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December 11, 2010

Is Mack's heart in the rebuild?

1. If people are being honest with Mack Brown right now, he's probably getting a pretty good wake-up call.

We've heard some things that have certainly made us think there are much more deep-rooted issues than even trying to replace three assistant coaches (and maybe more).

It's one thing to have dissension among players. When you don't have great player leadership like Texas experienced this past season, then it falls on the coaches to lead the players until that player leadership grows up and takes over.

Well, there appears to be some player dissension at Texas right now. For starters, the consulting firm hired by Mack Brown to evaluate his program had the players answer questions about which players and coaches did a good job and which ones didn't. Then it required the players sign their own names to it. Guess what? You don't get honest answers that way.

But there were more than Xs and Os issues on the coaching staff this past season.

There may be good reason to believe Mack Brown's hires to fill the vacancies created by the departures of Greg Davis, Mac McWhorter and Mike Tolleson will be the determining factor if some of the other staff stays or goes.

According to those close to the coaches leaving the staff, Mack has been rigid in areas that have left some of the staff utterly exasperated, including areas of recruiting and accountability.

In at least one case, those areas are tied together. Mack Brown often promises a high school junior if they commit to Texas, the Longhorns won't recruit behind him from the same class unless Mack tells a player, we are taking two quarterbacks or three running backs this year.

Well, that's when a kid is a junior. So when a late bloomer develops on the horizon or Texas learns a mega-talented kid in another state wants to come, the Longhorns' hands are tied to Mack's promise. And if that kid doesn't turn out, well, then you've fallen two to three years or more behind at a position.

That's how assistants get frustrated. And that "entitlement" Mack is always talking about like the plague is, in many ways, being established sometimes two seasons before a kid hits campus.

Another concern that appears to be growing in the program is accountability. It seems like a moving target under Mack.

A lot of young players play on defense. It encourages players to never take a lazy step. The young ones are rotated through, given the chance to grow, learn, gain confidence, ultimately shine and produce. It keeps competition and morale high and bonds that side of the ball.

That wasn't the case on the offensive side of the ball. When offensive linemen kept false starting, some of their snaps weren't given to younger players. They were allowed to just keep making the same mistakes, including seniors who were going to have to be replaced in 2011.

That appears to have pissed off some of the other position coaches on the staff.

And yet Mack Brown allowed it to happen. That lack of consistency in holding players accountable is a big reason Greg Davis and Mac McWhorter are no longer with the Longhorns. But it wasn't all their fault. Mack Brown has final say over who plays and who doesn't.

The bottom line is the names you're hearing right now as candidates for jobs - Jim McElwain as offensive coordinator from Alabama; Bob Bostad as offensive line coach from Wisconsin; and John Papuchis as defensive tackles coach and special teams coordinator from Nebraska - these are all edgy coaches who will demand a lot from players.

We're not saying they will all be hired. But those are some of the names in the mix, and they bring what Texas needs. More than schemes and Xs and Os, this program needs edge and accountability.

The question is, if they are hired, will Mack allow the coaches to demand everything they need from the players? Let's just say, if he doesn't, the problems won't get fixed.


2. As Mack Brown has gotten more and more successful, he's seemed to pay as much or more attention to the image of the program as he does to the substance of the program.

He's left the substance up to his coordinators, and that's fine. That's what a CEO coach like Mack, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden should do.

The problem is when you get so enamored with the image of your program over a near seven-year run like Mack just had with Vince Young and Colt McCoy, you can lose sight of where your program is slipping.

And if you're a coach who is always so concerned about how the program is playing to recruits and knowing exactly what to say in all the radio and TV interviews, when the bottom falls out, it is (1) beyond embarrassing and (2) because you've been so worried about the image of your program, when it's time to fix the substance of your program, you don't know how to do it.

In the moment of truth this season, after losing to Iowa State, Mack blasted his coordinators with a tone of, "I'm ready. I'm doing my job. But this is how you all do me?"

How could that not leave some of the staff cold? It's one thing to identify the problem. But where are the solutions? And what if Mack was as much a part of the problem as anyone else? When a coach is coming at the players from a point of style over substance in a time of crisis, the players pick up on that and start to check out.

Where was Mack Brown saying to his staff, "We are all in this together. Here's how we are going to get it figured out. I apologize if I've put too much time and emphasis elsewhere. Let's roll up our sleeves."

Instead, it came off as YOU get this fixed or else.

Talk about entitlement.

That's why there is very good reason to believe if Will Muschamp and a guy like Major Applewhite, both of whom have coached for Nick Saban and understand the constant edge that needs to be in a program, aren't on board with what Mack Brown ultimately comes up with for his new staff, there could more fallout.


3. Orangebloods.com has learned Florida is making efforts to gauge the interest of Will Muschamp as it prepares to find a successor for Urban Meyer. Miami has done the same.

Is Muschamp the first choice at Florida? No. Was Pete Carroll the first choice at USC? No.

So things can develop, turn left, turn right.

That's why Mack Brown's every move right now is so critical to the future of the Longhorns' program. I still think Mack believes Will Muschamp is the right guy to be coach-in-waiting at Texas. But does Will Muschamp still believe Mack Brown is the right guy to be heading the UT program based on everything that just happened in 2010?

Mack's decisions on these hires will probably go a long way in convincing Muschamp either way.

And how long would Muschamp be willing to hang around if he sees some hires being made that don't take on more of the edgy personality Muschamp was used to under Saban? And how long would he be willing to stay if the coaches hired start to become watered down by the image-conscious CEO attitude of Mack Brown?

At some point you have to be who you are. Muschamp is a guy who preaches a blue collar, overachieving attitude. That's who he is.

