Column: Longhorn loss signals end of Strong era

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Charlie Strong sat at the podium following Texas’ 24-21 loss to Kansas searching for words. 

The Longhorn head coach arrived at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas, earlier in the day on the verge of becoming bowl-eligible as the Longhorns faced off against the Big 12’s worst team. But after a nearly four-hour contest that featured six Texas turnovers, Strong didn’t know what to say. When asked what the loss meant for his future, he replied, “No idea.”

Saturday’s matchup with Kansas provided an opportunity for Strong to qualify for a bowl game after missing bowl season in 2015 and falling to Arkansas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl a year prior. And with rumors regarding his job security swirling throughout the year, a road victory against a hapless Jayhawk squad provided a chance to secure his status as the Longhorns’ leader. 

“There’s no reason we should have a letdown at all,” Strong said on Monday. “We still have two games left, so let’s go finish out those games, and let’s see where we are at the end of the season.”

Now, it seems as though Strong’s job status is decided, just not in the way he had hoped. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported on Saturday morning that Texas boosters were placing “extreme pressure” on the Longhorn administration to dismiss Strong and possibly hire Houston head coach Tom Herman. 

There were reports earlier in the week that Strong could keep his job if he defeated both Kansas and TCU to end the year. But now, even that consideration is out the window. 

“It’s just tough,” Strong said. “Not much needed to be said because they feel so bad right now.”

Heading into the final regular-season contest of 2016, Strong currently sits at 16–20 during his tenure. He now has a .444 winning percentage in his time on the 40 Acres, the worst in school history. And losing to a previously 1–9 Kansas team — one that entered the matchup as 24-point underdogs — seems to be a fitting end to an era that has often looked more like an error.

The Longhorns shot out to a 7-0 lead against the Jayhawks but quickly fell into the same habits that have plagued them throughout the past 35 contests. Texas turned the ball over at the costliest of times, looked listless on the road and made questionable coaching calls near the end of the game. The loss to Kansas was simply a confluence of all that has beset Texas since 2014.

“It’s saddening to be where we are right now,” sophomore offensive lineman Connor Williams said. “It’s going to be hard to get up tomorrow.”

Saturday’s result marked perhaps the worst loss in Strong’s time with the burnt orange. Sure, there was the 24-0 loss in Ames, Iowa, against the Cyclones and the 50-7 beatdown at the hands of TCU last year. But this was different. The Longhorns hadn’t lost to Kansas since 1938, nine Longhorn head coaches and 13 U.S. Presidents ago.

So where does Texas go from here?

Strong said following the loss that Texas must be ready to go play TCU the day after Thanksgiving. But Saturday’s defeat looks to be the end of Strong’s time at Texas, regardless of the result next week against the Horned Frogs.

Sooner than later, Strong and the Longhorns will go their separate ways.