Longhorns back Strong, who says he wants to stay

Texas AD dis­misses re­ports of im­mi­nent dis­missal of em­bat­tled coach as ‘ru­mors’

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Jim Ver­tuno

AUSTIN, TEXAS — The Texas foot­ball play­ers who packed the room were there to hear their coach speak. Some fought back tears.

They heard Char­lie Strong plea for a win this week to get their se­nior team­mates to a bowl game. They heard him sug­gest that a win against Texas Chris­tian might be enough to save his job.

And then dozens of them mobbed Strong with hugs amid laughs and praise as a teacher, men­tor and builder of men.

“He doesn’t want to fail us, and we don’t want to fail him,” se­nior de­fen­sive line­man Paul Boyette Jr. said as tears ran down his cheeks. “He taught me what it re­ally means to be a man. My heart hurts for him.”

Strong’s play­ers clearly love him. It might not be enough to save him.

Strong faced his weekly news con­fer­ence Mon­day amid re­ports that he will be fired af­ter Fri­day’s game, the re­sult of a 5-6 record so far this sea­son af­ter last week’s loss to lowly Kansas, and a 16-20 mark over the past three years. The game against TCU (5-5) could be Strong’s fi­nal game.

“Next year, I want to come back,” Strong said. “They said we will be eval­u­ated af­ter that game. I don’t know how they will be think­ing, but win­ning that game would help.”

Ath­letic di­rec­tor Mike Perrin on Sun­day dis­missed mul­ti­ple re­ports that Strong would be fired as “ru­mors,” and said no de­ci­sion would be made un­til af­ter the game. Perrin didn’t show up at Strong’s news con­fer­ence Mon­day, and nei­ther did school pres­i­dent Greg Fenves, who has pub­licly sup­ported Strong but has been silent on his fu­ture since the loss to Kansas.

Strong didn’t think a de­ci­sion on his fu­ture was al­ready made and ex­pected school ad­min­is­tra­tors to live up to that prom­ise.

The high­est-rank­ing school of­fi­cial to at­tend was Greg Vin­cent, vice pres­i­dent for diversity and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment. Vin­cent broke through the scrum of play­ers to hug the first black head foot­ball coach in pro­gram his­tory.

“What’s most im­por­tant to me as an ed­u­ca­tor, vice pres­i­dent and pro­fes­sor is how he de­vel­ops these young men,” Vin­cent said.

Strong has two years and nearly $11 mil­lion left on a guar­an­teed five-year con­tract. He ac­knowl­edged that the “wins and losses don’t stack up” but tried to make a case Mon­day that he should stay de­spite his poor record on the field.

He noted key in­juries that dec­i­mated his first sea­son, his top-level re­cruit­ing and a two-deep ros­ter packed mostly with fresh­men and sopho­mores that he and his staff brought to Texas. The foun­da­tion for great­ness is there, he said.

“This group of guys will win a na­tional cham­pi­onship,” Strong said with a nod to the play­ers in the room. “I stand by that state­ment.”

But Texas hasn’t even been close to win­ning the Big 12 Con­fer­ence and might not qual­ify for a bowl game for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year.

Strong also said he’d eval­u­ate his job ten­ure not just in wins and losses, but also as a leader for young men who need a fa­ther fig­ure in their lives. When Strong first ar­rived, he set his “core values”: no guns, no drugs, re­spect­ing wo­man, hon­esty. The dis­ci­pline mes­sage con­nected with fans as Strong dis­missed 10 play­ers in his first year.

“There’s no di­rec­tion for a lot of young peo­ple. That’s part of my job,” Strong said. “When they leave this place, they know who they are.”

Wide re­ceiver Ja­corey War­rick said a group of older play­ers mo­bi­lized to get their team­mates to at­tend the news con­fer­ence to sup­port their coach.

“He doesn’t have the sup­port of peo­ple who are try­ing to get him out, but the peo­ple who re­ally mat­ter, the play­ers, you can see where their sup­port lies,” War­rick said.

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