When Charlie Strong was announced as Mack Brown’s replacement as head football coach at the University of Texas-Austin, I was thrilled. I thought to myself, ‘This is a hire no one can complain about.’ Wrong again.
In Strong’s four seasons as Louisville head coach, he amassed a record of 37-15; including a huge Sugar Bowl win in 2012-13; over the favored Florida Gators. Strong’s star was on the rise, and I really couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of the credit he was finally receiving.
Strong backed up the BCS Bowl victory over Florida by going 12-1 in 2013-14. The Cardinals offense was among the nation’s best, and Louisville could lay claim to a bevy of future NFL draft picks on both sides of the ball. It had grown clear (at least to me) that Strong knows how to recruit; the lifeblood of any collegiate sports program. But, unfortunately, that’s where most pundits would halt their praise. After all, Charlie Strong is African-American. And like every successful African-American coach before him, Strong can ‘recruit and motivate’, but heaven forbid he has to do any real coaching. What about exhibiting any of leadership skills often associated with great (white) coaches? Strong is a black man, so forget about any of that.
The fact of the matter is this: Bobby Petrino left this Louisville football program in shambles. A fly by night exodus to the Atlanta Falcons, no honest communication with the players he’d be leaving behind – let alone recruited. Petrino served his own best interest, took the big NFL money, and Louisville’s players were angry. There were reports of mass transfers, incoming recruits looking for any/all ways out of their letters of intent. Louisville was very much a team, a program, an athletic department in limbo. Enter Charlie Strong.
Coach Strong made everything okay for Louisville. He spoke with his current players, as well as incoming recruits. Strong told everyone that things will be fine; not to worry. Charlie Strong was a man of his word – in a business that so often appears to be full of nothing but liars and confidence men.
The point is, when Louisville needed a leader; Charlie Strong was more than up to the task. When Louisville needed a great recruiter; Charlie Strong and his staff recruited like few others. When the Louisville Cardinals needed a great game plan against a supremely talented team; Strong formed a game plan that vexed the Florida Gators for nearly sixty minutes. These are the actions of a great football coach. A great head football coach. So, when Strong left Louisville for Texas, and you hear the following comments, it’s rather stunning:
‘I think the whole thing is a bit sideways. I don’t have any doubt that Charlie is a fine coach. I think he would make a great position coach, maybe a coordinator..
But I don’t believe (he belongs at) what should be one of the three most powerful university programs in the world right now at UT-Austin. I don’t think it adds up.’
Those words belong to University of Texas super booster, Red McCombs; and yes, it’s 2014. It’s unbelievably sickening that people still have ideas like these; and their willingness to speak them is downright frightening. But McCombs (below; complete with bola tie and cowboy hat) has donated over $100 million dollars to his beloved UT, so I guess the old man figured he can be as bigoted as he so chooses.
Other than McCombs’ antiquated way of thinking, the really sad part of all this is the fact that Charlie Strong wasn’t even Texas’ first choice. Or second. Or even third. Either way, Strong is an outstanding hire. I’ve already covered this, but the man has all the skills you could ever want in a head coach; and I hope he and his ‘Horns win as often as humanly possible. Maybe winning will help quiet the idiots in the peanut gallery. Sure, they’ll still be biased and bigoted, but maybe they’ll stop talking so loud.
There are over 120 FBS (formerly D-1A) football programs; and only 12 African-American head coaches. It’s depressing, really. And while many uneducated people will continue to perpetuate this idea that a black man cannot coach as well as his white counterparts, it would be nice to see these extremely talented and intelligent African-American coaches receive jobs at an actual ‘football school.’
Here is a list of the current jobs held down by African-American coaches:
Charlie Strong – Texas
Mike London – Virginia
Darrell Hazell – Purdue
Ruffin McNeill – East Carolina
Curtis Johnson – Tulane
Ron English – Eastern Michigan
David Shaw – Stanford
Kevin Sumlin – Texas A&M
James Franklin – Vanderbilt
Willie Taggart – South Florida
Trent Miles – Georgia State
Paul Haynes – Kent State
It’s appalling, if you want me to be honest. Half of those schools are nearly devoid of any winning football tradition, yet these are basically the only jobs offered to African-American coaches. And, to this day, there’s only been one African-American coach in NCAA Football history to be fired and re-hired as head coach: Ty Willingham (fired by Notre Dame, hired by Washington).
The Charlie Weis’ and Mike Leach’s of the world lose games (Weis), lock players in closets (Leach), and yet they are recycled like cheap plastic. I hope Charlie Strong wins them all down in Austin, but if he doesn’t, will he be treated like nearly all black coaches before him – fired and never re-hired? Or will he be treated like what he is; a great coach, capable of building programs and leading young men?
I’ll be rooting for ya, coach. And for those of you reading this; if you believe in good, honest people succeeding when they get their long deserved opportunity – you’ll be rooting for Charlie Strong (and the other men on that list), too.