Q: (RayderCT) - When the bottom fell out of the program two years ago, Mack Brown staked his coaching life on six new coaching hires that were supposed to save us from whatever caused the 2010 disaster. He went all-in with Bryan Harsin, Darrell Wyatt, Stacy Searels, Bo Davis, Manny Diaz and Bennie Wylie and we all believed that this group would make or break the future for Mack.
Two years later, this is what I see:
1. An offensive coordinator that everyone is glad is gone.
2. A wide receiver coach that hasn't really developed anyone since he's been here outside of what was already handed to him on a silver plate. Outside of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, where are the results on the field? Also, wasn't this guy supposed to be a great recruiter? Was Montrel Meander his eighth or ninth choice?
3. An offensive line that doesn't seem much closer to being a strength for the program.
4. A defensive tackle position that underperformed all season, despite three returning players, a JUCO addition and a five-star incoming freshman. I don't even want to talk about what's happened in recruiting this year.
5. A defensive coordinator that produced one of the worst defenses in school history.
6. A strength and conditioning coach that hasn't made much of an impact when you consider his biggest task was helping our linemen get better.
Have any of Mack's six saviors actually been good hires? I will hang up listen.
A: I take it that none of your friends would consider you a sunshine-pumper. There's a lot of TNT in your question, so I'll do my best to answer the questions without anything blowing up in my face.
Let's concede the point from the jump that the Longhorns haven't received enough return on their two-year investment from the hires that you've mentioned. It's one of the reasons why the 2013 season feels like a "line in the sand" moment. This is Mack's fourth season post-Alabama game and the program just hasn't been the same since, despite the vow to return things back to the way they were for various portions of the previous decade.
Here's the way I see things after two years of the new regime …
1. I'm not going to throw Bryan Harsin under the bus after two years for several reasons.
a. He inherited an absolute pile of mess in terms of personnel. Hell, he was hired because Mack knew that he needed someone that could make chicken salad out of you know what and that's exactly what Harsin was asked to do when he arrived.
b. He was able to take the incoming freshmen from the 2011 and 2012 classes and turn the offense into a respectable outfit, despite leaning on extremely young players all the time.
c. It's not his fault that the offensive line still isn't top-notch.
d. His work with David Ash probably saved the program because if Ash is in the bottom half of quarterback efficiency as a sophomore, the Longhorns would likely have been a 7-5 outfit … again.
That being said, I do think the changeover to Major Applewhite is a positive development for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Applewhite might be able to impose his will over Mack more than Harsin in terms of enforcing a true ideology, but I don't believe that the Harsin hire was a failure.
2. Let me begin by saying that I have a lot of respect for Darrell Wyatt and I have followed his career pretty closely for almost a decade. At one point, I probably would have considered him a friend within the industry, so I'm a bit spoiled in this discussion and I'll be honest about it. I know Wyatt can coach and I know he can recruit. Those comments aside, I am surprised that he hasn't had a bigger impact within the program at his position. I think he deserves credit for the continued development of Mike Davis and playing a central role in his return for a senior season, but I don't really know if I can name another receiver on campus that has really emerged under his watch thus far. I don't know that I can say Jaxon Shipley has made huge strides since he arrived already pretty damn good. The 2013 season is a big one because this is the year when the Longhorns need some of those players that he's coaching to take steps forward … big steps. The receiver position is in better shape than it was before he arrived, but the big results haven't been there yet.
3. Again, we have to stress that Mack Brown handed Stacy Searels a hot mess when he arrived in 2011. Seriously, he just hasn't been able to get enough pieces that look like the pieces he envisions in his idea of an offensive line. Still, he was hired because of his rep of developing players and I'm not sure how much developing has taken place because the team hadonlyone true standout this season, despite the return of almost the entire starting line-up. Heading into year three, he needs to produce better results because he never would have been hired in the first place if he had inspected the program and told Mack in the hiring process, "I'll need four years." It shouldn't take that long. Just like Wyatt, the 2013 season is a big one for Searels.
