February 3, 2011

Mack vows to put pedal to the metal in a big week

1. On Wednesday, Mack Brown was able to take a sigh of relief that a recruiting class considered one of the best in the country had been held together despite a 5-7 season in 2010 and massive turnover in the coaching staff.

Mack provided a great story about Saturday, Dec. 11, and how Texas had 14 recruits in town for official visits the same night Will Muschamp was named the head coach at
Florida.

It got tricky for Mack because he found out at 6 p.m. Muschamp had taken the job. The recruits had a dinner scheduled for 7 p.m., and Mack was told he had until 8 p.m. before it would get out that Muschamp would be the new coach of the Gators.

"At 6:45 p.m. I walk into the dinner area and see on the ticker across the screen that Will Muschamp was going to be the new coach at Florida," Mack said.

"So I gathered up the recruits and said, 'Sudden change. This is good news for Will, but some of you will think it's bad news.' I asked them to allow the time to hire a new coach. I told them if they didn't like the new hire, I'd help them go wherever they wanted.

"But I told them at Texas we'd be able to hire the best coaches in the country to come in and join our staff. The players were patient and remained true to Texas."


2. If you're looking for a future leader on the team, it sounds like CB Quandre Diggs, the brother of former Longhorn Quentin Jammer, is a good candidate.

In addition to being maybe the best of five defensive backs signed by Texas on Wednesday, Diggs worked hard to keep recruits committed to Texas while Mack Brown restocked his staff.

"I mean, he (Diggs) was calling everybody," Brown said. "He'd e-mail and he'd call. Major [Applewhite] was recruiting him, and of course Major Applewhite was Quentin [Jammer]'s roommate, so that was very unique to have a younger brother that used to hang around them come back to school here.

"Quandre would e-mail him all the time and say, 'Hey, so-and-so is OK. I got him straightened out. He's Ok. We're doing good.' I probably heard from him more than anybody else when he would check on guys."



3. During a press conference Monday, when talking about what possibly led to 5-7 in 2010, Mack Brown had a couple very candid responses, questioning the recruiting and development of players.

Mack also said he needs to help develop talent and chemistry by spending more time around his players away from the field. And needs to think more about the process rather than simply focusing on wins.


"We've got to go back and make sure that we're evaluating properly in recruiting," Mack said. "That's harder than ever before because of the early recruiting, there's no question about that. We've got to do a good job and everybody misses some. You can't miss much. If you do you're in trouble.

"I do think our players are good enough to win. I think when coaches say they're not, it's an excuse.

"Secondly, the thing I didn't think we did as well last year, we didn't develop the young players as much as we need to. That concerns me.

"Sally and I haven't had them out to the house as much the last couple of years. We're going to get them back out to the house. We're going to spend more time with them and make sure they understand all those things.

"They've always said if you start worrying solely about winning then you forget your process and you don't enjoy the journey as much. I remember after beating Nebraska this year, I wasn't fair to the players because I was sad Sally lost her brother and sad Sally wasn't there, and I was mad we still didn't beat UCLA instead of being excited for the kids to beat Nebraska.

"And you don't know what kind of hangover that had for the next week against Iowa State. I'm going to go back where we're going to enjoy wins if they're ugly. After this year, I think it's a wake-up call, and it's something I need to go back to work and worry more about teaching the kids and their experience and developing those young people instead of winning.

"If you do those things like we've done for 12 years, you win. When you start thinking about winning and forget the process, then you get ahead of yourself, and they feel that too."

Mack indicated some of the complacency he tried to fight in his players may have been festering inside himself when I asked him what he had learned about himself the past year.

"You got to make sure that you keep your foot on the pedal all the time," he said. "I think at one point that I must have thought that because we're Texas and we've won so much, we're just going to win. On bad years we'll win 10. On good years we got a chance to win it all.

"You can't think that. You have got to make sure that every day you get up there better be a goal to be set, and you better be moving forward to make (sure) that goal is the right one.

"It's a hard business. It's a hard business. You're seeing coaches get worn down. Coaches get burned out, and it doesn't matter. Keep working.

"You're going to have negatives. When you have negatives, you got to handle them and move forward. All the negatives now are public. They didn't use to be public.

