Just one week into the 2015 season Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong had seen enough and made a change. Demoted were offensive play-callers Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline and promoted was receivers coach Jay Norvell. With Norvell calling the shots, the Longorns beat Rice the next week before going on a three game skid that included losses to California, Oklahoma State, and TCU. Then came the Oklahoma game. Strong’s Longhorns embarrassed the 10th ranked Sooners in Dallas behind a physical running attack. It was a game-changer in the coaching circles as Strong seemed to have solidified his footing on the forty acres and was ready to build his dynasty.
Now fast-forward to 2016. After knocking off #10 Notre Dame, 50-47, it was deemed that the Longhorns were, “back.” An uneventful win over UTEP a week later moved Texas to 2-0, for the first time since 2012 and even boosted the Longhorns to a national ranking of #11. It would only take a few weeks for the whole thing to burn down again as back-to-back losses at Cal (50-47) and at Oklahoma State (49-31) left UT with a 2-2 record, out of the polls, and this distinction of the nation’s 116th ranked scoring defense.
Now, with another date against the Sooners looming in Dallas on Saturday, Strong has once again demoted a coordinator and this time placed himself on the chopping block as the guy calling the defense.
“We have not played well our last two games,” Strong said in his Monday press conference. “Our defensive performance … knowing we have a lot of talent on defense, we can play a lot better than we’ve played. It’s unacceptable. I’m gonna run the defense. I’m gonna call the defense. Bedford will coach the secondary. There are a lot of plays on the back end that we can get corrected.”
It’s a bold move that paid huge dividends in 2015 but ultimately led to a mass exodus of assistant coaches over the winter. Norvell is now the receivers coach and passing game coordinator for Arizona State. At the time of his departure, in Mid-February, he was the fifth assistant football coach to leave the University of Texas following the 2015 season. In fact, coming into the 2016 season Charlie Strong had only one assistant coach remaining from his original staff that arrived in 2014. It was defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.
With Bedford now demoted and Strong now very much in the forefront of the struggle, there’s literally no one else to take the fall. Charlie Strong is going all in on this coaching move!
“We know this: We’ve got to get better,” Strong said. “We’ve got to show progress as a team. What’s great about this game, last year we were 1-4 going into this game. Records don’t matter. We need to play with poise, with a lot of confidence. If we get off to a good start and just relax, let things happen, it’s gonna be a really good day for us.”
Strong needs more than a, “really good day.” He needs to prove that he’s in control of his program and that it’s heading in the right direction. A win over the Sooners on Saturday would go a long way in making him look like a miracle worker for the second year in a row. It would also mark the beginning of the end for Bedford. Let’s face it, when the head coach takes over your job and then accomplishes what you cannot…your time is done.
It’s a bang or bust proposition though. Because a loss to Oklahoma on Saturday means another exodus of coaches from Austin and this time it’ll be Strong himself at the front of the convoy.