AUSTIN, Texas — Charlie Strong wants to stay at Texas and predicts a Longhorns national title in the near future. The question swirling around the program is whether he will still be around by the weekend.
With dozens of his players attending Strong's weekly news conference on Monday, the coach addressed multiple reports that he'll be fired by saying school President Greg Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin have promised that he will be evaluated after the regular season ends with Friday's game against TCU.
Strong — a Batesville native who played at the University of Central Arkansas — said he has to believe their word and that no decision on his future has yet been made.
"Next year, I want to come back," Strong said. "They said we will be evaluated after that game. I don't know how they will be thinking, but winning that game would help."
Perrin, who did not attend the news conference, on Sunday called reports that Strong's future had already been decided "rumors." Fenves has strongly supported Strong this season, but has remained silent since Texas lost to Kansas in a stunner that left the Longhorns at just 5-6 this season.
Strong has reached this point because of a 16-20 overall record in three seasons.
In making his case to stay, Strong said he believes that despite the losses, he has the program on course for great things.
"This group of guys will win a national championship," Strong said with a nod to the players listening nearby. "I stand by that statement."
But Texas hasn't even been close to winning the Big 12 and may not qualify for a bowl game for the second consecutive year. Texas needs to beat TCU to qualify for a bowl this season.
Strong, the first black head coach in program history, has two years left on a guaranteed contract that would cost Texas nearly $11 million to fire him. He took over Texas in 2014 after Mack Brown was forced out after 16 seasons. Brown's teams had slipped back in the Big 12 but had rallied to within a game of sharing the conference championship.
Strong tried to make his case to get another year, noting key injuries that decimated his first season and the stockpiled talent in a two-deep roster that is mostly freshmen and sophomores he and his staff recruited.
Strong also said he'd evaluate his job tenure not just in wins and losses but as leader for young men who need a father figure in their lives. When Strong first arrived, he set his "core values" that included no guns, no drugs, respecting woman and honesty. The discipline message connected with fans as Strong dismissed 10 players in his first year.
"When you get in this profession, it's all about developing young men. Wins and losses are important but overall development of a young man is also important," he said.
Senior defensive lineman Paul Boyette Jr., had tears streaming down his face when talking about Strong.
"He doesn't want to fail us, and we don't want to fail him," Boyette said. "He taught me what it really means to be a man ... My heart hurts for him because people don't understand what we go through, what he got through. Everybody can say wins and losses ... but the maturity and growth of a young man has value."
Strong was mobbed by his players after his news conference, many of them hugging him or patting him on the back. Wide receiver Jacorey Warrick said a group of older players mobilized to get their teammates to attend.
"He doesn't have the support of people who are trying to get him out, but the people who really matter, the players, you can see where their support lies," Warrick said.
Greg Vincent, Texas vice president for diversity and community engagement, stepped into the crowd of players to hug Strong.
"What's most important to me as an educator, vice president and professor, is how he develops these young men," Vincent said.
Kansas coach David Beatty, whose victory pushed Strong to the brink at Texas, called Strong one of the "finer individuals that I've met in college football."
"My heart aches for him — I mean, it aches for him and his staff," Beatty said.