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Mack Brown’s Possible Replacements November 25, 2013

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texas_coach_mack_brown1Allow me to preface this article in that writing this brings me no joy at all.  For the majority of Mack Brown’s tenure at the University of Texas, he proved to be the perfect organizational fit for the program and the university.  Moreover, he is demonstrably among the most adept coaches in college football at the ‘people’ side of the business.  One can clearly see this in how we carries himself during the impromptu halftime interviews before he heads into the locker room to make halftime adjustments with his team.  Anybody who has observed him during these interviews can vouch that he comes across as a happy gentleman to the sideline reporter for that given game, and he treats said reporter as if he or she is certainly worth his time, despite the more pressing matters that surely weigh on his mind at those given moments.  Reportedly, he treats people with the same class and dignity behind the scenes/off-camera as well.

The problem, however, is that since the 2010 season, the program has clearly headed in the wrong direction.  The mediocre season of 2006 was excusable, given the drop-off a defending national champion normally experiences (Alabama being an exception to the rule).  The fact that they were able to return to the national title game just four years after winning their most recent one showed that the program was still among the strongest nationally.  Yet starting in 2010, a precipitous drop-off in performance occurred, one that made the 2006 season look phenomenal by comparison.

Granted, not all of this is Mack Brown’s fault.  The downside to being one of the sexiest programs in all of college football is that you are constantly a prime target for other programs to lure away your best assistant coaches, either for lateral moves with even higher pay, or for head coaching gigs of their own, such as Bryan Harsin (erstwhile offensive coordinator, now head coach at Arkansas State) or Will Muschamp (formerly defensive coordinator, currently embattled Florida head coach).  This creates a major problem of coaching continuity.  How this translates into the program suffering is simple:  instead of concentrating all of his off-the-field attention on recruiting, Brown and Co. have to divert part of that time and energy into hunting for suitable replacement personnel.  This reduced time for recruiting analysis in turn leads to whiffing on key recruits, which partially explains the Horns’ mediocre-to-weak performances in most of its big games since 2010.

Another issue is institutional arrogance, something Mack Brown could help curtail, but hasn’t.  He once bragged that if he were head coach at Texas in 1997, he would not have overlooked Drew Brees as possible QB for the Horns.  Yet despite this boast, he clearly overlooked Johnny Manziel, and when Texas tried to recruit Robert Griffin III, they tried to recruit him as a defensive back.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Such institutional arrogance can most effectively be curtailed by the head coach himself, and yet the problem has yet to be addressed.

After a couple of embarrassing losses earlier in the year (one to BYU, the other to Ole Miss), we all left the program for dead.  Then the unexpected happened in that instead of getting blown out by Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout (like in 2012), we had our way with the Sooners instead.  Needless to say, this took us all by surprise, albeit pleasantly.  We quickly got the impression that perhaps things had quickly turned out, that all it took was the firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replacing him with the more capable Greg Robinson.  More wins over TCU and Kansas soon followed.  We initially chalked up having to go into OT to beat West Virginia to simple things such as, A) it was on the road, and B) it was West Virginia, and team very unpredictable in terms of whether they will come out flat or with their hair on fire.

But after the undressing the Longhorns had at the hands of Oklahoma State last week, we were all shocked back into reality.  There are still systemic problems in the program that have remained unaddressed.  The positively embarrassing loss to Oklahoma last year left many fans grumbling that it was time for a changing of the guard, including the thoughtful writers at Barking Carnival.  Even after a face-saving win over the Sooners this year, the loss to the Cowboys reminded us that glaring issues remain unaddressed, issues that will only be resolved by a change in direction of the program, which is best accomplished with a new CEO of the company.

So who are the viable replacements?  In truth, more than a few names are bandied about, but for the sake of cutting through the clutter, let us reduce that relatively lengthy list to a couple of already-mentioned names, plus one or two more than people have not mentioned or are reticent to for whatever reason.

I agree with Big(g) Ern at Barking Carnival.  New Texas athletics director Steve Patterson should at least ask Nick Saban and Urban Meyer if they are interested.  Neither are likely to be, given their current situations, but there is no harm in asking, and confirmed “no’s” from both men will put meaningless speculation from fans to rest once and for all, save for the most delusional of meatballs.