"You've just got to handle it all and keep moving forward and not let it affect you, and you got to be positive with kids. These are kids. These are kids that have parents, and their dreams are out there and their lives are out there.

"And they're very important, and if you're not staying above the negative and you're not staying positive with those kids, they'll get negative too.

"That's just the world we live in now, and it's changed. And the good coaches change with it, and I've got to make sure that's what I do."

Mack also said Boise State's Chris Petersen has some team-building techniques shared with Mack by new co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.

Mack plans to implement those techniques.


4. Speaking of Bryan Harsin, on Wednesday I asked Mack a couple questions regarding the offense going forward. The first was if the coaches had to sell Malcolm Brown on the new offense.

"He was recruited with the promise that we would run the ball better and be more balanced," Mack said. "That was the commitment I made to him and to our team.

"So any coach we talked to on offense was going to be committed to being balanced. And Malcolm knew that, and that's something he's excited about."

Secondly, I asked Mack if he would put any parameters on Harsin's offense.

Mack then said to me, "Well, you've always been one of those who said I've had parameters. You've always said that. That's been your deal that I control the offense, and I think you have no clue of what we do and what we're running in that area.

"So what I always do as a head coach is have parameters - of everything we do. My parameters to him, because I hired the guy because I was really proud of what Boise had done offensively.

"I hired a guy who has been balanced. I've hired a guy who has run a two-back offense, which is a little unusual right now that has the ability to go one-back because they're very multiple. But they're going to be physical and run the ball.

"In the first quarter of the Utah game, they (Boise State) weren't moving the ball very well, and they lined up in the power play and ran the ball 80 yards.

"That's what I wanted. I wanted to see a guy who was going to line up and be physical.

"But what we've said here since I've been here is we're going to line up and do whatever we need to do to win the game. If someone lines up with 9 on the line of scrimmage, and we need to throw it every play, I don't care. We're going to throw it every play.

"But I would like to go back and have the ability to run. And that hasn't changed since we've been here. We got away from that. And he (Harsin) understands that, and that's what he believes. That's what Chris Petersen believes.

"Every coach I've talked to believes you have to run the ball some to win. And that's what we want to get back to."

(Not quite sure why Mack blasted me in starting his response because I think a lot of people have wondered aloud if Mack will ask Harsin to run his offense a certain way or with an emphasis that might have been different from what Harsin was running in Boise.)


5. From Mack's answer, it sounds like he'll let Harsin determine when the offense needs to run the ball because of Harsin's past success at Boise.

All I've said about Mack being involved in the offense is what Greg Davis told me in interviews - that Mack often made suggestions about possible play calls during the game.

"After I have called a play and the offense is in the huddle or coming to the line, Mack will often say something like, 'If this play works, be thinking about this,'" Davis said.

Mack is a former offensive coordinator. Davis even said Mack spent more time in the offensive meetings than he did in the defensive meetings, and I know from people inside Mack's own program that Mack and Greg were at odds, off and on, about how and how much to run the ball with the exception of the Ricky Williams and Vince Young years.

That all boiled to the surface after the BCS national title game against Alabama when Mack apparently got after Davis pretty good about not having an established running game to fall back on when Colt McCoy got hurt.

It got so heated Davis almost left for Minnesota to join Tim Brewster's staff after the 2009 season. But Mack encouraged Davis to stay, only to have the 2010 season circle the drain, resulting in Davis' forced departure.

Mack was determined to improve the running game for 2010, even saying before the season that not having a ground attack had cost Texas a couple championships - the 2009 national title and a shot at the 2006 Big 12 title (when Colt got hurt against Kansas State).

The entire spring and most of fall camp was focused on putting the QB under center and running downhill. But that plan began to disentegrate after Week 1 against Rice.

So the search for a proven ground game now falls to Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite. Something tells me the running game will be much better in 2011 simply because of the design of Harsin's offense.


6. On Monday, Mack Brown opened up about why he thinks 5-7 happened in 2010. There were some very revealing and thought-provoking comments in an hour-long press conference with reporters.

Mack said he "pouted" after going 13-1 in 2009 because of the loss to Alabama in the national championship game. He said part of it was Colt McCoy's injury and part of it was realizing just how hard it was to get to the title game, especially after the near-miss in 2008.

"I don't know if I've ever taken a loss as hard," Mack said.