4. This one is hard to explain, but the moral of the story is the same … no more stories about the birth, just show us the damn baby. Davis' position group returned four players from the 2011 rotation and a projected impact JUCO player in 2012, which was as strong as anything anyone else in the Big 12 had coming into the season on paper, yet this group never found consistency all season long and its most experienced players proved to be its most mystifying. If you combined all the stats from the defensive tackles in the Longhorn program from last year, you'll find four sacks, zero forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and not a lot of protection for the linebackers behind them. Heading into this season, the expectations with four of those five returning players returning are big. As for recruiting, Davis has to produce better results because his work in the 2013 class hasn't been rewarded with incoming talent.
5. Diaz had a brutal 2012. The upcoming season will be defining, both on the field and in recruiting.
6. For the fifth time in the answer of this question, I point towards 2013 as not just an important season for Bennie Wylie, but also a defining one. The expectations for what he could do with the program were sky high when he arrived, but they haven't been met at this point. Specifically, it seems as if the development of the big men in the program is still in a holding pattern, as both sides of the ball remain in some sort of quality and quantity limbo heading into the year.
Moral of the story: Every one of these coaches on the staff understands the significance of the next 11 months as it relates to their professional careers.
Q: (WFHorn85) - Could you name the MVP of the 2013 season for each position group on offense and defense.
A: David Ash, Johnathan Gray, Mike Davis, M.J. McFarland, Trey Hopkins, Malcom Brown, Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks and Quandre Diggs.
Q: (lsampson) - When I look at Major's demeanor, I see a lot of Saban in him.
Maybe you could call him a Sabanist.
But then you look at The Mack and Sally Show and it is hard to bet against that tag team. Looking at Mack and his approach to recruiting, then looking at Major and his no nonsense approach, who do you think will be more effective when all is said and done?
Also, do you see more study being done by the coaches regarding recruiting since the turnover?
A: A program cannot perform at an elite level if the head coach of the program isn't leading the charge, both on the field and in recruiting. The good news is that Mack has never lost his thirst for recruiting … ever. He's very dialed into what's going on with the recruiting front and I think Major is a perfect right-hand man for him in that area but he is a dogged recruiter, even as a coordinator. He's not afraid to get in the knife fights and that's what the program needs more of.
The issue is still going to be about the selection of the type of recruits that the Longhorns want to target and it does sound like there is agreement on the staff on that front, which is key.
Finally, I think the coaches try to study more each year in recruiting, but I don't know if they are putting in double-time or anything like that. I'm sure they would suggest, even if the results aren't always there, that the effort is maxed out.
Q: (Doc2rouge) - 1. Geoff, I have seen a lot of complaints about the overall low number of recruits this year, holes in the class, quality of recruits in the class. Can you speak candidly about each of these matters and give me your opinion.
2. I truly want to see what kind of player Cayleb Jones is going to be. I have this suspicion that he is being a bit overlooked in the discussions of receiver for the likes of Davis and Shipley. They are both good players but I wonder if this kid could turn into a Crabtree? What are your thoughts?
A: The questions in the recruiting class as far as I can see exist at running back, wide receiver, big bodies on defense, pressure players on defense and a lack of playmakers in volume in general.
The numbers at running back, defensive tackle and pass rushers is obvious ... they don't currently have anyone in those roles, although de-commitments have served as serious gut punches and derailed some long-time planning for those spots. You'd have to give the recruiting at this positions an F on the eve of signing day, especially considering that all three positions represent big needs in the program.
My issue at wide receiver is that I'm not of the opinion that they landed the type of impact, super-blue chip prospect at the position that they should be able to sign each season. Wyatt has put together a very solid group, but there's no true "wow" guy in the group that will demand to be on the field as a freshman because he's just that damn good.
On the bright side, the offensive line group in this class has a lot of upside and the overall quality within the 15 that are committed is strong. Of course, development will be the key.
As for Jones, he's a guy from whom I expect much bigger things in 2013, but I don't know if I would compare him to Crabtree, although your question is a good chance for me to remind everyone that the Longhorns didn't offer Michael Crabtree because they went after James Henry instead. Doh!
Q: (Horns5) - Can you give us your "way too early" depth chart for next season?
A: Let's do it.