Besides, it is unlikely that Saban would leave Alabama for Texas, no matter how much money you offer him.  He is 62 years old, already has a palace of a house, and is not someone who uses all that money to buy expensive toys.  The reason being, he has no interest in expensive toys;  he’s a workaholic, and workaholics are driven by the job, not by toys.  Besides, he has built an almost-bulletproof dynasty at one of the most storied programs in all of college football; how does one top that?

So who could it be?  Let us start with the most obvious of names:

Mike Gundy:  This could work.  He’s one of those coaches who is highly effective if he has tons of resources at his disposal.  That might not be the most flattering of commentaries, but given that he has been back up with T. Boone Pickens’ money, he has managed to do great things at Oklahoma State.  Imagine what he could accomplish with the unlimited monetary back of Texas’ boosters?  If such possibilities stand to reason, it would be enough for us to divert our attention from his teenage-like hairline, despite being a man of 46.

Chris Petersen:  This also could work.  It is at this juncture that I part company with the thoughtful fellows at Barking Carnival.  They seem to think that because the luster of the Boise State program is fading, that Petersen himself is by consequence a less viable candidate for the position.  But the diminished national prestige of the program is not Petersen’s fault.  It is just that the Broncos’ stock has peaked in value.  Boise State has become a victim of its own success.  Given that Idaho is hardly hotbed for top-tier college talent, they have to look elsewhere (mostly California) for good players.  The highest-profile recruits in that region will usually choose USC, UCLA, Oregon or Arizona State over Boise State, so they have to devise a system to root out guys with enough talent to compete, but at the same time, find guys who are “tweeners” that are usually overlooked by the big boys.  Then, Boise State needs to  devise and offensive and defensive system that plays to the strengths of these “tweener” recruits.

At this, they have been remarkably successful until recently.  What has happened is that they have become a victim of their own success.  No team that is viable on a national scale wants to play Boise State anymore because they – the Broncos — could upset them, thus ruining a potential run at a national title.  Worse yet, there is little incentive to play Boise State in their home stadium, since the university has done nothing to expand the stadium’s capacity from its paltry 37,000 despite a solid 8 or 9-year run of success.  A good deal of the team’s recent success was at the hands of Chris Petersen, who would be wise to take a more prestigious job while he can before staying at BSU too long with cause his stock to irreparably dip.  Petersen has proven to be a very adept caretaker CEO, and the Texas program is not in shambles – yet.  Texas has good talent pieces in place, they just lack the coaching – and the A+ QB that would be becoming of such a program – to allow for the team to truly play up to its potential.

Who is a coach that has not been mentioned but has potential?  One name this is always possible – though few seem to want to admit it – Bobby Petrino.

Try not to laugh.  Yes, his, ahem, swordplay at Arkansas was a major black mark (or, er, scarlet letter) on his career and indeed, life, resume, but let that not obfuscate a simple fact.  The guy can coach.  He can also recruit, too.  Yes, much like Urban Meyer at Florida, his Louisville team bordered on an inmate colony, but part of his untouchable skill set was his ability to be a captain running a tightly-run ship, not allowing any sort of wiggle room for would-be thugs to run amok.  An advantage of recruiting in Texas, for Texas, is that he could bring in the highest-caliber of athletes in-state without have to run the degree of risk of bringing in potential off-the-field liabilities like he did at Louisville and at Arkansas.

But again, he can coach.  Few coaches in the business seem to have the keen sense of knowing when it is the right time to pass and when it is the right time to run the ball like Petrino.  Between his ability to acquire talent, manage personnel, and call plays makes him one of the most dangerous coaches in the business.  Placing him with the unlimited resources of the Texas Longhorns program could potentially create a juggernaut that would rival the current dynasty of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Yes, he is currently in his first year at Western Kentucky, but he is also incredibly mercenary.  His loyalty does seem to go to the highest bidder, but by that same token, can anybody think of a better job than the Texas job?  College coaches around the country recognize it without hesitation as one of the three best jobs in the nation.  Translation:  assuming he A) were offered the Texas job, and B) took the Texas job, what could lure him away from it?  As smart as he is, he would surely have the sense to avoid the, er, swordplay that ended the good thing he had going at Arkansas.

So, in summation, Chris Petersen would be my second choice to replace Mack Brown at Texas, but Petrino would be my first.  The program is not exactly down the drain yet, so a turnaround CEO might not be needed, at least not yet.  If brought in soon enough, a good caretaker CEO could still bring the Horns to the level of performance fans rightfully expect.

