Strong to take over defense following Bedford demotion

Michael Shapiro

Charlie Strong decided it was time to make a change.

The Longhorns’ head coach confirmed reports of Vance Bedford’s demotion from the defensive coordinator position on Monday. Strong said he will take over the play-calling duties for the burnt orange’s defense.

“It’s been unacceptable the way we’ve played,” Strong said. “What I’ve decided to do is run the defense.”

The move comes on the heels of Texas’ 49-31 loss against Oklahoma State on Saturday, the third contest in four weeks where the Longhorns gave up over 45 points. Strong’s team looked woefully inadequate against the Cowboys’ passing attack in Stillwater, Oklahoma, surrendering 392 yards through the air.   

Many of the same issues that plagued Texas through the first three weeks also arose on Saturday. The Longhorns missed numerous tackles in the backfield and left huge holes for Cowboy receivers to run through. Sophomore defensive tackle Chris Nelson noted the team’s defensive deficiencies on Monday.

“We’re not executing on the play,” Nelson said. “You can’t really teach tackling, that’s on us. We’ve got to start wrapping up and making plays.”

On Sept. 26, Strong said he planned to get more involved with the defense and stuck by Bedford as the team’s play-caller. But after back-to-back losses and consecutive defensive meltdowns, Strong opted to take over Texas’ struggling defense. Bedford will move to coaching the secondary alongside defensive backs coach Clay Jennings.

Bedford’s focus on the secondary places him in familiar territory. He played cornerback at Texas from 1977–81 and was named to the All-Southwest Conference team twice. As a coach, he worked with the defensive backfield at six different programs prior to being named Strong’s defensive coordinator at Louisville in 2010.

Texas’ secondary has struggled throughout the season, giving Bedford plenty of work to do on the back end. The Longhorns have allowed nearly 275 passing yards per game and 12 touchdown tosses on the year. Things won’t get any easier next week, as Texas faces Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was selected as the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2015. 

“It’s all about being physical at the point of attack,” Strong said. “We’ve got to keep Mayfield corralled. We can’t let him get started.”

Longhorn players expressed support for Strong and his move to take over the defense. They noted the energy and passion he brings to that side of the ball, as well as his proven track record. Strong was the defensive coordinator of Florida’s 2008 national-title team.

“It always resonates with me whatever [Strong] is trying to say,” sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “You see what he’s done at Florida, the program he’s built at Louisville. I’m excited to see what he does with the defense.”

Bedford’s demotion marked the eighth staff change of Strong’s tenure. Of the nine original assistants on Strong’s 2013 staff, only linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary remains in his current role. Strong addressed the high turnover on his staff, saying “there are decisions that need to be made and you’ve got to make them at the right time.”

Strong’s move on Monday signaled yet another attempt to take control of the program and save his job. At 13–16 in just over two years at Texas, Strong’s program has underachieved and underproduced. But the Longhorn head coach believes taking over the defense will improve things in Austin before it’s too late.

“It felt like right now this was a move that needed to be made,” Strong said. “It only takes one game to turn your program around.”