Charlie Strong’s reflection period after his firing at Texas lasted all of two weeks. He was dismissed at UT on Nov. 26 and hired as Willie Taggart’s replacement at South Florida on Dec. 11 — while taking a large chunk of his Texas staff with him to Tampa.
But as the weeks turn into months since the end of the Strong Era of Longhorn football, one prominent staff remember remains essentially stuck in time: Vance Bedford. Bedford was Strong’s defensive coordinator at Louisville, and the former Longhorn defensive back was a natural choice to continue in that role at Texas. Inheriting a veteran defense led by future first-round pick Malcom Brown on the defensive line, Bedford’s first burnt orange defense finished the 2014 season eighth nationally in yards per play allowed.
The Longhorns’ experience graduated after that season and took the team’s good defensive numbers with them. In covering for a roster hollowed out over the final years of the Mack Brown regime, Texas played young players in 2015 and ’16 and suffered for it. Bedford’s defense slipped to 70th in yards per play allowed in ’15 and 60th last season. He was demoted in October after consecutive games allowing 500-plus total yards in losses to California and Oklahoma State, which he said was a teachable moment for his players. “I told the players that in life, you have to always be accountable,” he said. When things are going well and not going well, somebody has to stand up and takes responsibility. I am that guy.”
Most of his coworkers have moved on to the next job, but Bedford has not. His Twitter account (which is now private) still bears his former employer’s initials and his tweets bear not a hint of resentment or bitterness. He’s clearly a guy who will wear the school colors whether he’s getting paid to or not. “I went to school here,” he said in an interview with Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods. “This is my alma mater. It’s different for me. That’s why not winning here hurts so much. This wasn’t just a job. This was home. It had a special meaning for me.”
When asked to provide his autopsy for why his staff didn’t succeed at Texas, Bedford pointed to bad timing and bad luck.
“I always think if you look at the history of coaching, it’s tough to follow a guy who is somewhat of a legend, like Mack Brown,” he said. “He was here for 16 years, and it’s tough to follow that guy and have success. You look at Barry Switzer let go at Oklahoma. It took almost a third head coach to finally win. You look at when Steve Spurrier left. You look at when Bear Bryant left. Sometimes it takes the third coach to have success. I think we fell into that trap when you follow a legend. Then when you get here, when you look at the history of Texas, when was the last time we had an offensive lineman drafted at the University of Texas? You look at the quarterback situation here since Colt McCoy. I don’t care who you are, or where you’re coaching at, whether it’s high school or wherever, you got to have a trigger man who can win games for you, or at best control the tempo and the game for you. I think that’s where it all starts.”
“Following a legend like Mack, and then our quarterback situation. You lose (David) Ash that first ball game, and you’ve been scrambling ever since. I think this past season, if Shane Buechele was here when we first got here, Charlie Strong would still be here, in my opinion, because Shane Buechele has that west coach type mind. He can figure things out, read coverages and throw the football. Again, you never had the quarterback situation settled.”
Bedford first worked with Strong as members of Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida, and just as Meyer benefitted by being the guy after the guy (Ron Zook) that followed the guy (Steve Spurrier), he thinks the same dynamic will play out at Texas, where Strong will serve as the bridge between successful Brown and Tom Herman runs. “I think (Herman) can win nine of 10 games and be in a position to win nine or 10 games and be in the position, at the end, to win a conference championship.”