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Texas can’t hold ’em: Embattled Coach Strong is sinking along with his Longhorns

🕐 7 min read

BOULDER, Colo. – Life and its motley synonym, American college football, give us two ways of observing oddities such as the one that happened Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.

We can look at Texas’ 24-21 overtime loss at Kansas and feel haunted for Coach Charlie Strong, whose three-season Texas tenure appears acutely non-tenured. We can recoil that before anything happened in the country on a fairly tepid Saturday, Brett McMurphy’s fine report for ESPN.com contained two of the ghastlier words in the language: “Texas boosters,” related to Strong’s fate.

Yet we also can look at Kansas’ 24-21 overtime win over Texas and feel joy, for the parched did drink. The Jayhawks, so hapless, helpless and hopeless, finally finished their two-year crawl across the Big 12 victory desert, whereupon their announced crowd of 25,673 did manage to produce enough of a trickle onto the field to form a worthy victory blob. We can look at video of Matthew Wyman’s game-tying 36-yard field goal with seven seconds left, see it roam the sky in front of stands almost empty and feel mirth for those sparse clumps of fans who must have sat through so much woe.

We can look at video of Wyman’s game-winning 25-yard field goal in overtime, and we can see maybe about 15 scattered people jumping up and down in the area behind the end zone, and we can feel elation for those people. We can nod when the Kansas safety with the peerless name, Fish Smithson, said, “The seniors have been through a whole lot, and we haven’t had too much success.”

We can know he could have meant any Jayhawks who have happened to be seniors at any time across this decade, who have endured records of 3-9 (2010), 2-10, 1-11, 3-9, 3-9, 0-12 and now 2-9 for a total of 14-69.

We have choices.

As we digest a Saturday that set up the coming Michigan-Ohio State festival of contempt, and maintained the big meaning of the Washington-Washington State Apple Cup even though Washington State lost at Colorado, and kept Colorado both eternally beautiful and freshly excited for an upcoming bout with Utah, and left West Virginia gloomy, Florida sunny and Iowa State giddy (66-10 over Texas Tech!), it’s unexpected that any of us would have bothered to notice Texas (5-5) at Kansas.

But then the day began with McMurphy’s report on Texas, and that report was one laugh-riot after another. Remember that of all the many programs that actually have won less than their fans think they have, Texas has won the less-est. It has spent decades as a good-to-very-good program occasionally finding great (as in 2005) while, all along, greatness has continued to course through its delusions.

By Sunday afternoon, multiple outlets were reporting that the school had decided to fire Strong, with the announcement possibly coming as soon as Monday. The university then issued a statement saying Strong’s “body of work would be evaluated after the regular season.” But as the boosters discussed Strong’s fate even before the Kansas game, they sounded as if their relationship with reality had become even spottier. The story dealt with the coveting of Tom Herman, the splendid Houston coach whose team is still sacking Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson after their one-sided match Thursday night. Apparently Herman’s loss at SMU on Oct. 22 had troubled these connoisseurs because SMU is “a perceived ‘lesser school,’ ” but then Herman’s victory over Louisville rekindled their craving.

But as the boosters discussed Strong’s fate even before the Kansas game, they sounded as if their relationship with reality had become even spottier. The story dealt with the coveting of Tom Herman, the splendid Houston coach whose team is still sacking Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson even 50 hours after their one-sided match Thursday night. Apparently Herman’s loss at SMU on Oct. 22 had troubled these connoisseurs because SMU is “a perceived ‘lesser school,’ ” but then Herman’s win over Louisville rekindled their craving.

You might wonder: Do these alleged fans even follow football, or do they just sort of sit around while it’s ongoing?

In such a setting, one might root for Strong even against dilapidated Kansas, but now that’s gone, and Strong’s record stands at 16-20, and he looked sad when he fielded the inevitable question about his future with, “No idea.” Meanwhile, Texas somehow didn’t win when D’Onta Foreman rushed 51 times for 250 yards, and while Foreman’s father, also the father of receiver Armanti, D’Onta’s twin, tweeted such welcome candor as, “Play calling is HOOOORRRRIIIIBBBLLLEEE!!!!”

Commendably, he also called out his son’s fumble, on which his son blamed the entire defeat.

It’s all a dour thing to happen to a good head coach and a good man, but then you have to look at Kansas, and how its fans managed to topple a goal post, after a chunk of the last victory goal post (from 2014 against 2-7 Iowa State) ended up ceremoniously in a nearby lake. The Jayhawks had not defeated Texas since that 19-18 opener in 1938, for then-coach Adrian Hobart “Ad” Lindsey, who would return to the United States Army in 1940, after which he won the Silver Star for bravery under fire at Okinawa, a matter even a divided country can admire in unison.

“What resilient dudes these guys are,” said David Beaty, Kansas’ second-year coach who went 0-12 in his first year to nods of understanding, what with his program lacking “Texas boosters.”

No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan will play on Saturday in Columbus with matching 10-1 records, a matter preserved only after Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio seemed to sustain his rare ability to deprogram whatever it is Urban Meyer does to other people. The Buckeyes had to hold on when Malik Hooper intercepted Tyler O’Connor’s two-point-conversion pass with 4:53 left.

Likewise, No. 6 Washington (10-1) and No. 22 Washington State (8-3) will gather for an afternoon of loathing on Friday in Pullman, Wash., with the winner heading for the Pacific-12 Championship Game, where it may well find the most lovable new titan, this resolute bunch from Colorado, which beat Washington State 38-24 and docked the Cougars’ usual 517 total yards to a manageable 462. Meanwhile, the Buffaloes got 345 passing yards and 108 rushing yards from the magnificent senior quarterback Sefo Liufau, and if anyone knew in August that Utah’s visit to Colorado next Saturday would have major Pac-12 and slight playoff implications, that person should have cashed in already, and should be living in a tax-free haven, preferably Monaco.

No. 14 West Virginia had spent much of this season with a shiny record and a festering grievance while the College Football Playoff Selection Committee continued to sit in a boardroom near the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and sneer from afar, calling out particulars such as an 0-1 record against ranked teams. Now that record has fallen to 0-2 after a 56-28 mauling from visiting No. 9 Oklahoma, so at least the Mountaineer fan base can take the grievance out to the recycling bin.

And speaking of grievance, No. 23 Florida and No. 16 LSU had conducted a spat over their scheduled meeting of Oct. 8 in Gainesville, which didn’t happen because of a hurricane threat. Somewhere in the chatter, the Southeastern Conference located a passage somewhere in its offices, perhaps in a PDF file that got lost on somebody’s screen, which stated a team could not vie for the SEC title unless it played the full eight conference games.

So ultimately, Florida went Saturday to LSU where, given Florida’s stagecoach offense, its 98-yard touchdown pass from Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland probably was accidental. It did cling, though, to a 16-10 win, and the title in the lukewarm SEC East, while LSU spent the final seconds on Florida’s 1-yard line for two plays, a run for no gain, followed by a run for no gain. LSU fans could chew on that for a while, perhaps even decades, and if their boosters also covet Herman, they might want to know that here in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Houston just sacked Jackson again.

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