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By itself, Charlie Strong’s hiring is a milestone

Charlie Strong
Charlie Strong
Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Charlie Strong becomes the fifth Texas Longhorn head coach since the legendary Darrell Royal, who died in 2012. Due to the racial history of the school’s football program and the Longhorns’ longstanding winning tradition, Strong’s hiring by itself is a significant point in the progress of African American college head coaches. It is a step to the next level. When Charlie Strong was born; August 2, 1960 in Batesville, Arkansas, Darrell Royal was beginning his fourth of what would be a legendary twenty seasons as the Longhorns’ coach and they were contenders in the all-white Southwest Conference. None of the seven conference teams had African-American players, including the University of Arkansas from Strong’s home state. Due to racially discriminatory state laws and policies, Coach Royal was prohibited from connecting with the talent rich pool of African American players in Texas high schools. It would be 1970, when Charlie Strong is ten years old, before an African American (Julius Whittier) wears a Longhorn football jersey. For one of the most highly visible past representations of college athletic racial segregation to hire an African American head football coach is noticeable progress. Unlike the University of Louisville where Strong was head coach the last 4 years, football is the number one sport at Texas and the school has a winning tradition against which Strong will be measured. Darrell Royal’s Longhorn teams won eleven Southwest Conference championships and were three times National Champion. Under Strong’s predecessor, Mack Brown, the Longhorns won two Big 12 championships and were 2005 BCS champion. The tradition has created a high winning expectation from supporters that evidently Mack Brown, who helped to perpetuate it, could not meet. Although Tyrone Willingham’s hiring at the Notre Dame in 1991 was a landmark for African American college head coaches, Strong’s is more significant. Charlie Strong is the head coach at the top state university, of the second most populous state that is politically “red”, and where football is a religion. If Strong can duplicate his success achieved at Louisville, it will be another milestone for African American college football head coaches and truly a significant accomplishment. Will the school’s previous racial attitudes and the program’s high winning expectations give him the time needed to succeed? That is the debatable question.