I remember when I got a text message that the UCLA Bruins had hired Jim Mora Jr. as their new head football coach, I actually laughed. I texted this person back, “Mora? Why him? Of all the coaches they could have landed he’s a terrible fit.”
Hey Coach, I’ll admit right now that I was dead wrong about your fit at UCLA. I’ll admit that you weren’t the name I thought the Bruins would go after or would need for the future of the program, but evidently it wasn’t about the big name; it was about the right name.
I said the same thing about the USC Trojans after they fired Lane Kiffin. There were even reports that had come out saying the Trojans’ football program could throw any amount of money at any coach they wanted to bring in. I thought for sure, of any program, USC was going to find the proverbial ‘big name’ coach and they were going to hold a huge press conference to introduce said big name.
Then I got to thinking, Pete Carroll wasn’t near the top of anyone’s list when USC hired him to be their head coach on December 15th, 2000. In fact, he wasn’t the school’s first choice. In fact, he wasn’t the second, third, or even fourth option for the school. There were even reports that the school had received almost 3,000 letters, emails or faxes from alumni calling for Carroll’s removal and threatening to never donate to the school again until the move was made.
But, after nine seasons (97-19), and two national championships in 2003 and 2004 (2004 stripped after NCAA violations), Carroll went from the fifth or sixth choice for the USC program into the absolute right choice and making those same alumni eat their threats and demands. Not to mention making those in charge at USC wonder what might have been had they hired guys like Mike Riley (then with the San Diego Chargers), Dennis Erickson (then at Oregon State) or Mike Bellotti (then at Oregon) among the other names the Trojans were after long before they ever considered Carroll.
The topic of that “big name” came swirling up again and the rumors were hot and heavy that Alabama head coach Nick Saban would be the guy that would take the reins, and the future of this program, and lead them back to the top of the college football world.
Those rumors persisted until Saban officially signed a new contract extension to keep him in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the foreseeable future.
Then the Longhorns turned to names like Baylor’s Art Briles, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, and the aforementioned Jim Mora Jr. of UCLA who was reportedly offered the Texas job before being turned down and moving on to the man they just introduced as their new head coach – Charlie Strong.
From the beginning, I was outspoken about San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh, the guy who I thought would be a perfect fit for the Longhorns’ program going forward. While there were plenty of people who told me he would never leave the NFL for a college job, I didn’t think Texas was any ordinary coaching job.
Then, on Friday night, when I heard the news become official that Strong was going to be their guy, I was more than a little surprised. After four seasons with the University of Louisville, including four straight trips to a bowl game (3-1), I didn’t know if he would be a good fit especially going from one of the weakest conferences in college football (American Athletic Conference) to one of the biggest (Big 12 Conference), not to mention into a job that held more pressure than most college jobs in the country.
Whether or not Coach Strong is up to the task or not is still yet to be seen. He did make it clear, however, during his press conference Monday afternoon that he won’t be one to give the media everything they want. Something that won’t make them happy but something that shouldn’t be expected of a head coach of a major college program. His first priority is to his team and, as of right now, rebuilding this program back into the national championship contender it used to be.
If you’re a Texas Longhorns fan and you’re not all that excited about the selection the program made to be the next head coach, you’re certainly not alone. He wasn’t the first choice but it doesn’t mean he won’t be the right one.
Only time will tell whether Charlie Strong will be remembered as the coach who put Texas back on top, or the coach who couldn’t handle being hired in the shadow of Mack Brown.