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Charlie Strong and Major Applewhite- two Texas “exes” meet, again

Matt Zemek

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Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Major Applewhite was not going to become head coach at the University of Texas.

Not after this story. He was toast.

Instead, Charlie Strong became head coach at the University of Texas.

He then brought Shawn Watson as his offensive coordinator from Louisville to Austin. He paid very dearly for that mistake.

Two years later, Strong was dragged through a humiliating public spectacle of begging Sterlin Gilbert of Tulsa to become his offensive coordinator. Gilbert did well at the 40 Acres, but not well enough — not with a Longhorn defense which remained inconsistent. Gilbert did establish a greater foothold in the college football industry — but not at Texas. He gained a life raft to Tampa as South Florida’s — and Strong’s — offensive coordinator when Charlie’s Texas career fell apart

Applewhite lived the dream of being a Texas Longhorn quarterback, but he permanently ruined his chances of ever being Texas coach. Charlie Strong had his dream job as Texas coach, but that dream turned into a nightmare.

Two coaches both carry their share of Texas-sized scars. Two men toiling in the AAC certainly covet a chance at a bigger job, no matter what they might say or hide in public.

Two men stood at the center of college football at earlier points in the 21st century — Applewhite at Texas in 2001, when the Horns nearly reached the BCS title game; Strong in 2008 at Florida, when he helped Urban Meyer win a second national title and made it impossible to be ignored by athletic directors any longer.

They now meet in a game which is important enough as it is in the standings.. but probably carries more personal significance than the two met will let on.

We naturally focus on USF, given our mandate to examine Florida-based football programs, but it is worth spending a little time on Houston’s identity in 2018. The Cougars are not an exact replica of USF, but they have drawn enough comparisons to the Bulls to the point that they can fairly be viewed as a team with a similar identity

No, Houston has not allowed most of its games to come down to the fourth quarter. That’s South Florida’s music so far this season, as you know. Houston has been able to take care of its wins before the final several minutes, but it remains that the Cougars have played sleepy and sloppy first halves to create second-half headaches. This happened most centrally at home against Tulsa, which gained a nine-point lead midway through the second half before Houston blitzed the Golden Hurricane on a massive scoring run which barely took any time. Houston’s tendency to snooze through first halves, especially on defense, was also in evidence against Rice and Navy.

These are not the same exact teams, but they have done enough to merit some comparisons, many of them unflattering. This leads us to another Applewhite-Strong intersection: Pundits and analysts can reasonably claim that both men have not coached their teams as well as their records — and their places in the AAC standings — might indicate.

That last point underscores the climate of dissatisfaction which envelops this game. Even though Houston is the clear favorite in its division, and even though South Florida is unbeaten, these two teams are widely doubted… and the doubts come from an entirely legitimate place. Applewhite and Strong both want to make their mark. After unceremonious exits from the University of Texas — a place synonymous with college football royalty — two head coaches with a desire to make it big in their careers face a game which, if lost, will validate every criticism lobbed toward them this season.

The winner won’t gain leverage so much as the loser will cede an enormous amount of standing in the coaching industry. If either man wants to make the jump to a bigger job — probably not this year, but more reasonably in 2019 or 2020 — winning this game becomes extremely important if only because neither man can afford to lose ground This isn’t a reputation-maker; it’s a possible reputation-breaker for the loser.

The value of winning this Saturday is that it will set up bigger games down the line. In either team’s case, that game will be against UCF. Houston wants to face the Knights for the AAC title in December. USF wants to make sure that when it plays UCF on Thanksgiving weekend, that contest — as in 2017 –– will decide the AAC East championship and be the springboard a Group of Five title and a New Year’s Six bowl berth.

Major Applewhite. Charlie Strong. Two Texas exes must travel a long road — with no quick fixes — to build their coaching reputations to the point where they can dream bigger dreams in their careers. The men who have closed some doors to their careers are still searching for new portals to walk through.

They need to win the Houston-USF game this Saturday if they are to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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