LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Texas coach Charlie Strong walked slowly off the turf at Memorial Stadium, swimming upstream against thousands of Kansas fans trying to join the jubilant celebration at midfield.
His wife was weeping outside the Longhorns’ locker room.
His boss walked by with nothing to say.
The Longhorns’ 24-21 overtime loss to lowly Kansas on Saturday may have been the final blow to Strong’s fragile tenure in Austin. Even if he coaches in next week’s regular-season finale against TCU, few believe he will be given another year to turn around his fortunes.
Asked whether he knew what the loss meant, Strong replied: “No, I don’t. No idea.”
He refused to say much more. His players were just as silent.
“I love Coach Strong. That’s my dog,” Longhorns safety DeShon Elliott said. “I love him, but like I said, that’s not our decision. We can’t make that decision. It’s the AD and all the men up there.”
Texas athletic director Mike Perrin, who said earlier this season that he will evaluate Strong only after the finale, looked away and did not stop to speak to reporters after the game.
Strong is in the third year of a five-year contract, but not even a $10 million buyout could be enough to save him. He has failed to take the program to the same heights he took Louisville, going 16-20 overall, and is in danger of finishing with his third straight losing season.
His only bowl appearance came in 2014, when he lost to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.
“You’re upset. You never want this to happen,” said Texas quarterback Shane Buechele, who threw an interception on the first possession of overtime that allowed Kansas to kick the winning field goal.
“You have to get everyone to rally back. We’re a family in there,” Buechele said, before adding of Strong: “We’re going to fight for him this next game.”
The Longhorns (5-6, 3-5) have shown some fight this season, beating Notre Dame in double overtime to open the season, ever-so-briefly giving Strong a reprieve from all the critics.
But close losses at California, Oklahoma State and in the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma put an end to any fuzzy feelings. Another close loss to Kansas State a couple of weeks later combined with last week’s 24-20 loss to West Virginia put his job in peril.
Nothing could be more damaging than a loss to the Jayhawks, though.
Kansas hadn’t beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision school since 2014, and hadn’t won a conference game in 19 tries. The Jayhawks’ only win in nearly two seasons under coach David Beaty was against lower-level Rhode Island in the season opener, and the Longhorns had handled them in their last 13 meetings.
Yet four turnovers in the second quarter got the Longhorns in trouble, and more missteps down the stretch allowed Kansas to overcome a 21-10 deficit and force overtime in the final seconds of regulation.
Matthew Wyman’s 25-yard field goal sent Strong striding off the field.
“This one hurts,” Texas wide receiver Jacore Warrick said. “Everyone is disappointed. We wanted to come out. We wanted to play well. Ultimately, no matter what happens throughout the game, the end result, we want to be a W. And it’s not. We could have put the game away early.”
Asked about his coach’s future, Warrick replied simply: “Trying not to think about it.”