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University of Texas fires Charlie Strong after three seasons

JIM VERTUNO | 12/5/2016, 8:51 a.m.
Charlie Strong is done at the University of Texas at Austin
Texas head coach Charlie Strong sings the school song before an NCAA college football game against TCU in Austin, Friday. Eric Gay

AUSTIN (AP) – Charlie Strong is done at the University of Texas at Austin.

The first Black coach in the history of the program was fired Saturday with a 16-21 record in three seasons. Strong had two years left on a guaranteed contract that pays more than $5 million per year, but was the first coach in Texas history with three consecutive losing seasons.

Reports that he would be fired swirled after a late-season loss to lowly Kansas, and school officials made it official after Friday’s 31-9 loss to TCU meant Texas would finish 5-7 without a bowl game for the second straight year.

“Charlie Strong is an outstanding leader and role model who worked hard with great integrity to move Longhorn football in the right direction,” university President Greg Fenves said in a statement on Saturday. “In the end, the results over three seasons were not there. It was not clear the future was going to be at the levels expected of Longhorn football.”

Texas moved quickly to replace him. Hours after firing Strong, Texas announced it had hired Houston’s Tom Herman to take over. Herman was 22-4 in his only two seasons with the Cougars, his first job as a college head coach.

Strong’s tenure was notable at first for his disciplinarian style and “core values” code of conduct. But the losses quickly mounted and Texas struggled just to qualify for bowl games despite recruiting classes hailed as some of the nation’s best. Texas had hoped for a turnaround this season after a 2-0 start, but a three-game losing streak and a 0-2 start in the Big 12 quickly followed.

Strong was a landmark hire for Texas in 2014, an up-and-comer who had earned his shot at one of the nation’s top programs after a four-year record of 37-15 at Louisville.

His arrival on campus wasn’t just about football, but also confronting the university’s long history of segregation and racism. Until 2010, a campus dorm was named after a past leader of the Ku Klux Klan. And a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis stood in the shadow of the central campus clock tower from 1930 until student protests forced its removal in 2015.

Strong’s hiring was a social leap forward, but his short tenure was marked by turmoil, losing football and a divided fan base.

That he lasted three years showed remarkable restraint for a school that forced out Mack Brown in 2013, eight years after he won a national title, once the Longhorns came up just short of sharing the Big 12 championship.

“When I took this job three years ago, I came here to win the national championship, and I came here to change lives,” Strong said after the loss to TCU. “I was told when I came in three years ago to build a program. The wins and losses don’t add up, but it’s more than that ... [It’s] taking the program in the right direction.”

Many of Strong’s players had hoped he would get another year.