AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong warned us back in March. Two days before Texas took the field for its first spring practice, Strong dropped a hint that sounds downright prescient today.
He knew the Longhorns were going to have a younger, more inexperienced team. Maybe he knew, even back then, how tough it might be to win seven or eight games this season.
"I told our coaches, this is probably going to be one of those years where we're going to have to go coach and we'll just see how good of coaches we really are," Strong said. "This is going to be one of those years."
Eight months later, his Texas team is 4-6 and facing slim odds of reaching a bowl. And Strong, to his credit, isn’t pointing fingers or shifting blame. He knows the uncomfortable truth is Texas was outcoached a few too many times this season.
"A lot of times when you're in the position you're in, it's because of what you did to yourself," Strong said Monday. "We didn't do a good job of coaching. If we did a better job of coaching, we wouldn't be in this position."
As easy as it is to point to Texas' youth -- the Longhorns could start eight freshmen Thursday night against Texas Tech, with a dozen more coming off the bench -- the biggest challenge for Strong and his staff has been coaxing consistent performances out of this entire team.
Week after week, Big 12 coaches saw the same thing when they turned on the tape. Here’s what a few of them said the week they played Texas:
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: "They'll be the toughest and most talented team that we've played."
TCU’s Gary Patterson: "They’re a very talented football team."
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: "I still see a lot of really good looking athletes out there. They’ve got a lot of good players."
West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen: "Their bodies look the same since I started competing against Texas back in 2000. They have a lot of good four- and five-star players that have played the part."
Kansas’ David Beaty: "They've got a bunch of good parts. Man, when it starts clicking, it could be a tough deal for everybody."
And here’s what Kliff Kingsbury, the next coach to face Texas, had to say this week: "They're one of those teams that's talented enough to beat anybody in the country on a given day."
That is what makes this Texas season a little more baffling: The Longhorns outcoached Oklahoma back in October. Better scheme, better execution, better motivation against a team now ranked No. 3 and likely to make the College Football Playoff.
The Longhorns had the upper hand against Oklahoma State, too, if not for a last-second special teams gaffe. They got the now-No. 11 Cowboys in a serious offensive funk and were one score away from finishing them off.
And yet, a team capable of those feats still couldn't avoid implosions against Notre Dame and TCU and, worst of all, a 24-0 loss at Iowa State.
Three weeks before Paul Rhoads lost his job, the struggling Cyclones completely outcoached and outfought Texas. And Rhoads, in his glee, offered a little too much honesty during his postgame comments.
"I don’t know how this comes across," Rhoads said, "but I’ll say this anyway: We shouldn’t beat Texas, probably. We shouldn’t beat Texas. Every kid that they recruit, if I go recruit them, I’m not going to get them. I’m not going to get them."
Iowa State fans might not like to hear that, but it’s more an indictment of the opponent. Because of that loss, Texas now finds its season in a perilous position, in need of wins against Texas Tech and Baylor to go bowling. Winning both games will require one heck of a coaching performance.
No matter how this season ends, change is likely coming soon. Strong will get another chance to shake up his coaching staff -- this time, in search of a new offensive coordinator. One more fairly obvious next step: Texas needs another elite recruiting class to help get this rebuild back on track.
The talent will continue to improve. But it’s clear Strong also recognizes there won’t be progress if Texas keeps getting outcoached.
"We could have done a better job of coaching, a better job of preparing our kids and getting them ready to go play," Strong said.