AUSTIN - A visibly shaken Charlie Strong met the press for perhaps one of the final times in his coaching career at the University of Texas. The Monday morning press conference saw Strong reiterate he doesn’t know what will happen and talk about the strength of the football program that he’s built.
Strong’s future at UT became uncertain after a loss to a bad Kansas team on Saturday and his overall losing record as the head coach of the Longhorns. The loss at Kansas came hours after ESPN broke a story that boosters were putting a lot of pressure on the school to fire Strong and hire University of Houston head coach Tom Herman.
Strong said he had to talk to his team Saturday morning in the wake of the ESPN report.
“What’s frustrating is you hear the rumors cause people are calling you. I told our players, we’re sitting there Saturday morning and we do a team walk and one of the players walked up to me and said coach you need to address the team,” Strong said. “All the players are on one floor and they are all on Twitter and they get an ESPN alert and you need to address them.”
The head coach said he’s heard the rumors and reports about his possible firing next week, but he reiterated the same line that the university has had since Sunday: His job will be evaluated after the TCU game.
“I tell you this, I spoke with Mike (Perrin) yesterday … Greg (Fenves) and I have spoken and he’s been up front,” Strong told the press. “We were told we will be evaluated after the last game against TCU, a decision will be made.”
Several times throughout his Monday press conference, Strong reiterated that while the wins and losses don’t add up; there’s much more to the program than just what is seen on the field.
“I will say that we have built a foundation and I look at what’s coming back and what’s in the program now, and I’m not one to make excuses,” Strong said. "When you look at the recruiting classes we have to put together and the players we have now, and the character and class and how they exhibit it … the program is going in the right direction.”
As the players prepare for a final home game against TCU, plenty will be on the line, namely bowl eligibility. A win by Texas on Friday will send them bowling for the first time since Strong’s first year at the school. That’s something he wants for his team and his seniors.
“There one game left, we go and play this game for our seniors,” Strong said.
The head coach said he’s been in charge of an “unbelievable group of young men” and told them not to worry about him and instead stop playing not to lose. Strong said his team has had to overcome a “lot of challenges, a lot of obstacles,” and that his players would see in a few years just how much they’ve grown at UT.
Strong was asked about a report from the Austin American-Statesman that some of the UT players were considering a boycott of the final game against TCU. Strong put that rumor to rest.
“They won’t boycott this game. That’s not going to happen. They know how important it is to our seniors,” Strong said.
While Strong said he doesn’t believe that a final decision has been made by the administration, he said he’s gotten a lot of support from former players and fellow coaches including Earl Campbell and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. But the most important show of support Strong said he’s received is from people not in football directly.
“What’s special is when you get it from the parents,” Strong said of the supportive messages he’s received.
Strong’s team faces a tough TCU team on Friday and even with a win; his fate may be sealed at UT. Nevertheless, Strong said he thought a win against TCU “will help.”
Still, Strong knows that his team is well aware of what’s going on around the program.
“I walked into the team meeting yesterday and (the team) looked like they had seen a ghost,” Strong said. “I said no guys, it’s really me.”
No matter what happens, one of the hardest things Strong said he’s had to deal with is not how the uncertainty and the job impacts him, but how it impacts everyone around him.
“I feel for my staff because I have put together an unbelievable staff. I hate it for them. When I don’t win, I feel like I let a lot people down. So many people are counting on us to move this program forward. I don’t mind it being on my shoulders. I just don’t ever like to make it about myself.
Strong said he feels that the football program is on “a solid foundation now,” and that wins and losses are important, but building the person with each of the players is the ultimate goal.
“Every player in this program is going to graduate and that’s my biggest concern,” Strong said. “My biggest concern, the academic side, that’s where the struggles most of the players have. We don’t have those issues. I don’t have those issues of a guy missing study hall, or missing class.”
Strong gave his team a powerful statement Sunday and, given his history in coaching, it should make the players and the fans hopeful for the future.
“I told them yesterday, this group of guys will win a national championship. I feel strongly about that statement,” Strong said Monday.