AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas players who packed the room were there to hear their coach speak. Some fought back tears.
They heard Charlie Strong plead for a win this week to get their senior teammates to a bowl game. They heard him suggest that a win against TCU might be enough to save his job.
And then dozens of them mobbed Strong with hugs amid laughs and praise as a teacher, mentor and builder of men.
“He doesn’t want to fail us, and we don’t want to fail him,” senior defensive lineman Paul Boyette Jr. said as tears ran down his cheeks. “He taught me what it really means to be a man ... My heart hurts for him.”
Strong’s players clearly love him. It may not be enough to save him.
Strong faced his weekly news conference on Monday amid reports that he will be fired after Friday’s game, the result of a 5-6 record so far this season after last week’s loss to lowly Kansas, and a 16-20 mark over the past three years. The game against TCU (5-5) could be Strong’s final game.
“Next year, I want to come back,” Strong said. “They said we will be evaluated after that game. I don’t know how they will be thinking, but winning that game would help.”
Athletic director Mike Perrin on Sunday dismissed multiple reports that Strong would be fired as “rumors,” and said no decision would be made until after the game. Perrin didn’t show up at Strong’s news conference Monday and neither did school President Greg Fenves, who has publicly supported Strong but has been silent on his future since the Kansas loss.
Strong didn’t think a decision on his future was already made and expected school administrators to live up to that promise.
The highest-ranking school official to attend was Greg Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement. Vincent broke through the scrum of players to hug the first black head football coach in program history.
“What’s most important to me as an educator, vice president and professor, is how he develops these young men,” Vincent said.
Strong has two years and nearly $11 million left on a five-year guaranteed contract. He admitted the “wins and losses don’t stack up” but he tried to make a case Monday that he should stay despite his poor record on the field.
He noted key injuries that decimated his first season, top-level recruiting and a two-deep roster packed mostly with freshmen and sophomores that he and his staff brought to Texas. The foundation for greatness is there, he said.
“This group of guys will win a national championship,” Strong said with a nod to the players in the room. “I stand by that statement.”
But Texas hasn’t even been close to winning the Big 12 and may not qualify for a bowl game for the second consecutive year.
Strong also said he’d evaluate his job tenure not just in wins and losses, but as leader for young men who need a father figure in their lives. When Strong first arrived, he set his “core values” that included no guns, no drugs, respecting woman and honesty. The discipline message connected with fans as Strong dismissed 10 players in his first year.
“There’s no direction for a lot of young people, that’s part of my job,” Strong said. “When they leave this place, they know who they are.”
Wide receiver Jacorey Warrick said a group of older players mobilized to get their teammates to attend the news conference to support their coach.
“He doesn’t have the support of people who are trying to get him out, but the people who really matter, the players, you can see where their support lies,” Warrick said.
Strong’s situation was noted among Big 12 coaches on Monday on their weekly conference call.
Kansas coach David Beaty, whose victory pushed Strong to the brink at Texas, called Strong one of the “finer individuals that I’ve met in college football.”
“My heart aches for him — I mean, it aches for him and his staff,” Beaty said.