Addendum, 12-06-13:  Chris Petersen, mentioned as a potential replacement for Mack Brown earlier in this article, has since taken the Washington Huskies job vacated by Steve Sarkisian.  The news was announced this morning.  In truth, he is a good fit for that program.  He loves the Pacific Northwest, has recruited in the Seattle area before, and is a good caretaker CEO.  Sarkisian already turned the Huskies around into a well-function, 9-win-a-year organization; Petersen can now come in and keep the good thing going, just as he did after Dan Hawkins left Boise State for Colorado.  In summation, this is a good hire for the Huskies.

College Football Week 3 Awards September 15, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 3] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Glad I’m not him: Gary Patterson, TCU

Lucky guy: Todd Graham, Arizona State
Poor guy: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: George O’Leary, Central Florida

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Ron Turner, Florida International
Desperately seeking … anything:  Willie Taggert, South Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 10 Florida State (defeated Nevada 62-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 11 Michigan (defeated Akron 28-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to No. 2 Oregon 59-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 21 Notre Dame 31-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  USC (defeated Boston College 35-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Dang, they’re bad:  Florida International
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Penn State

Did the season start?  Texas
Can the season end?  South Florida
Can the season never endOle Miss

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 49, No. 6 Texas A&M 42

Play this again, too:  Oregon State 51, Utah 48
Never play this again: Utah State 70, Weber 6

What? Arizona State 32, No. 20 Wisconsin 30

HuhSouth Alabama 31, Western Kentucky 24
Are you kidding me?  Texas Tech 20, No. 24 TCU 10
Oh – my – GodCentral Florida 34, Penn State 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for:  Tennessee @ No. 19 Florida

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Utah State @ USC

Best non-Big Six matchup: Boise State @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Purdue @ No. 24 Wisconsin

Must win: Kansas State @ Texas

Offensive explosion: Boise State @ Fresno State
Defensive struggle: Hawaii @ Nevada
Great game no one is talking about: Utah @ BYU, or, North Carolina @ Georgia Tech

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Brian Kelly of No. 22 Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? Florida International @ No. 7 Louisville

Why are they playing? Florida A&M @ No. 4 Ohio State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTSA @ UTEP

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Louisiana-Monroe @ No. 20 Baylor

Week 3 in Review:

The game that has been billed by the media and built up in the minds of many a fan nationwide certainly lived up to its billing/hype yesterday.  No. 1-ranked Alabama is sure to retain atop the mountain of college football rankings after defeating the home team No. 6 Texas A&M in a thriller of a game.  The key to the success of the Crimson Tide was figuring out how to contain the Aggies’ QB Johnny Manziel, by not allowing him sufficient access to the outsides of the hash marks and instead forcing him inside, up the middle (both of running and throwing) as a means of containing the threat of his talents.  In the end, it worked.  Best of all, “Johnny Football” seemed surprisingly humble, contrite, and team-oriented during the postgame press conference. After witnessing all of his antics the previous weeks, this was a rather pleasing development. Time will tell if he truly did learn a lesson or two from this loss, or whether he will devolve back to the cocky, reckless punk he was earlier.

Other random thoughts:

A curious case of both Michigan and Notre Dame arose this past Saturday.  The former team had to struggle at home to beat the Akron Zips, and only doing so in the last minutes of play.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame, an ostensibly revitalized, nationally viable team under head coach Brian Kelly, had to earn – in every sense of the word – a win against a Purdue team whose performance prior to this game was suspect at best.  Perhaps this strange case is a result of a hangover from big game between the two the following week.  Lots of media hype and team energy went into that game, and as anybody who has any real experience in college football can tell you, one of the biggest challenges in the sport is trying to get 19-20 year-olds to play consistently week in and week out.  Or, it could be at both Akron and Purdue are better than we thought they were.  Concerning the latter, it could have been that the Boilers were looking past Indiana State (could you blame them?) and devoted some extra prep time to dealing with the Fighting Irish.  Certainly a plausible scenario, no?  What remains intriguing about this case is that, in all likelihood, Michigan and Notre Dame will be just fine.  But it could also be that Akron and Purdue are on the rise from the doldrums in which both programs have been stuck for the past several years.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Texas lost another game, this time at home, against a respectable opponent in Ole Miss. The Longhorns were supposed to have gotten things together, so we were told. After all, before last week’s BYU debacle (in which they lost 40-21), they were ranked No. 15 in the nation.  This week, the Rebels came into Austin ranked #25.  Yet the Horns lost again, this time 44-23.  It is conceivable that Texas could turn things around and that the defense could get more settled under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.  Or, it could be that the wheels are coming off the program, and as much as Longhorn Nation likes head coach Mack Brown personally, it is time for a changing of the guard.  Right now, though, things are not looking good on the 40 Acres, and the prognosis for the second Saturday in October is not that rosy, either.

