Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
With a little patience, Strong will get job done
Charlie Strong holds up the "Hook'em Horns" hand signal during an NCAA college football news conference where he was introduced as the new Texas football coach, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Strong acknowledged the historical significance of being the school's first African-American head coach of a men's sport. He takes over for Mack Brown, who stepped down last month after 16 seasons. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Less than 48 hours after Charlie Strong was hired to coach the University of Texas’ football team, the hiring was criticized by billionaire booster Red McCombs.
McCombs has given more than $100 million to the Longhorns, and that got him a statue inside Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Coliseum and the business school named the McCombs School of Business.
It did not get him a place on the search committee for the new football coach, which may have rankled the 86-yearold former owner of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Vikings.
McCombs made some of his fortune as co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, which was sold in 2006.
There has been no report of McCombs ever meeting Strong, which may have rankled McCombs too, but it has been reported that he is a personal friend of Mack Brown, the former Longhorns coach who stepped down under pressure.
McCombs wanted to hire Jon Gruden, the former NFL coach whose name comes up for every college head coaching job although he has only one year of college experience and that was as a receivers coach.
Gruden reportedly makes around $10 million from ESPN and other ventures, which is why he has never shown any interest in a college job regardless of what color tie he wears on Monday Night Football.
Strong handled the criticism great, saying winning takes care of a lot.
Strong also said at his news conference that he didn’t know or care if he was the first choice, he didn’t care if he was the 15th choice, he was just happy to be at Texas, which should have reassured the Longhorn Nation.
Strong has definitely paid his dues, spending 24 years as an assistant coach. That included stints as a defensive coordinator at South Carolina and Florida before accepting the Louisville job four years ago.
He is the first African-American to be a head coach of a major sport at Texas. In 2009 he was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying that he felt race had played a large part in him not being offered a head coaching job, but 11 months later he was hired as the head coach at Louisville.
It didn’t take long for Strong to prove he was the right choice regardless of race, religion or politics. His first two Cardinals teams went 7-6. With mostly his players in place, he went 11-2 in his third season and beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl before going 12-1 in his final season.
The Batesville native and University of Central Arkansas graduate earned a reputation at Louisville as being standoffish with the media, but if he became that way it was just in the past few years.
Strong was a finalist for the Broyles Award in 2008, and the day after the banquet he approached yours truly at the airport and introduced himself. We chatted, and he asked if I would meet his wife.
A year later I was at Florida on a preseason tour and got tied up in traffic and was late for the start of Urban Meyer’s news conference. The Gators media relations department isn’t known for friendliness and I thought I was up a creek, but I was approached by a graduate assistant who said that Strong had heard I was coming and had waited to visit with me. We had a great visit.
Strong will find expectations monumentally larger at Texas than at Louisville, and his existence will be similar to living in a fishbowl.
If he doesn’t win 10 games next year, including a victory over Oklahoma, he will be criticized, but the truth is most coaches need two full recruiting classes to get the players they need.
If Texas is patient, it has hired the right man for the job.
Sports, Pages 15 on 01/09/2014