Charlie Strong spent three forgettable seasons at Texas shuffling his staff, searching for an offensive identity and struggling to maintain a consistent defense.
After 16 wins -- none in bowl games -- and 21 losses over three losing seasons, Strong has been fired by Texas, as was widely expected after a three-game losing streak to finish the year 5-7.
"The body of work over three seasons has not shown the improvement we were hoping for," Texas athletic director Mike Perrin said in a release. "This was an important year for our program to take the next step, and the results simply aren't there, so we've decided to make a change."
It cleared the way for the Longhorns to hire ex-graduate assistant and current Houston head coach Tom Herman to the 40 Acres to try to revive a program that hasn't played in a major bowl game or won 10 games since 2009, when Mack Brown capped a run of nine consecutive 10-win seasons with an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. That was also the last time a Big 12 team made it through the regular season undefeated.
Strong inspired belief in the offseason, when he practiced and preached core values, reeling in top-10 recruiting classes in 2015 and 2016 and dismissing nine players in his first year as part of an effort to change the Longhorns' culture.
That belief quickly turned to bemusement in the fall. The Longhorns were just 58th in offensive yards per play in 2015, when a failed move to an up-tempo spread offense meant handing play-calling duties from Shawn Watson to Jay Norvell. Strong then hired Tulsa's Sterlin Gilbert to bring Art Briles' brand of power spread to Austin this season, which had promising initial results, but, Texas sits at ... 58th in offensive yards per play again.
Strong demoted defensive coordinator Vance Bedford after the Longhorns gave up at least 47 points in three of their first four games. After finishing No. 8 in defensive yards per play in 2014 with a roster stocked with NFL-bound seniors, Texas finished No. 70 and No. 61 in defensive yards per play the next two seasons.
In 2015, Texas lost to Cal on a missed extra point and lost to Oklahoma State after a mishandled snap on a punt in the final minute. This season, the Cowboys blocked three Texas extra points in a win over the Longhorns.
After Kansas ended a 23-game losing streak against FBS opponents against the Longhorns on Nov. 19 last Saturday, Strong's fate was all but sealed. A 31-9 loss to TCU on Friday eliminated any hope of a last-second reprieve. At 9:30 on Saturday morning, Texas officially turned the page from the Strong era.
"In the end, the results over three seasons were not there," Texas president Greg Fenves said. "It was not clear the future was going to be at the levels expected of Longhorn football."
At 16-21, Strong will have the worst winning percentage of any coach in Texas football history.
"We were developing something really special," Strong said. "This program has a championship foundation built on great young men with tremendous character. There are very bright days ahead, and I'll be pulling for these kids no matter where I am."
Earlier this week, Strong said "this group of guys will win a national championship." The Longhorns have zeroed in on Herman to try to prove Strong's acumen as a prophet is greater than his ability to win games at Texas.
Herman went 13-1 last season, routing Florida State in the Peach Bowl as a seven-point underdog. If he does indeed take over Texas, he'll do so with his share of critics. He earned them after a disappointing encore in 2016, with a blowout loss to SMU and two more losses to Navy and Memphis, the last coming on Friday.
The Memphis loss came eight days after Houston routed playoff hopeful Louisville 36-10, sacking elusive Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson 11 times. Houston also beat Oklahoma 33-23 to begin what it had hoped was a run to the playoff. Instead, the Cougars will have to settle for a 9-3 overall record and finishing tied for third in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference.
Herman first became a national commodity as Urban Meyer's first offensive coordinator at Ohio State. In 2014, it was Herman who helped guide the Buckeyes through a season that featured a season-ending shoulder injury to Braxton Miller in preseason camp and a broken leg for J.T. Barrett in the regular season finale against Michigan.
Herman turned to third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and helped Ohio State complete an astonishing three-game run through No. 11 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, No. 1 Alabama in a national semifinal and No. 2 Oregon in the first playoff championship game to give the program its first national title since 2002.
Texas' hopes of handing its program to a defensive mind failed. Now, Herman's offensive prowess, which led Meyer to pluck him off Paul Rhoads' staff at Iowa State, has led Texas to hand him the keys to one of college sports' most valuable programs.
On Thursday, reports surfaced that Herman might take his talents to the bayou and take the vacated LSU opening, but the Tigers' reportedly balked at his $6 million salary ask and promoted Orgeron.
Texas' chief competitor for Herman's services was off the market, and now, after the ink dries, Herman will be left to satisfy a hungry fan base that hasn't tasted real success in almost a decade.