College Football Week 2 Awards 2013 September 9, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 2] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Brady Hoke, Michigan

Glad I’m not him: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Lucky guy: Mike Leach, Washington State
Poor guy: Lane Kiffin, USC
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Clawson, Bowling Green

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything:  Ron Turner, Florida International

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 23 Baylor (defeated Buffalo 70-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Michigan State (defeated South Florida 21-6)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Virginia (lost to Oregon 59-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  South Florida (lost to Michigan State 21-6)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kentucky (defeated Miami (OH, 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Sir Charles says “They’re Turrable”:  Buffalo
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas

Did the season start?  Florida
Can the season end?  San Diego State
Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 11 Georgia 41, No. 6 South Carolina 30

Play this again, too:  No. 17 Michigan 41, No. 11 Notre Dame 30
Never play this again: Boise St. 63, Tennessee-Martin 14

What? Illinois 45, Cincinnati 16

HuhMiami (FL) 21, No. 12 Florida 16
Are you kidding me?  Navy 41, Indiana 35
Oh – my – GodBYU 40, No. 15 Texas 21

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 Texas A&M

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Virginia Tech @ East Carolina
Best non-Big Six matchup: Marshall @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Ole Miss @ Texas

Must win: Vanderbilt @ No. 13 South Carolina

Offensive explosion: Fresno State @ Colorado
Defensive struggle: Iowa @ Iowa State
Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 UCLA @ No. 23 Nebraska

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gary Patterson of No. 24 TCU vs. Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 21 Notre Dame @ Purdue

Why are they playing? Lamar @ No. 12 Oklahoma State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ South Florida

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Nicholls @ Louisiana-Lafayette

Week 2 in Review:

Two really good games followed each other consecutively in South Carolina @ Georgia followed by Notre Dame @ Michigan.  In the case of the former, the Gamecocks’ season is not lost by losing to a tough Bulldogs squad who had their collective backs against the wall after blowing the season opener on the road to perhaps the best Clemson team that school’s history.  Conversely, had Georgia lost two games in a row to start off their season, no matter if they won out for the remaining weeks, the season, by team’s and fans’ standard would have been clearly lost.

In the case of the latter, some degree of poetic justice was achieved in the Wolverine’s victory over the Fighting Irish.  It is understandable why Notre Dame saw fit not to renew the rivalry on their schedule, what with trying to broaden their geographic outreach into the recruiting hotbeds, which, to remind certain fanbases, are NOT in the Midwest anymore (Ohio notwithstanding, to an extent, but Ohio State owns that anyhow, and should). But that does not obfuscate the other understandable situation where the Michigan fanbase feels snubbed by a team that still acts as though it is “above it all.”  Did I say “poetic justice”?  How about vindication?

Meanwhile, going forward, it is worth pointing out that when it comes to the prognostications for the upcoming week, the two most difficult things to predict are the offensive explosion and the defensive struggle.  The Michigan-Notre Dame game certainly did not live up to the latter billing (41-30); neither did the West Virginia-Oklahoma game (16-7).  One should have reversed those two games into opposite categories, and then we would have had something (in 20-20 hindsight, at least)!

Oh, and the latest news has it that Texas’ defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has taken the fall for the Longhorns’ ignominious loss to unranked BYU.  The Horns gave up a school record 550 rushing yards on defense.  This means that even though Texas had some very bad teams in the 1980s and some of the 1990s, even they did not give up that much yardage on the ground in a game.  Something obviously had to be done.  Mack Brown has appointed Greg Robinson (former Syracuse head coach – one of those guys who is better as a vice president than as a chief executive) as the new defensive coordinator, a role that he actually already served in for the team in 2004 (that same team that came back to beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl).  On paper, it is a good hire; time will tell if what is on paper will manifest in reality.  But regardless, it’s still a step up from the inept display the Longhorn Nation had to endure yesterday.