Glass Half-Full, Glass Half-Empty

Charlie Strong (Justin Wells/IT)
Charlie Strong (Justin Wells/IT)

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AUSTIN — Five losses isn’t good enough at The University of Texas. Charlie Strong said so two years ago.

But five losses has generally become the ‘new normal’ for Longhorn football each season this decade, and that’s why the buzz surrounding Strong’s future centers on whether the program has shown ample progress in his third year. Problem is, ‘progress’ is like ‘beauty’: it’s in the eyes of the beholder. Depends on who you ask.

Presumably, that’s why Strong was asked to self-evaluate during Monday’s weekly press conference. How would he commend himself to the folks who’ll render a decision on his job, one way or another, later this month?

“I look at how we’re playing,” Strong said. “I don’t make excuses. I never make excuses. The losses are mounting. There are games we should have won. We had the opportunity, but we didn’t win them. We still have a football team that’s still competing and playing hard. You look at that (West Virginia) game Saturday, and we’re down 17-3 and battled back. We were down 24-13, and battled back. We still have guys that are competing.”

Those who must decide whether the program is headed in the right direction must start by throwing out the record book. Strong’s tally stands at 16-19 and won’t be above .500 even if he wins out.

You’d have to go back 60 years to find a worse, three-year stretch in Austin. It’s just that ‘progress’ is not always quantifiable. There is renewed sense of pride, confidence and trust within the program, Strong said.

“Now, when guys walk into a football game, they expect to win the game. The one on Saturday, it hurt. It hurt because we know we let one get away from us.”

The program’s turnaround is so imminent, Strong believes, that he (in essence) told ABC Sports last month that Texas will win at least nine or 10 games next year no matter the head coach. By most accounts, it will be UT President Greg Fenves, rather than interim Athletic Director Mike Perrin, who will decide if Strong returns for a fourth season.

“Our (school) president will take a long look at it,” Strong said. “We’ve still got to finish out. We’ve still got two games left. Let’s go finish out those guys and see where we are at the end of the season.”

If your glass is half-empty, you point to lingering questions about whether players are being developed, the inconsistency that stems from a revolving door of assistants, a NCAA-leading five blocked kicks this season, an anemic return game, difficulty in producing points-off-turnovers, clock management so poor it would make Les Miles blush, and a defense that will rank among the statistically worst (456.0 ypg) in program history.

If you’re glass is half-full, you start with the nation’s leading rusher (179.2 ypg) paving the way for a vastly improved offense (508.5 ypg, NCAA No. 14), consecutive Top 10 recruiting classes, the nation’s third-leading punter, an upgraded defense (since Strong assumed reins) that now ranks third nationally in sacks and No. 15 in TFL. And you’re doing it with the youngest team in college football (Longhorn freshmen and sophomores have combined for 120 starts, the most nationally) who, week-in and week-out, play hard for their head coach. Plus, Strong’s players (with the rarest of exceptions) have stayed out of trouble.

Nov. 25 TCU game shapes up as the game-changer for Strong – one way or the other.

Monday’s press conference marked the second time in four weeks that Strong fielded more questions about job security than he did Texas’ next opponent. Each time, Strong framed his response in terms of winning the next one and letting the future take care of itself.

“We can’t look down the road,” Strong concluded. “We’ll continue to take them one game at a time.”

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