The football job at Texas is, to use a Vegas term, a “whale.” No football program in the country is bigger, even though, considering the program’s recent struggles, its cachet now is little less glamorous.
But no man turns down Texas when it comes and parks a Brinks truck in front of his house, and Charlie Strong, the football coach at Louisville, jumped inside the truck Sunday and drove away.
It’s official: Strong, a Black man, got an elite program to coach.
That has been a rarity in the college football game. Hell, it’s been a rarity in the professional game. Too often, Black men like Strong have been afterthoughts in the hiring process at a premier program; they interview but seldom come away with a job like this one.
Don’t get confused here: On the college football front, the decision to hire any Black coach merits discussion. The hiring of Strong seems to suggest progress in a sport short of Black head coaches.
And he is hardly a token hire.
Yes, the Texas fans would have loved for their university to have hired Nick Saban or Jimbo Fisher – what fan base wouldn’t? – but neither man was ready to walk away from a program he lorded over with the iron hand of a dictator. So for anyone who saw the no-nonsense Strong as a consolation prize, he might prove better than the first prize.
What he was able to accomplish at Louisville ought to earn him the nickname “Miracle Worker.” Strong made the Cardinals relevant in big-time football. He proved a dogged recruiter, building contacts all across the fertile talent fields in Florida.
As for his Xs and Os, he can’t be criticized there either. His work with QB Teddy Bridgewater, a sure-fire No. 1 pick in the next NFL draft, shows how well Strong can manage five-star talent. So he will bring the kind of profile to Austin, Texas, that should energize Longhorn fans.
Beyond what it means to the Longhorn family, Strong’s hiring is the splashiest for a Black coach since Notre Dame hired Ty Willingham in 2002.
No need to recount how that hiring disintegrated. Willingham never had a chance, not when the Irish always had their eyes on someone else.
Yet Willingham’s problems should not be somebody else’s burden. At Texas, Strong inherits a program that has been in a five-year slide, but he has what Willingham didn’t have as available to him: a deep pool of talent in his backyard.
With the connections Strong made while an assistant coach at Florida and with the Texas pipeline, he should be able to fend off rock star coaches like Saban, Fisher, Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn, Les Myles and, above anybody else, Kevin Sumlin, the football coach at Texas A&M, who step into Longhorn territory to poach talent.
Strong is not someone people can look at as a gamble. He has all a program like Texas would want in a coach, which includes a resume that shows stints as an assistant coach at Notre Dame, Florida, Texas A&M and South Carolina.
Yet his hiring doesn’t add to the diversity in the college coaching ranks. He’s just moved from one stop to the next, which leaves unanswered a nagging question: Are athletic directors serious about diversity in their coaching ranks?
That’s the larger question, and how this latest round of coaching vacancies plays out might answer it. For now, Strong will have to do what he did in Louisville – win big.
The critics are already out there saying he won’t.
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
(Photo: Al Behrman/AP Photo)