Football

Blackwell Commentary: Managing Expectations

Charlie Strong. Will Gallagher/IT
Charlie Strong. Will Gallagher/IT

What I am about to say to you here is probably a clear indication of me being a poor father to my son, Miles, who is an 11 year-old football fan. But I don’t care. Every boy needs a dad, who can now and then, be a bad influence. I will happily and unapologetically play that role.

Once every football season – usually in between the time a UT football game ends on a Saturday night and halftime of the west coast Pac 12 late game – I’ll look across the living room at Miles and say, “Let’s look at some coaching meltdowns…”

We’ll get the laptop and he’ll sit on the arm rest of my recliner – when he could fit there – and within seconds we will flip through the best of coaching press conference meltdowns. Dennis Green: “…and we let ’em off the hook!”…Mike Ditka: “…whadda you care?”…Jim Mora, both with the Saints (“We couldn’t make a first down…couldn’t run the ball…didn’t try to run the ball…couldn’t complete a pass…We sucked, big-time“) and the Colts (“Playoffs???!)Jimmy Johnson: (“He took his fat butt to the locker room“)…Mike Singletary: (“Can’t win with ’em“).

Some dads teach their boys to tie knots and build fire and drive a nail and shoot a gun. I teach mine to do Mike Gundy imitations when he’s nine years old. There’s not a lot funnier than a 9-year-old saying, “…I’m a man…I’m 40!”

Nick Saban added a video for our viewing pleasure this week, though it was mild in comparison to some of the others. Seems he’s “pissed off” because fans and reporters and Bama nation expect a little more than a 14-13 win at Arkansas. Winning sometimes – a lot of the times – isn’t good enough. As fun as it is to watch a coach blow a gasket, there is a part of me that feels his pain, though “pain” is relative, I suppose, at $5-7 million per year. Even still, coaching at the highest level is a tough gig.

For Charlie Strong, the expectations for 2014 are curbside low, which serves him well sitting at 2-4. Last year, Mack Brown’s Longhorns sat at 4-2 after a win against Oklahoma, and everybody was still “pissed off” about beating Iowa State by one point prior to the OU win.

In the coaching business, expectations are everything. This year’s 2-4 is awesome; last year’s 4-2 was disappointing. Bill Parcells once famously said, “You are what your record says you are.”

Well, not at Texas.

Had Brown been 2-4 after losing to Oklahoma in 2013, he might have had to catch a ride back to Austin.

The truth is, expectations are usually unrealistic. Normally, they are too high; a team needs to be able to win by one point and have that be okay. In big-time college football, it’s not.

Except for the Longhorns in 2014. So Charlie, enjoy the honeymoon now; as Saban can attest, it won’t last long.

Right now, the Longhorns can give up a special teams touchdown, a pick-6, have a wheels-off moment inside the 5 yard-line for the third consecutive game, squander time outs, and get slapped around in the 3rd quarter and still get kudos. Texas fans – to their credit – are giving Strong a lot of space and time. For the most part, fans believe Strong stepped on to a ship that was sinking, so they are willing to live with some bumps in the road.

Weird as it sounds, look at the faces of Strong and Saban, and you tell me: Who’s having the most fun?

Who knows what the pressure cooker of being the Texas head coach will ultimately make of Charlie Strong, but right now, I’d be willing to bet he’ll never be on a compilation video of greatest coaching meltdowns. Usually, when asked a question that might be construed as negative by coaches in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Strong will flash the huge smile and give a quote that is as plain as toast without butter. Thankfully, Strong’s personality is much different in that regard than Saban’s.

But though the expectations are far different in Alabama and Texas right now, sooner or later, Strong will hear and feel what Saban is hearing and feeling: the constant, persistent drumbeat of unrealistic expectations.

I seriously doubt that Miles and I will ever see a Charlie Strong meltdown, though he’ll feel Saban’s pain at some point down the road, when winning isn’t good enough. For now, though, don’t ask Charlie if his team is going to make the playoffs.

Playoffs? For now, he’s enjoying the honeymoon and just trying to win a game.