Thursday, November 14, 2013
Brown, Texas saved year one game at a time
By Max Olson
AUSTIN, Texas -- Mason Walters was reminded Monday of this bit of trivia: Texas' last six opponents have won a total of 23 games. Its final three foes are 23-4.
Daunting stuff for a team that finally entered the BCS standings this week, right? The offensive lineman crunched the numbers for a moment, then produced a firm answer.
"We only have to beat one of those teams this week," Walters said. "I think that's the way we do it."
Mack Brown had turned Texas' season around by convincing the Longhorns to just take it one week at a time.
That's the company line for the Longhorns this season, repeated and reinforced week after week until players started realizing just how effective that myopia can be.
How did coach Mack Brown pull this all off? How did he take a team on the brink at 1-2, one that lost its quarterback and had too many injured starters, and swing this season with a six wins in a row?
The easy answer is that Texas had talented players all along, that somehow this group came together and starting playing up to its experience and potential. These assistant coaches probably aren't receiving their due credit.
But Walters' answer speaks to the mentality Brown has stubbornly preached since Texas' second loss. His Longhorns avoided disaster by living one day and one game at a time.
Brown couldn't control the chatter about his job status. He couldn't control the perception that Texas' season was in a shambles. He and his coaches stuck to what was in front of them: Beat Kansas State. Start 1-0 and start over.
Two months later, it's clear that mentality has trickled down to his players and taken hold in the locker room. Nobody is questioning their focus. Cornerback Quandre Diggs, as confident and hardheaded a leader as Texas has, isn't letting anyone look ahead.
"I don't want to hear about the games we have following Oklahoma State. I really don't care," Diggs said. "I just want to win this week and that's all I care about. I don't care about a Big 12 championship in the future, because that kind of thinking gets you beat. I'm worried about this week."
Brown is teaching a master class in crisis management right now. Those focused on finding a way to replace him in 2014 are missing out.
It's not that Texas players lacked focus in losses to BYU and Ole Miss. It's about how they've responded since. They held a players-only meeting after the Ole Miss defeat. The goal, lineman Donald Hawkins said, was to throw out the hard feelings and put aside differences. This was a mature enough team -- 17 upperclassmen were starting at the time -- to recognize the fork in the road and the way to find the right path.
"We really did, after taking those two losses, figure out that, wow, this is kind of a cutthroat environment we're in after a loss," Walters said. "If we win each one every week, things can only get better."
Added Diggs: "Win the week. Win the day. That should've been our goal from the jump."
Meanwhile, their head coach had to find a way to ignore everything being said about him and his program. Brown would joke that, at Texas, everyone wants the head coach fired after every loss. Publicly, he'd argue the national chatter didn't matter.
The only way to shut people up is by winning. And he's doing just that.
"What's the saying? A wolf doesn't concern himself with the opinions of sheep," Hawkins said.
And now that the noise is dwindling, we can step back and recognize what Brown is accomplishing.
He believed Texas would be good in 2013 if quarterback David Ash had a strong junior year. Ash hasn't played in nearly two months. Starting tackle Josh Cochran is out. Top linebacker Jordan Hicks is done for the year, and now leading rusher Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley are too.
Yet his team keeps rolling. The Longhorns climbed out of their two-loss hole one test at a time. That's all Brown has asked of them.
The week of the Oklahoma game, national writers were asking Case McCoy and others to defend Brown and to explain why he was still the right man to lead Texas. The responses were understandably defiant. So were the results.
"I play every week as if it's my last," McCoy said. "He's coaching every week like it's his last. It can only trickle down when people see that."
And McCoy says he believes his coach is having as much fun as ever right now. Brown says the postgame locker room after beating West Virginia in overtime last weekend was one of the best he has ever witnessed. He sees an inspired team.
What the players see is a coach who keeps fighting. Walters hopes Brown looks back on 2013 as one of the best coaching jobs he has ever done. But the Longhorns have to take care of business in the next four weeks for any of that to matter.
"If we reflect too much on it, and don't focus on the next week," Walters said, "it's going to get pretty real pretty quickly."