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Texas football is broken. Here are five ways to fix the Longhorns.
After a second straight blowout loss to Oklahoma last October, a large number of Texas fans seemed to turn on Mack Brown in a way never seen in his previous 15 years in Austin. Brown appeared to be on his way to winning some of those fans back after reeling off four straight victories following that 63–21 loss to OU. But then came a loss at home to TCU on Thanksgiving followed by a 42–24 defeat at Kansas State.
A come-from-behind victory over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl gave Texas a hint of momentum going into 2013. But the big picture is not pretty: Texas is 22–16 overall in the past three seasons, including an unfathomable 11–15 in the Big 12.
Texas football is broken. Here are five ways to fix the Longhorns.
HOLD MACK BROWN ACCOUNTABLE
This appears to be a make-or-break year for Mack Brown at Texas in the eyes of most Texas fans. The faithful won’t tolerate another four- or five-loss season or another blowout loss to Oklahoma.
Not when Texas A&M is writing storybooks in College Station as a member of the SEC. Not when Will Muschamp, former defensive coordinator at Texas, is going 11–1 in the regular season and playing in a BCS bowl in Year 2 at Florida.
Texas has the most returning starters (18) and the most experienced quarterback (David Ash) of any team in the Big 12. Yet few are picking Texas to win the 2013 race, instead going with the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or TCU.
Brown vowed two years ago that Texas would play for a national title in either 2013 or 2014. Texas has a talented junior class, and Brown is counting on this group to lead the Longhorns to big things this season. But last year’s defense was the worst in school history statistically and just lost NFL Draft picks Kenny Vaccaro (safety) and Alex Okafor (end).
Ash got off to a great start last year but then was benched in the blowout loss to OU and again against Kansas, TCU and Kansas State. Quarterback is not a position of strength at Texas.
The schedule is also tricky in 2013, with non-conference games at BYU and at home against a much-improved Ole Miss team.
With DeLoss Dodds’ contract as athletic director expiring in August 2014, this could be the last season in which Brown would have Dodds’ undying support. A new athletic director could mean big changes, especially for the football coach.
DEVELOP TOP RECRUITS INTO TOP DRAFT PICKS
Texas hasn’t had a single offensive lineman drafted since 2008. That’s five years and counting since tackle Tony Hills was selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round. Texas also didn’t have a single offensive player taken in the 2011 or 2012 NFL Drafts.
Brown believes that current offensive line coach Stacy Searels is recruiting and developing the next wave of NFL talent. But it’s hard to look at the current starters and see any difference-makers who will be playing on Sundays at this point.
Texas has recruited plenty of 4- and 5-star prospects on the offensive line in recent years. But they have failed to be developed into pro-level players, and Texas has constantly struggled to run between the tackles. Considering that some of the best offensive linemen in college football are from Texas — including Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, both of whom went to Texas A&M — the Longhorns have to do better.
Texas signed 20 players in the 2009 class. Only five ended up contributing — six if you count Garrett Gilbert, who transferred to SMU after the 2011 season. This speaks to both Texas’ poor job evaluating prospects and its poor job developing them.
MODERNIZE PLAYER EVALUATION
When Mack Brown announced the hiring of new player personnel director Patrick Suddes, a former football operations assistant at Alabama, Texas finally added a position to its staff that Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh added in 2007 and Nick Saban added in 2009.
The hope is that Suddes can bring some of the savvy from Saban’s well-oiled football office that numbers 40 people and more closely resembles an NFL front office. Texas expects to end up with about 15 people in its new personnel department, including a handful of new quality control coaches.
All of this is aimed at tightening up some of the player evaluation mistakes of the past. In 2007, there were camps in which quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Landry Jones and Garrett Gilbert were competing head to head. Coaches from Alabama and Michigan walked away clearly giving the edge to Andrew Luck.
But Texas wasn’t in attendance. The Longhorns had already made up their mind to go with Gilbert, the local product who had won 30 straight games and two state titles at nearby Lake Travis. Luck, of Houston Stratford, attended a junior day at Texas. Not only did Luck not get a scholarship offer, but the Texas coaches basically ignored the future No. 1 overall NFL pick. There is no rule that states you can’t recruit more than one quarterback in the same class.
And it’s well documented that Texas didn’t believe Robert Griffin III or Johnny Manziel (above) — the past two Heisman Trophy winners — could play quarterback for the Longhorns.
Mack Brown knows all too well the importance of the right quarterback. He won his only two conference titles in 28 years as a head coach with quarterbacks named Vince Young and Colt McCoy.
OUT-RECRUIT THE IN-STATE RIVALS
When Brown took over at Texas, Texas A&M was two years into a 15-year period of mediocrity under R.C. Slocum, Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman. Texas won most of the head-to-head recruiting battles between the two schools and dominated the series on the field.
Now, A&M is in the SEC and fresh off a 10–2 season that featured the first freshman, Manziel, to win the Heisman Trophy. The Aggies’ coach, Kevin Sumlin, has been dominant on the recruiting trail. Two players in the Class of 2013 who had been committed to Texas ended up signing with A&M, including highly regarded receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.
Brown didn’t have to worry about Baylor and TCU in recruiting or on the field during most of his time at Texas. That has changed. Baylor’s Art Briles and TCU’s Gary Patterson have elevated the profiles of their respective programs and have claimed victories both on the field and in recruiting.
Brown has always seen himself as the pied piper of the Texas high school coaches, always showering them with praise in hopes they’ll help encourage recruits to pick the Longhorns. But Briles, a former Texas high school coach, has equally strong ties at the high school level. And Patterson has won big with Texas talent.
Brown used to watch the fish jump into the boat. Not anymore. He has been out on the road recruiting more than ever, and it will take that kind of effort for Texas to re-establish itself as the top destination in the Lone Star State.
LIVE A CHAMPIONSHIP MENTALITY
The championship drive of a team has to be established from the top down. And an increasing number of Texas fans are doubting that Brown has what it takes to compete with the likes of Saban at Alabama and Urban Meyer at Ohio State any longer.
Brown was either confused or deliberately trying to deceive when he made it sound like the player personnel director position that Texas created in early 2013 was the result of new recruiting rules.
That position has been around for five years. Texas just this year got around to creating it. And based on Texas’ high number of misses in recruiting recently, it’s a position Brown could have benefited from if it was filled in 2007, when Harbaugh did the same at Stanford.
The NCAA also doesn’t currently have a limit on the number of quality control coaches you can hire. Saban has at least nine. Brown had three in 2012.
And while Brown has always been credited with having a great family atmosphere that is attractive to recruits, no one uses words like “physical” to describe the Longhorns. That has to start at the top and be an everyday way of life.
While coaches such as Saban, Meyer and Muschamp are notorious for breathing fire during practices to get players on edge, Brown is often standing at practice with the boosters he courts very carefully while leaving the coaching to his assistants.
And the question has to be asked: Does Brown still have enough competitive fire to compete on the field and on the recruiting trail with the likes of Bob Stoops? The Longhorns’ Red River rivals have won three in a row against the Horns, the last two by an average of 40 points — with OU teams that weren’t close to the best Stoops has had. That’s alarming.
Written by Chip Brown for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big 12 Preview Edition. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2013 Big 12 season.
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