 - it’s the way his team has lost that is most troubling; laughable special team problems to countless issues on defense. In ‘14, the Horns’ D allowed an average of 23.8 points per game; last season, that figure went to 30.3; today, it hovers at 38.2.

The Horns are 2-2 and play No. 20 Oklahoma on Saturday - a return to the site where Strong enjoyed his greatest moment as UT’s coach; his team’s 24-17 win over Oklahoma last season remains his highest high in Austin.

Coincidentally, Blake’s high point with the Sooners came in the Red River PC Fun Happy Game: In 1996, his unranked Sooners defeated No. 25 Texas, 30-27. It was one of just three wins for Oklahoma that season.

The Horns have eight games remaining, so Strong has plenty of time to win six games for an eight-win record with a bowl game. The Big 12 is not good and an 8-win year for UT is attainable. Hell, Iowa State may be able to win eight games in this league.

UT has not had three consecutive losing seasons since the 1930s, and Strong was not going to make it to 2017 if he began his tenure in Austin without a single winning year. Now it’s beginning to look like he won’t make it at all.