It's reasonable to conclude Mack Brown lost his fastball when it comes to connecting with the players this past season. Nothing he said or did worked. Texas lost seven of its last nine. If Mack thinks this was all his assistant coaches' fault, he probably needs to hire a new consulting firm.

The bottom line is Mack has to find new staff members who can put an edge into this team, especially on offense, the same way Muschamp did on defense in 2008. Mack knows that.

As Jim Harbaugh gets questions about if he'll still be at Stanford next year, he keeps referring to a sign his dad (longtime coach Jack Harbaugh) had over his office that Jim now has as well. It says, "Just Coach The Team." And don't worry about everything else.

Muschamp has a saying: "Remove the clutter." (It's a Saban saying.)

At times, he has to wonder if Mack Brown shares that philosophy when the Cleve Bryant drama is playing out as Cleve, the director of football operations, and his wife, Jean, an academic adviser in the football program, are still collecting checks while on paid leave.

The questions about if Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden is the right guy to be leading the players through the off-season are being asked because that coach spends more time with players than any other coach on staff. When the position coaches are barred from contact with the players through the summer, the strength and conditioning coach is with them.

Does Madden have the edge it takes to get this team back on track? It's not just about workout programs and explosive power, it's about attitude.

Championships are built in the off-season. The 2005 title run was built by VY putting on the grease board, things like whoever wants to beat Ohio State will be here at 5 pm today.

So these hires over the next two to three weeks will undoubtedly have a lot to say about Mack Brown's final impression at Texas.

Mack has written a handbook on how to build a program that he put together for high school coaches. How comfortable would he be in making a bunch of changes at the suggestion of guys like Muschamp and Applewhite?

Mack has never been afraid to bring smart guys into the room. It's one of his greatest strengths. There is a great saying, A's hire A's and B's hire C's. Mack is an A who has hired A's.

These hires could also determine if Will Muschamp stays or goes, depending on how the job situation at other schools (Florida and Miami right now) are looking in that time frame.

Are Texas fans worried about Muschamp becoming disenfranchised under Mack? Or do they still trust Mack to push all the right buttons in this rebuild and hire Muschamp's replacement if that's what it comes to?

Because that's what it is - a rebuild. It can be a quick rebuild or a long one. But it's a rebuild.


4. Texas has missed horribly in recruiting on the offensive line and at running back and lacks proven depth at defensive tackle.

Unless Texas starts getting a better evaluation of those players, it might not matter who is coaching them. Texas not having a single offensive player on the first or second team All Big 12 team for the first time in league history this season? That's a joke, when UT often picks players rather than recruits them.

That's an underrated part of the problem Texas is suffering from right now - player evaluations. The Longhorns tend to recruit measurables, much like the NFL when it comes to the draft. But UT has allowed some great talent in Texas to flourish elsewhere. (Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, Jacquizz Rodgers, Christine Michael, offensive linemen, etc.)

The evaluations in recruiting have to be better, especially in the trenches. That's why it's a young man's game, getting out on the road and getting great evaluations. That's why Nick Saban is always hiring young guys and using all of their youthful passion to his advantage.

Saban is confident enough to know he can flat out coach. So he wants young guys he can teach and who have the youthful energy to outwork everyone else.

Mack Brown initially had the exact opposite approach at Texas. He hired a bunch of former coordinators with a ton of experience to come in. And that staff got its head kicked in by Bob Stoops for five straight years before Mack started to change that staff.

And even the coaches being let go right now at Texas are all closer to 60 than 30. The majority of Saban's staff is closer to 30 than 60. Saban learned that from Bill Belichick when the two were together in Cleveland. Heck, Saban was a young coach when Belichick hired him.

A&M dumped 66-year-old Joe Kines last season and brought in 47-year-old Tim DeRuyter from Air Force. A&M's defense turned completely around.

We know it can happen.


5. Where is Mack Brown's heart right now?

Is it in rebuild mode? Is it in getting back into the mindset he was in back in 1989, when he had his last losing season? Mack Brown has said himself he never thought he would have another season like 2010. He thought his losing seasons were behind him.

Mack even said he called some of his former North Carolina players from back in his early, struggling years to figure out what it was that helped them go from a loser to a perennial winner in the early 1990s.

But what does that even say? That Mack is now having to call guys who are 40 years old to see if they remember what it was 20 years ago that Mack said or did to help turn that North Carolina program around?

I know these thoughts seem be directed harshly at Mack Brown, but Rick Barnes always says, "You need truth tellers in your life."

And the bottom line is Mack Brown has staff members ready to go to war. But the way Mack handled everything in 2010 has everyone wondering if Mack's heart is still in the game of coaching or if he's already more about enjoying the fruits of what he's built?

There's no question Mack thought he was going to win the national title in 2009. I was standing there when Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com said to Mack after the game, "We'll never know how it would have turned out if Colt stayed in the game." Mack snapped, "It wouldn't have been close."

That game could haunt Mack forever. He's convinced Texas was going to win, and then he's got 2 national titles, one more than all the guys who, at times, made his life miserable coaching on the way up. Guys like Steve Spurrier and Bob Stoops.

Mack was this close to winning that second national title and maybe walking off into the sunset. But at this very moment, with three hires to make (and possibly more), it probably seems like he is from here to the sun from winning another national title. Mack doesn't want to be an old coach. He's 59. I think he's enamored with doing television.

Where is his heart? If it's not in the rebuild, he should turn it over to Muschamp and go do TV. If Mack thinks he can just oversee the new hires without taking a look at how his staff needs consistency in accountability and some changes in the way UT recruits, his heart may not be in the rebuild.

And if Mack's heart is not in the rebuild, Muschamp will sense it and probably move on at his first opportunity, anyway.

These hires will go a long way in telling the staff and players if Mack's heart is in the rebuild.


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