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Strong needs winning season

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Completely original thoughts on the Charlie Strong era at Texas

NCAA Football: Texas at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, TX. – Charlie Strong started reciting all the reasons Texas is a good football job, which it had dang well better be, lest Strong be labeled a fool for leaving Louisville.

"A lot of positive things about where we are right now," Strong said.

And one big negative. Because this is where the Longhorn coach is right now: dangling over a boiling pot. Strong, considered one of America's brightest coaches a mere three years ago, has led Texas to dubious status.

Strong has a losing record, 13-15, at Texas. He's reached one bowl game in two years. His defenses have hit icebergs, having allowed at least 40 points in 7 of 28 games and at least 30 points in 12 of 28 games.

That's really not acceptable at West Virginia or Oklahoma State, much less at Texas, which prides itself as a football school.

"I don't feel a lot different about this year than I felt about any other year I've been in coaching," Strong said during Big 12 Media Days. "I always have a drive to do well and do the best we can and put our players in great position to play well."

That's campaign talk. For the straight scoop, let's rely on middle linebacker Malik Jefferson, as good a Texas football name as you'll find this side of Earl Campbell.

"It's time," said Jefferson. "We have no more excuses. ... We understand when people disrespect us, or say negative things. They should."

Get this. In Charlie's two-plus seasons in the Big 12, only two schools have a worse record than Texas’ 13-15 (Kansas’ 4-23 and Iowa State’s 6-22). Only three schools (Kansas, Iowa State and Texas Tech) have a worse league record than the Longhorns’ 9-9.

Sudden thought: Have we overrated the Texas job? Big fan base, big talent base, but no great winning tradition except for occasional pockets when the stars align. Did Strong overrate Texas?

"I can't say you've overrated Texas," Strong said. "It's potentially a great football job. They can compete with anybody and should be able to compete with anybody."

But for more than 10 years, Texas’ results have not kept pace with its promise. At some point, you are what you are. The Longhorns' glory years -- the '70s and ‘00s -- were buoyed by Texas A&M haplessness.

Look at it this way. Either Texas is not the job we thought it was, or Strong woke up one day and forgot how to coach.

Charlie coached at Louisville, which wasn’t necessarily a traditional winner upon Strong's arrival. And yet his lower winning percentage is at Texas (.464). How can that be?

It was in vogue to blame Strong's record on recruiting shortcomings by the previous administration. But if Mack Brown was such a cruddy recruiter, how did he win 76 percent of his games over 16 years, the best Longhorn percentage since the 1920s?

In truth, Strong's woes stem from bad timing and badder defense.

Bad timing? The Longhorns are in a high-rent district. Baylor and TCU are as stout as they've ever been. Oklahoma consistently hovers around 9-3, Oklahoma State is 35-17 the last four years and even Iowa State grew fangs, upsetting Texas in 2015.

"We play not in the toughest conference necessarily -- I'm not saying it's not -- but we play one of the toughest schedules in college football," Strong said. "There's probably going to be two top-five or top-10 teams on our schedule every year."

Bad defense? The Longhorns once were known for guarding the goal line. DBU, they called Texas’ secondary. Under Strong, “Let Them Through” is more like it.

Strong admitted as much after last week’s loss to Cal, when he said all assistant coaches would be evaluated. Only defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator Brian Jean-Mary are still employed from Strong’s original staff. Chris Vaugh, Les Koenning, Bruce Chambers, Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline were all relieved of their duties after last season. Chris Rumph left for Florida after one season and Tommie Robinson left to go back to USC.

Gutting the staff is one of the standard acts of desperation for a coach on the plank.

Austin may be wavering in its devotion to Strong, but the Longhorn players vow allegiance.

"We've worked out with a sense of urgency," quarterback Jerrod Heard said. "It's a time for us to step up and accept the challenge. We've got to respond."

Malik Jefferson said forget blaming coaches. Forget blaming Strong. "We still believe in him," Jefferson said. "We feel like he's a great leader. Coaches can only take so much blame."

The Texas schedule is easy until October, when the Horns play OSU, OU and Baylor. A winning season still seems possible.

It had better be.

If you made it to the end of this article, congratulations. What you just read was not actually an article about Charlie Strong at Texas, but a modified version of a 2006 Oklahoman article about Dennis Franchione at Texas A&M.