Mack didn't say he took his foot off the pedal because he had Will Muschamp as the coach-in-waiting. And he said the coaching-in-waiting worked well in 2008 and 2009 because Texas was so close to national titles. But when things went sideways in 2010, Mack acknowledged the coach-in-waiting sent "a message that I'm not in it for long.

"And that's a bad message, and that's not what we did it for," Mack said. "Now, that Will (Muschamp) has taken the Florida job, that question is out of the mix for the future."


7. Before his new assistant coaches could ask him about how long he planned to be the head coach at Texas, Mack said he answered the question.

"I told them I was back in the game," Mack said. "I was full speed ahead. I wouldn't be working this hard on recruiting and hiring coaches if I wasn't in it for a long time, and I basically told them that Texas fans were going to have to put up with me for a long time. I'm back at work."

Mack went on to say, "I really am enjoying myself again. I'm having fun and last year I didn't. It wasn't fun for us off the field, for Sally and I, but I didn't do my job on the field and I'm going to make sure Texas fans and kids know I'm going to go back and do what I'm supposed to do."

8. I asked Mack what his biggest concerns are right now and he listed three:

"My biggest concern is, number one, that all the coaching pieces fit. They've all got to work together. It doesn't matter how good they are, or how talented they are. They've got to mesh together. And I can sit here and say that I have seen it working, and it's done really well.

"You're not going to know until you play. Until you get some pressure, and that's when you'll find out about that.

"I really like the coaches, and they're having fun, and they've got young families. Sally is already trying to get a two-hand touch game with the kids.

"We'll have broken legs with all the coaches' children playing with Sally trying to organize games for them. But that would be number one.

"Number two is making sure with all the change in offense and defense, that we get it installed properly in the spring. How fast can we go?

"We're going to have coaches teaching coaches before they start teaching players. So all of that is urgent right now.

"Third, making sure that we catch up with what we're behind in the junior class and recruiting. Those would be the three issues that are most pressing right now."


9. Despite all the changes, Mack is not backing off his early spring starting date of Feb. 24.

Mack said the coaches will have that first spring practice on Feb. 24 and then take a day off to evaluate if they liked the layout of the first practice and if any changes need to be made.

Then, the second practice will be on Feb. 26. The spring game will be on April 3.


10. UT's TV network partnership with ESPN to the tune of $300 million was achieved because of the success Mack Brown brought back to the Texas program.

Ironically, the network will launch just as Brown is trying to put the program back on track, which could add to the stress of Brown and his players.


I asked Mack how he would balance ESPN's appetite for content with what's best for Mack's players and new assistants in this year of transition?

"What we will do is work very closely with all of the ESPN personnel," Brown said. "There is obviously a fine line from my standpoint. We can't give you guys everything. We can't give ESPN everything.

"You have notes that you feel like will make the network work, but we can't have them in the huddle. We are not going to have (HBO's) 'Hard Knocks.'

"But there will be some really interesting things we can look at that will give our players and our programs more exposure than anyone in the country.

"Our coaches are writing down their thoughts on that right now - on what they would be willing to do. Do we have an assistant coaches show? Do you have a clinic on ESPN? Do you have your own road trip every week for away games? Do you have gameday for your own home games?

"There is so much to think about and where does it stop? There is just so much to think about, and where does it help ESPN?"


BONUS NUGGET: Every time someone has doubted Mack Brown, he seems to have proven them wrong.

He won a national title after Adrian Peterson and Rhett Bomar spurned Texas to go to Oklahoma to win championships.

He made it back to a national title game without Vince Young (and nearly did it another time - 2008).

In 2003, when everyone was calling for Greg Davis' head to roll, Mack calmly replaced Carl Reese and Hardee McCrary with Greg Robinson and Dick Tomey for the 2004 season. Those two helped with team-building and ideas that contributed to 2005's success.

So to doubt Mack Brown now would be betting against the past.

When he was told he was out of his comfort zone by a reporter, Mack interrupted, "It is great being out of my comfort zone because I'm back at work. New ideas. Fresh new ideas. It's fun for our fans.

"It should be fun for you all (the media). I mean to get to know these new guys, and see a new offense, see the new defenses and what we are going to do on special teams.

"It's fun for the players. It's fun for the recruits. I think it's a great time for Texas football."

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