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August 24, 2008Mack Brown has made a big-time hire in Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. He brought back Major Applewhite as running backs coach. He's talking about expanding the offense, redshirting less players and playing freshmen. These are all notable shifts in the Mack Brown Paradigm. Here's a look at the 10 biggest changes Brown has made in his 10 years at Texas.
10. Putting assistant coaches in charge of the spring off-season program
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: When Dick Tomey showed up in 2004, he wanted to be in charge of the team's 6 a.m. workouts in the spring, so he and Mac McWhorter took over the workouts from strength coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden. First, this was a brilliant move because Tomey has always been an early bird. From Hawaii, to Arizona, to San Jose State, Tomey has always practiced his teams at 6 a.m., even during the fall. Second, Tomey and McWhorter gave the players a different energy from Madden, who is more subdued. The assistant coaches have continued to supervise the off-season workouts in the spring. Gene Chizk took over from Tomey in 2005, and Will Muschamp took it over this season.
9. Firing Tim Nunez/Hiring Mac McWhorter
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: When Mack arrived at Texas, he wanted to hire Mac McWhorter as his offensive line coach, but McWhorter was at Clemson and unable to get out of his current deal. By 2002, it was clear Texas was struggling to get its running game going. In Nunez's five seasons as O-line coach, Texas failed to average 4 yards per carry (the benchmark of any good rushing team) three times. Texas averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in 1999, 3.9 per carry in 2000 and a Mack Brown Era low 3.4 ypc in 2002. And that season featured Cedric Benson and Selvin Young at running back. Ever since 2003, when McWhorter was promoted to O-line coach after working with the tackles and tight ends in 2002, Texas lost its soft label and has averaged 5.2 yards per carry the last five seasons.
8. Hiring Ken Rucker as player liaison
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: This one seems like kind of a no-brainer when you have the resources Texas has. But Brown still deserves credit for going ahead and doing it. Under NCAA rules, coaches can have no contact with players during the summer. That's when Texas had all of its trouble in 2007, so Brown went about hiring a director of high school relations and player development. Rucker, who battled prostate cancer early last season, decided that job was a better fit for him than running backs coach. Mack Brown feels like players are more willing to talk candidly with Rucker about personal issues than with a position coach or even the head coach, who could allow such information to cloud their view of the player on the field.
7. Firing Larry Mac Duff/Hiring Will Muschamp
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: Our feeling is this one could move a lot higher up the list after this season. But we'll let the results on the field dictate that rather than all the praise Muschamp is receiving from players and fellow coaches. Mac Duff was part of a failed experiment that resulted in the most total yards and passing yards allowed in the history of Texas football. Duane Akina, a first-time defensive play caller in 2007, and Mac Duff were unable to rekindle the magic they had under Tomey with the Desert Swarm defense at Arizona in the early 1990s. Muschamp has already helped win a national title (at LSU in 2003) and been a coordinator in the NFL. With virtually no experience at safety against a schedule of veteran quarterbacks, Muschamp has never once tried to lower expectations for his defense. In his blue-collar fashion, he's gone about trying to create a wicked pass rush.
6. Adopting team building methods of Dick Tomey
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: No one does team-building like Tomey. From his early-morning workouts to having players sit down in position groups and tell their life stories along with their position coaches. Players said they got up from such exercises with renewed respect for their teammates. They emerged more willing to go to war for and with each other. Those exercises in 2004 helped lay foundations for the chemistry and leadership exhibited in UT's 2005 national title run.
5. Allowing Ricky Williams' dreadlocks to flow
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: When Mack Brown initially met with Ricky Williams after Brown took the Texas job in 1998, Williams was leaning toward jumping to the NFL after his junior year. Then Brown asked Williams if he'd cut his hair. Williams said in a recent Q&A on Texassports.com at that point he was "99 percent sure" he was jumping to the NFL. Williams said he voiced all his concerns about the Texas program to Brown and then went to lunch with Mack and Sally. (As I've said repeatedly, Sally Brown is the single biggest reason for Mack's success, and she proved it again at that lunch with Ricky.)
"I guess the final piece came when I went to lunch with a friend of mine and him, and he had Sally (his wife) with him at the Hyde Park Grill," Williams said. "Just to see him with Sally was important. I always have been a guy that judges people by their relationships. To see the two of them that way, I really had a lot of respect for him, not only as a coach, but as a person. I think the next day or the day after that, we had the press conference to announce that I was staying."
The dreadlocks were no longer a deal breaker, and a magical first season unfolded for Texas fans and Brown.