QB: David Ash/Case McCoy
RB: Johnathan Gray/Malcolm Brown
WR: Mike Davis/Kendall Sanders
WR: Jaxon Shipley/Marcus Johnson
WR: Daje Johnson/Bryant Jackson
TE: MJ McFarland/Greg Daniels
LT: Desmond Harrison/Kennedy Estelle
LG: Donald Hawkins/Dom Espinosa
C: Trey Hopkins/Dom Espinosa
RG: Mason Walters/Sedrick Flowers
RT: Josh Cochran/Camrhon Hughes
DE: Jackson Jeffcoat/Reggie Wilson
DT: Malcom Brown/Ashton Dorsey
DT: Desmond Jackson/Chris Whaley
DE: Cedric Reed/Shiro Davis
OLB: Jordan Hicks/Kendall Thompson
MLB: Steve Edmond/Dalton Santos
OLB: Peter Jinkens/Tevin Jackson
CB: Carrington Byndom/Leroy Scott
FS: Quandre Diggs/Josh Turner
SS: Mykkele Thompson/Adrian Phillips
CB: Duke Thomas/Sheroid Evans
Q: (HuffTex) - If our young LBs, like Peter Jinkens and Tevin Jackson, continue to develop as big playmakers, and either Steve Edmond or Dalton Santos becomes the player we thought they'd be, now that they have experience, do we return to the type of defense we had in 2011, especially with Jordan Hicks back in the saddle? If we approach the level of success the 2011 defense had, with the exception that we're more consistent game in and game out, are we a BCS bowl team? I think we are. Of course, I'm also counting on Jackson Jeffcoat coming back strong, and our youngsters continuing to improve
A: The performance level across the board must improve for this defense to take the steps needed to becoming a standout unit. One of the areas the team knows it must make significant improvement is in the heart of the defense at every level … defensive tackle, linebacker and safety. The pieces would appear to be in place for very good things on that side of the ball, but we thought the same exact thing going into 2012 and it was a disaster on that side of the ball at various times. Also, I don't expect Edmond or Santos to be principle factors in the defense next year, outside of a role as a run-down specialist.
Q: (GHenderson) - I've posted this on the board before and got a few responses, but curious if you know any more about Austin Collins out of Navasota. I heard he's going to a JC, do you know the reason? Is he a player we'll keep tabs on to possibly get in a year or two?
A: Like most kids that have the talent level that Collins possesses (he's a talented kid), there are likely some academic issues that he's working to overcome, but he'll certainly be a player in which colleges could have a real interest if it all comes together for him. I think he's a guy you keep tabs on, but you probably couldn't plan around at this point. Also, don't discount that he might double-sign when it's all said and done because it's probably worth a flyer for a school that recruits that way.
Q: (badboy783) - I'll try to keep it short with a two-part question. In 2010 Mack said he wanted to the team to be more physical and be a running team that could pass. Flash forward and I believe he had the right idea under the wrong style. Being more physical is certainly something we needed. I'm of the opinion though that physical isn't decided on the field more than it's decided in the weight room in the off season. I'm 6-3 210 lbs and can bench all of about 265 for a few reps. I can line up against Desmond Jackson all day and come off the ball like a maniac, that doesn't mean he's not going to drive me back 10 yards. A lot of people envision the spread offense making teams less physical at the point of attack and I don't believe that to be true either. You can be physically imposing on a team without lining up under the center and pounding the rock out of the I-formation.
How do you feel about Mack's decision to abandon the spread movement in the Big 12 and throw sheep to the wolves by demanding that we be a power running team even though we were already undersized, over matched in the strength department and sure to be out-schemed with the inability to find way to get our playmakers the ball in space?
Flash forward to 2013. Major is going to dumb down all the packages and simplify the offense. If you were to set the bar for how the tone needs to be set, which combination of backs in the running game do you use to keep the game moving on the ground while allowing Ash to progress through the air and in the running game?
A: I just want to say that if your idea of keeping it short is 300 words, you're a man after my own heart.
I think it's obvious that the decision to make the leap to an Alabama-style of offense, featuring lots of power and physicality, was a huge mistake given the talent level on hand. I think that mistake has been somewhat acknowledged with this new offensive ideology that simply shifts the direction of the things they do well into a different vision.
Also, I don't know if I would say the Longhorns are dumbing down the offense, as much as they quickening the pace and eliminating some of the clutter. I think the three backs that need to be featured moving forward are Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Daje Johnson, if you consider Johnson a back and not a wide receiver.
There's no need to make it rocket science.