Charlie Strong had a struggle of a first year at the University of Texas. His Longhorns stumbled and bumbled to a 6-7 record — and put on a historically pathetic performance in a bowl game.
But the UT coach is winning the offseason.
And Strong's doing it by taking direct aim at Texas A&M University and coach Kevin Sumlin, abandoning the recent Texas tradition of running away from the fierce instate rivalry. Instead Strong is asking for it. Texas A&M that is. Strong's making it clear he wants to see the storied Texas-Texas A&M rivalry return to college football.
"That game is so much a part of this state," Strong tells ESPN. "Over 100 years, we've played that game. Why stop it now because we're in different conferences? At some point, when it's right for everybody with the different schedules, I would love to play Texas A&M again."
Strong's remarks are creating major waves — and for good reason. Texas' coach is stepping up — and in many ways challenging a program that's clearly passed by the Longhorns on the football field (for now).
Strong is using stronger language and passion for the rivalry than Sumlin is showing. In the same ESPN piece, the Aggies coach says, "it's important that we play again" and "it will happen somewhere down the road." Sumlin almost seems to be paying lip service to the whole thing, saying what he knows A&M alums want to hear.
Strong is stepping up — and in many ways challenging a program that's clearly passed by Texas on the football field.
But even that is a step forward for Sumlin. When I asked the Aggies coach early in his tenure about the inexcusable dissolution of the Texas-Texas A&M football game, he seemed resigned to no game, noting how other great rivalries had died.
"I never thought I'd see the day where there's no Nebraska-Oklahoma (game)," Sumlin told me.
Then again, Texas is the school that had to come around. Seemingly in a huff over A&M bolting to the SEC, then Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds informed his Aggies counterpart that Texas simply didn't have "room" on its non-conference schedule for A&M until at least 2018.
Texas has a bolder athletic director now. But its coach seems to be driving this rivalry renewal push. Athletic director Steve Patterson has publicly advocated playing more far-flung national programs like Notre Dame and USC rather than mentioning restarting a Texas rivalry that dates back to 1894. But Patterson's handpicked football coach seems to know what's truly important.
Strong showing no fear and jonesing for A&M is no small symbolic move. He's already proven he can beat Sumlin and the Aggies in direct fights for some top recruits.
Beating Texas A&M on the football field is the next step. And Charlie Strong clearly wants the chance to do it as soon as he can.