4. Embracing Texas fan's unrelenting expectations
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: Mack's first year at Texas couldn't have gone any better, really. OK, maybe if he could have found a way to win that game at Texas Tech. But his victory at Nebraska, then knocking off Texas A&M as Ricky Williams set the NCAA rushing record and then won the Heisman. Pretty storybook. But 1999 brought a rude awakening as Texas suffered three blocked punts and was upset at home by N.C. State in a game Brown added to the schedule to help prepare UT for an upcoming game against Stanford. Brown couldn't believe Texas fans could turn on him so quickly. He didn't handle it well. He also couldn't believe Texas fans could badmouth him after all he'd done to heal the football program (after more than 30 years of it being divided following Darrell Royal's retirement). But Brown has come to embrace the expectations at Texas.
"We don't have rebuilding years at Texas," Brown said. "What you do is try to win every game every year. That's what you do. That's what the people want here. And that's what I was hired for. We used to talk about how young people are and who was hurt. But none of that matters. If a guy's at Texas, he should be able to play."
3. Becoming less sensitive
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: Mack said in 2005 that he quit worrying about what critics were saying about him after the 2003 season. That year, Texas lost to Washington State in the Holiday Bowl and two major newspapers in the state reported Mack Brown was under pressure to get rid of Greg Davis and that several other members of the staff would be leaving. None of it was true. Brown said he decided to make his job about his players and making sure they had a quality college experience. Good thing. Earlier that year, Brown had taken offense to quotes in The New York Times by a UT season ticket holder named Jed Schmidt (who went to Texas State). Schmidt had called for Davis' ouster. Brown actually hunted down Schmidt's phone number and called him to say his quotes in the paper didn't help the program. It all surfaced during Texas-OU week, when UT was subsequently hammered, 65-13, by the Sooners. One national writer said, "Brown's skin is so thin, you can see through it." Not anymore. Brown can laugh at himself now.
2. Hiring Dick Tomey and Greg Robinson in 2004
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: Brown proved he was willing to bring in staff members with big resumes (bigger than Brown's) and big ideas when he hired Tomey and Robinson for the 2004 season. Tomey was the all-time victory leader at Arizona and Hawaii at the time. Robinson had won Super Bowls as defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. By their actions, they helped remind Brown of his new motto - not to let criticism and outside forces impact the inner sanctum of the coaches room and locker room. At one point, Tomey chided Brown in front of the other coaches to quit worrying about perception and things that didn't matter to the football product on Saturdays. It was a great experience for Brown, who not only grew from it but continued to bring in A-type personalities in Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp. Some coaches have to be the smartest guy in the room and it shows in who they choose for assistants. Brown eagerly broadcasts that he wants his assistants to move on to head coaching jobs. He didn't feel that way when he arrived at Texas, hiring a bunch of assistants who had already been coordinators and maybe turned out to be a little set in their ways.
1. Letting Vince be Vince
MACK'S MINDSHIFT: Mack Brown's grandfather was a very successful high school coach in Tennessee. Mack rode on the buses and remembered how the players had to be quiet. If they said a word, they were considered unfocused and lambasted by coaches. So Brown had always kept a tight rein on his teams. When Cedric Griffin started celebrating in practice after a big hit the way players at Miami would, Brown took him to task. Vince Young noticed players starting to feel repressed and uptight. Young went to Brown and said let me be me and allow things to loosen up a bit. Brown relented because he trusted Young and the veteran leadership of the team. Suddenly, there were flow sessions (freestyle raps) on the bus to the games, music during the warm-ups and even 50 Cent on Mack's iPod. (No one will ever forget Brian Robison's story about Mack pulling his shorts low on his hips, shifting his ballcap ace-deuce and dropping a little Cent during a practice.) At the end of 2005, there was a crystal football in Texas' trophy case.
"You've got to be tough to handle these jobs," Brown said. "You've got to have a strong philosophy and believe in it to be successful. But unless you're flexible enough to change when you need to change - and I mean offenses, defenses, assistant coaches, players, the music you listen to, when you let them listen to it, when you don't, which teams can dance, which teams need to hit more
"I talked to two young head coaches today and they said, 'How do you know how much to hit?' I said, 'You don't. There's no books.' They asked me, 'How do you know when your team is tired or out of shape?' I said, 'You don't. There's no book, no training wheels.' You've got to go back to your instincts and say, 'This is enough, I'm pulling off,' or 'This team needs more work, I'm going to push 'em harder.' You listen to your staff but you ultimately make the decision and go forward with it."