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Following the Texas Longhorns 44-23 thrashing at the hands of the visiting Ole Miss Rebels last evening in Austin, head coach Mack Brown looked like a defeated man. Pale-faced, hair tousled and obviously exhausted, Brown answered questions in the post-game press conference with most of the same platitudes and canned responses which have become the status quo when times are tough. It’s reasonable to say he didn’t even believe the words coming out of his own mouth, just as much as Texas fans (in majority) no longer believe he is the right man to lead the football program into the future.
When you examine an event and how that event unfolded, it’s important to evaluate the extenuating circumstances. What happened during, before, or after the event that affected the outcome? So far this season, the Longhorns have had plenty of circumstance to deal with. Last evening, it was injuries to offensive line starters Mason Walters and Josh Cochran which effectively ended the positive push the line had achieved on the line of scrimmage, and along with a hobbled No.1 wideout Mike Davis, quickly neutralized whatever edge was present.
Before the Ole Miss, the disastrous performance against the BYU Cougars started a ripple effect, leading to the firing of once-loved Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz, and his replacement by Mack Brown confidant, and former Longhorns DC Greg Robinson. Robinson was given a few days to absorb the playbook and do his best to instill some pride in a defensive unit which had been horrid, but, he’s not a miracle worker. The Texas defense’s inept performance against the Ole Miss Rebels proved just that.
In a bubble, each of these games were very different, but the common themes of adversity leading to failure is consistent across the board. The bigger question is who should be held accountable, and that’s never a question with a simple answer.
It’s the Coaching
As the Texas defense has been picked apart with surgical precision by two very different offenses at BYU and Ole Miss, it doesn’t take much to pin the team’s inability to be competitive through three games on them, throwing the New Mexico State win out as an outlier.
At no point in the past two weeks did the Texas defense provide a challenge to offenses who were able to do exactly as they pleased. For BYU, it was Taysom Hillshredding the defense, while for Ole Miss it was speedy running back Jeff Scott.Mack Brown’s decision to release Manny Diaz from his duties and replace him with Greg Robinson is little more than applying a band-aid to an ax wound.
I’ll reserve judgement on the season-long performance of the Texas defense until a few weeks from now, but the outlook is gloomy, to be optimistic. When a team is outscored 84-44 against two non-conference opponents, however, it’s impossible to just pin things on the defense.
The questions about Major Applewhite’s play-calling ability in this environment began when he laid David Ash out to dry in the fourth-quarter on a designed run play with the team down 20 points, leading to his absence from the Ole Miss game, and continued with the struggles against Ole Miss. In spite of John Gray‘s quick start to the game, Texas abandoned the run with the injuries to Walters and Cochran, instead leaving the ball in Case McCoy’s hands to try and work with a receiving corps that couldn’t find open space for much of the evening.
While fans across Twitter and the Internet were calling for true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, there was another X-Factor pacing the sidelines who never saw the light of day in sophomore QB/RB Jalen Overstreet. From the outside-looking-in Overstreet could have provided a new dimension for Ole Miss to handle and could have opened the game back up, but never saw a snap. Maybe he already has D.J. Monroe disease.
Why was this not considered?
It’s the Players
In all fairness to Mack Brown and the Texas coaching staff, any successful team is comprised of players with an inherit pride in taking personal responsibility for their own performance and in helping their teammates be successful. Teams like this have defined leadership who will do whatever it takes to make sure their play is an example to be followed, without fail, and without doubt.
This 2013 Texas team has leaders on paper.
Leaders that speak at press conferences, and are the face of the football team when a face must be provided. Guys like Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks and Jaxon Shipley have done their part over three games to lead by example and encourage others to rise to the occasion, but for whatever reason, that example has not been followed. Body language speaks volumes about the climate of a football team, and as soon as Ole Miss had their first dissecting drive of the game in the first quarter, heads began to hang. Shoulders began to slump.
In the first quarter of a four quarter football game.
Former Texas players asked about the early-season struggles haven’t hesitated to question whether the talent on the current roster is a poor fit. If the football IQ is too low. If the desire level doesn’t match the level of ability suiting up. While some of this could be attributed to poor evaluations, on the recruiting end, you can’t just put the coaches at fault here.
Players have to make plays. Plain and simple.
It’s Mack Brown
In any major organization with a traditional power structure, the buck is designed to stop at the top. In the case of Texas, given this, the buck should stop at Mack Brown’s desk. By this theory, anything I’ve discussed above is within Brown’s purview and regardless of his power of direct control, is therefore his ultimate responsibility.
Theories about Brown’s future at Texas have been the constant source of speculation over the past week and are certain to be ever-present in coming days. As I’ve stated previously, only a handful of people know what the future holds for Mack Brown: University President Bill Powers, (current) Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds and to a lesser extent big-money alumni like Red McCombs and Joe Jamail as well as the University’s Board of Regents who, like the Wizard of Oz, make decisions from behind a dark curtain which are carried out by those in positions of influence and power.
It’s hard to assume Mack Brown will coach at Texas in 2014, but are the struggles of 2013 his fault alone?
This is open to your point of view and interpretation.
There’s Nine Games (At a Minimum) Left to be Played
Texas hasn’t yet played a Big 12 Conference game. It’s mid-September. There are at least nine games of football left to be played. How the players bounce back in these next few months will speak volumes about the short-term future of the program, the level of evaluation and repair a new coach will have to undertake (should that become the reality) and its overall health.
These few months won’t be easy for anyone, but easy isn’t a part of big-money collegiate sports.
Easy is for those with a different standard than that expected at Texas.