Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - For most programs, an 8-5 overall record, including a six-game Big 12 Conference winning streak, and a trip to the Alamo Bowl would be considering a successful season.
Unfortunately for Mack Brown in 2013, the Texas Longhorns are not most programs.
Even though Brown had sustained success with the Longhorns since taking over the squad in 1998 -- winning twice as many games as he lost (244-122-1) and capping off an undefeated 2005 season with a BCS National Championship -- his reign over one of the nation's elite programs was beginning to sour after so long. The team hadn't made a BCS bowl since the 2009 season, and after a slow 1-2 start in 2013, many were calling for his head.
Brown briefly silenced his naysayers with a spectacular midseason run, and Texas was still in the race for the Big 12 title on the last day of the regular season before falling to Baylor, but it wasn't enough. Brown opted to resign prior to the Alamo Bowl, a decision he came to after the university informed him he would be fired if not.
Brown was an unfortunate causality of Texas's incredibly high standards. The Longhorns are the premiere program in the country's hotbed for football talent. With ample booster support, a lucrative television deal and the nation's largest athletics budget at a whopping $163.3 million, being in the conversation for a Big 12 championship isn't good enough. The Longhorns need to get back to competing for national titles.
Texas has the prestige to be one of the most desired destinations in college sports, but finding Brown's replacement wasn't easy. The program reportedly had its eye on a number of big names to fill its head coaching vacancy, including Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Baylor's Art Briles, but in the end it took the less-flashy route in luring away Charlie Strong from Louisville, and now the program hopes he can again ignite one of the nation's most storied teams.
Although Strong may not have been the big splash many were looking for in the hire, his impressive credentials speak for themselves. After spending nearly a decade as a defensive assistant at Florida, Strong took over Louisville in 2010 and led the Cardinals to four straight bowl games. His 2012 and 2013 squads were among the best in the country, going a combined 23-3 over those campaigns, including an upset over Florida in 2013 Sugar Bowl.
"I'm excited and my family is excited to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country," Strong said at his introductory press conference back in January. "Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year. It's special because it has such great history, pride, tradition and passion for football.
"To follow a future Hall of Fame coach like Mack Brown, who built a program that had great success and a reputation of doing it with class and integrity, is extra special," Strong added. "The national championship, BCS bowl wins and all he accomplished in 16 years built on the Longhorn legacy and makes it such an exciting place to be."
Strong even received a vote of confidence from Brown himself.
"I've known Charlie Strong for a long time and Texas not only hired a tremendous football coach but also a great man," Brown said. "Charlie's a man of integrity and character. I wish him the best. He's had success everywhere he's been and he will do a great job at Texas."
It's an exciting hire for Texas as it transitions into its next chapter, but just how successful can the program become under Strong's tutelage?
No matter how impressive Strong's track record at Louisville was, there's no denying the team's dominance came against inferior competition in the Big East/American Athletic Conference. Strong was also fortunate enough to ride the success of Teddy Bridgewater, arguably the country's most productive quarterback over the past two seasons.
One could argue that Strong will have more talent at his disposal in Austin, but that doesn't appear to be the case, at least not right away. Last week's NFL Draft passed without a single Longhorn being called, the first time that's happened since 1937. Meanwhile, Strong's former team produced three picks in the first round alone in Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Bridgewater.
Although the players who left the program may not have been highly regarded, there is a solid crop of returning talent for Strong and offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, formerly the offensive line coach at Oklahoma State, to build around. Top receiver Jaxon Shipley (56 receptions, 589 yards, one touchdown in 2013) returns to the fold, as does the solid running back duo of Malcolm Brown (904 yards, nine TDs) and Joe Bergeron (362 yards, four TDs).
Defensively, Cedric Reed (79 tackles, 19 tackles, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles), the other Malcom Brown (68 tackles, 12 TFL), Dalton Santos (74 tackles, 10 TFL), Steve Edmond (73 tackles, two interceptions), Mykkele Thompson (72 tackles, interception) and Quandre Diggs (58 tackles, 10 passes defended) all expect to be high-end playmakers once again.
Things are much less certain under center for the Longhorns. David Ash was solid as the starter early in the 2013 season (60.9 completion percentage, 760 yards, seven TDs, two interceptions in three games), but he missed the last nine games while dealing with concussion symptoms. Ash was on the fast track to being named the starter for 2014 before a breaking his foot last month, and surgery will keep him out at least through spring training camp.
With Ash temporarily out of the picture, the in-house options include sophomore signal callers Trey Holtz and Tyrone Swoopes, with only Swoopes having seen game action (5-of-13, 26 yards). In desperate need for help under center, Texas is reportedly interested in offering a scholarship to USC transfer quarterback Max Wittek. It remains to be seen if the program will have more success courting Wittek than it did Saban.
The chips appear to be stacked against Strong in his first season on campus -- the Longhorns are unlikely to be ranked when the preseason AP poll is announced later this summer -- but given the opportunity to build his own program, Strong is confident Texas can be a contender once again, a promise that the Longhorn faithful will certainly hold him to in upcoming years.
"I will ask the Longhorn football team to believe and trust in one another," Strong said. "We're going to create a family atmosphere here. We're going to be a program that has the right attitude. We'll have the right commitment. It will be a program that's built on accountability and responsibility. It will be a program that will represent not only this great university, but it will represent the great national stage."