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October 17, 2012
Is it possible that John Kreese was simply misunderstood?
Oh, don't get me wrong, the guy was a certifiable nut-job as the chief bad guy in the original version of The Karate Kid. He was pretty horrible with kids, probably shouldn't have been in a position to instruct young minds and I'm almost certain that there was some sort of post-Vietnam stress disorder that was never properly diagnosed upon his return to the States in the 1970s.
However, at the end of the day, the only things that likely kept Kreese from possibly crossing over into the mainstream as a beacon of the community is the knowledge that he picked the wrong sport to coach and didn't have a proper filter for his use of the English language. If you think back to the movie, there are really three things that have forever been held against him.
1. He was the adult figure leading a testosterone-filled collection of school bullies that ran the social scene among teenagers in the area via the art of fear.
2. He ordered the code red on Daniel Larusso's leg.
3. He was a racist jerk of a human being.
If No. 3 wasn't a fact and had he simply yelled, "Carpe Diem!" towards Johnny Lawrence in the final scene of the All-Valley Karate Championship instead of the iconic "Finish him!", I'm fairly convinced that we could have tolerated his overall ideology if we simply inserted him into a realm more properly suited for him? like coaching football.
"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
Vince Lombardi said that. John Kreese lived that. At the end of the day, he was just a guy coaching a team?trying?not only to score a win against its biggest rival, but also to coach his young men to be champions "by any means necessary."? Kreese had trained his team year-round for that one, singular moment. And if that meant Kreese had to go Malcolm X up in that arena that night, so be it.
Again, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing, right? In youth karate, that's a no-no. However, if this had been college football instead of karate, John Kreese might have been the original Nick Saban (minus the racist thing).
So, where am I going with all of this? Eventually, the moral of the entire story will be this simple point? if only Mack Brown had a little more John Kreese in his DNA.
One of the greatest ironies of the recent three-year fall of the Texas football program is that it didn't have to be like this. In fact, not only did it not have to be like this, but this bottoming out occurred only after Mack Brown had reached the zenith of his coaching career in Austin.
Let us take a spin in the DeLorean back to 2009-10 and consider the climate Brown had created for himself and the program. The Longhorns were in the midst of completing one of the greatest two-year runs in the history of the program with a senior class that was probably his favorite of all-time. The Longhorns had been national title factors in three of the previous five seasons. Players were suiting up on NFL rosters at a rate that made the Longhorn brand a national leader in that department.
Yet more than anything else, Mack Brown had his foot on the throat of Bob Stoops and threatened to end the reign of his most significant coaching rival. Consider that when I wrote The Worm Has Turned column after the opening week of the 2009 season that the Longhorns were on the verge of winning their fourth game in five years against Stoops. Their dominance in recruiting was so emphatic that it helped lead the virtual deportation of Oklahoma from the state borders for several years. Hell, we didn't even know the Death Star known as the Longhorn Network was?a possibility?at that stage of the game. But if we had known it would have made what has happened even more perplexing.
While the Alabama game that ended the 2009 season currently represents the end of Brown's greatest years in Austin, the truth is? his program was a superpower among superpowers in the world of college football. Texas was in a position to pull off an unprecedented run of success, all with Stoops' face clearly underneath Mack's Nikes.
That image this week reminded me of an event from my sophomore year at McCallum High School here in Austin. While playing a pick-up basketball game in the side gym, I got into a shoving match with a guy named Chris Marshall (who would later stand in my wedding). A friend of ours named Billie Cates entered the situation, and although I don't even remember the exact events that ignited the scene, we began fighting.
Although Billie was taller than I was, I had a definite size advantage. After landing the first real punch of the fight, I was able to get him on the ground and into a bit of a fetal position. It was while I was in a position to truly win the fight that I needed John Kreese around me to scream, "Finish him!"
Except that's not what I did. As a young man that had been in too many scraps to keep count as a youth, I started to take my victory lap before I had finished the job. I'll never forget standing over him and feeling zero fear for the moment as I started to clown around with some of the other guys watching the fight. While feeling incredibly good about myself over half of a job well done, something very interesting happened? Billie struck back.
I'm not kidding when I tell you before I could figure out what in the hell happened, Billie swept my legs out from underneath me (ironic, I know) and had me on all fours, while he stood above me. Unfortunately for me, he did not take an early victory lap and before I could get on my feet, he landed a haymaker of an uppercut that landed flush on my nose. As I got to my feet, I wasn't hurt at all, but blood was everywhere, and I was literally seeing multiple opponents. I swung and missed. He landed what amounted to a very solid jab and right as my vision started to clear, the fight was broken up.
If it had been a Vegas prizefight, I might have been given credit for my early takedown. But this was no 12-round scoring affair. Billie landed the hardest punch, caused the most damage and landed the last punch as a cherry on top of the fighting sundae.
In the moment, I always thought there would be a chance for me to avenge my loss. I stewed around for days wanting a second chance so that I could rectify things. But that opportunity never happened. The truth of the matter is that Billie and I were boys, and we never should have fought in the first place. In fact, I think we ended up having a slam dunk contest on Marshall's outdoor, 7-foot basketball goal a few days later. It was like nothing ever happened (for the record, I'm not sure a rematch would have done any good, because as I learned over time, Billie was a guy you could take into a dark alley with expectations of coming out the other side).
The truth is life is a very serendipitous affair. A lot of little moments can often lead up to a single defining moment in time? a one-shot deal? and it can never be recreated in life again if missed.
No matter how the Mack Brown story in Austin ends, the most disappointing aspect of that story for Texas fans will be the knowledge that this completely undefinable three-season thing?the program remains in only ignited itself when Texas was in a position to soar to historic heights. Every good and bad piece of Mack's first decade in the program had led to this pinnacle moment. After all of those early beatdowns at the hands of Stoops, Mack had been able to sweep the leg and completely flip the tables.
He was the one that owned a string of head-to-head dominance. He was the one with a chance to finish the job in a way that Stoops couldn't back in 2004 because of Vince Young's presence in the Texas locker room. Yet, with the finish line within reach, Mack took his eye off the task, and all the effort that had gone into creating this single incredible defining moment in 2009 was wasted.?Mack has blamed what happened next on his inability to get over the loss to Alabama. And what?came next was Mack's worst season as a coach, and a complete start-over.
There are zero guarantees that the position the program owned?in 2009?will ever be obtained again. Yet, the truth remains that once upon a time, Mack Brown had Bob Stoops on the ground with a chance to go in for the final TKO, and a lack of focus allowed the moment to slip away.
That Mack didn't finish the job does not mean the opportunity never existed. On the contrary, it's the knowledge of what could have been that might forever exist and haunt the souls of those who eat, sleep and drink Longhorn football.
All of this brings me back to John Kreese.
For all of his faults, Kreese's ideology was exactly what Mack needed coming out of the Alabama game. To hell with what happened in that game with Colt because all of the blood, sweat and tears from the previous decade had led to this moment in time when Mack was position to rule Bob Stoops (and Nick Saban), the Big 12 and perhaps the college football world. The program was bigger than that single game in Pasadena.
That was the mentality needed in Mack Brown's zenith. That it wasn't there has led the Longhorn Nation, unfathomably,?to a?period?of incredible uncertainty.
Much to the frustration and chagrin of Longhorn fans, Mack's inability to channel his inner John Kreese is the reason we stand here today, not knowing what happens next.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, except it is.