Austin, Texas — The Texas players who packed the room were there to hear their coach speak. Some fought back tears.
They heard Charlie Strong plead for a win this week to get their senior teammates to a bowl game. They heard him suggest that a win against TCU might be enough to save his job.
And then dozens of them mobbed Strong with hugs amid laughs and praise as a teacher, mentor and builder of men.
"He doesn't want to fail us, and we don't want to fail him," senior defensive lineman Paul Boyette Jr. said as tears ran down his cheeks. "He taught me what it really means to be a man ... My heart hurts for him."
Strong's players clearly love him. It may not be enough to save him.
Strong faced his weekly news conference on Monday amid reports that he will be fired after Friday's game, the result of a 5-6 record so far this season after last week's loss to lowly Kansas, and a 16-20 mark over the past three years. The game against TCU (5-5) could be Strong's final game.
"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."
Athletic director Mike Perrin on Sunday dismissed multiple reports that Strong would be fired as "rumors," and said no decision would be made until after the game. Perrin didn't show up at Strong's news conference Monday and neither did school President Greg Fenves, who has publicly supported Strong but has been silent on his future since the Kansas loss.
Strong didn't think a decision on his future was already made and expected school administrators to live up to that promise.
The highest-ranking school official to attend was Greg Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement. Vincent broke through the scrum of players to hug the first black head football coach in program history.
"What's most important to me as an educator, vice president and professor, is how he develops these young men," Vincent said.
Strong has two years and nearly $11 million left on a five-year guaranteed contract. He admitted the "wins and losses don't stack up" but he tried to make a case Monday that he should stay despite his poor record on the field.
He noted key injuries that decimated his first season, top-level recruiting and a two-deep roster packed mostly with freshmen and sophomores that he and his staff brought to Texas. The foundation for greatness is there, he said.
"This group of guys will win a national championship," Strong said with a nod to the players in the room. "I stand by that statement."
Wayne State’s Brown a finalist
Junior running back Romello Brown of Wayne State, sophomore running back Marty Carter of Grand Valley State and junior quarterback Reggie Bell of Ferris State have been nominated for the Harlon Hill Award, which goes to the best player in Division II.
Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan won the award twice — in 2014 and 2015.