Big 12: Manny Diaz

BYU upset was program-changer for Texas

September, 4, 2014
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Mack BrownAP Photo/Rick BowmerThe blowout loss to BYU racheted up the pressure on Mack Brown, who resigned after the season.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The dam broke just before 8 p.m. What ensued stunned Texas to its core and set in motion the downfall of a regime.

At that precise moment, one hour and six minutes in, Taysom Hill ran right up the middle. Five Texas defenders cleared a clean path with diving missing tackles and half-speed effort.

Hill's second touchdown dash, a 20-yarder, gave BYU a 17-14 lead. There was 7:48 left in the first half, but the game was almost over.

The Longhorns didn’t just go on to lose 40-21 that night. They’d lose their quarterback, their defensive coordinator, their next game and eventually their coaching staff. And if you ask Texas players today, they lost some dignity that fateful night in Provo, Utah.

“That’s probably the most embarrassed I’ve ever been,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said.

As receiver John Harris solemnly put it: “I think that was one of the all-time lows for us as a team in general.”

What will motivate Texas on Saturday night, when Hill and BYU visit Austin for a rematch, won’t be payback so much as pride. Charlie Strong’s staff didn’t hesitate this summer to remind players about the butt-whooping the then-No. 15 Longhorns received on Sept. 7, 2013.

“Oh man. That’s all we hear,” defensive end Cedric Reed said in July. “That’s all we hear is BYU. We’re ready to play BYU this year.”

Imagine how Strong, a defensive guru, must’ve felt the first time he popped in the game tape and watched Texas’ defense permit the school-record-torching 550 rushing yards, the 679 total yards on 99 plays, the 17 missed tackles, the 233 yards after contact.

Last month, Texas defensive tackle Desmond Jackson denounced the belief that Texas had a “soft” defense in 2013. This was the game that bolstered that reputation.

Hill’s first touchdown, a 68-yard run late in the first quarter in which three Texas defensive backs whiffed at stopping a quarterback with a knee brace, set the tone early.

“At that point, we knew we were going to win this football game,” Hill said Wednesday. “We were so geared-in and having fun. Everything just became pretty easy.”

By the time Hill crossed the 30-yard line, Mack Brown had already spiked his headset.

But Texas hung in there for the first hour. Then, finally, the fracture. A roughing the punter penalty gave BYU the ball back. Four plays later, Hill scrambled. Steve Edmond could’ve stopped him after 6 yards but dove and missed. Hill split right between Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson. Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips slowed up as Hill neared the goal line.

“Give him a little space and he showed everybody what he’ll do with it,” Thompson said. “I have no idea how many times I’ve watched that film from last year.”

While BYU celebrated, Manny Diaz walked past Brown. The head coach shook his head.

Soon after, Brown pulled Diaz and secondary coach Duane Akina aside. Their conference lasted no longer than 20 seconds. The head coach enumerated his complaints. Akina threw up his hands and shouted. Diaz just nodded.

Maybe he knew, from there on out, his job was on the line. But BYU was just getting started: 404 total yards on 57 snaps came after Mack’s meeting.

David Ash
AP Photo/Rick BowmerThe Longhorns lost starting quarterback David Ash after he suffered a concussion.
Midway through the fourth quarter, more disaster. A helmet-to-helmet hit left David Ash squinting and down on one knee. The yearlong struggle initiated by that concussion has sidelined Ash again, perhaps for good.

The mood in the locker room afterward? Uncomfortable. The overwhelming sentiment, Harris said, was clear: Did we really just get beat this bad?

“The morning after, waking up that Sunday, you’re asking yourself, ‘Did that really just happen?” Thompson said.

At 3:30 p.m. that Sunday, Brown told the team they had a new defensive coordinator.

“We laid an egg and we lost a guy’s job. Plain and simple,” Diggs said this week. “We let those guys down. We let ourselves down.”

One year later, Texas defenders stand by a compelling belief: They liked the game plan.

“It was a good scheme,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “The big thing was missed assignments.”

Strong agreed. On BYU’s biggest gains, a Texas player freelanced, didn’t respect gaps or didn’t trust a teammate to do his own job.

“If we just eliminate those mental errors, then you have a chance to go stop them,” Strong said.

Those simple fixes made Greg Robinson successful in Diaz’s place, but the Ole Miss game was a lost cause. You can’t fly in a new coordinator from California, ask him to install his brand of defense and expect winning results in six days.

A 1-2 start raised the stakes for Brown to the point that only a Big 12 title might’ve sufficed to save his job. Now Texas has a new coach with new answers for stopping BYU.

When Hill, the No. 3 rusher among all FBS quarterbacks last year, thinks back on his breakthrough night, he says he was “in the zone.” He didn’t plan on running 17 times for 259 yards. But Texas’ ends kept crashing on the read options to stuff the back. So he kept taking his easy outside lanes. Hill knows not to expect such permissive defense Saturday.

“They’ll come out with a revenge attitude,” Hill said. “We’re prepared for that and prepared to come in and match their energy.”

New DC Vance Bedford watched last year’s game live on TV. As a former Texas defensive back, he was offended. But revenge isn’t what he seeks.

“If you need motivation to go out there and get fired up, you shouldn’t be here,” he said. “If you’ve got to get amped up because something happened in the past, something’s wrong with you.”

The burden of shutting down BYU got heavier when Texas lost Ash and three starting offensive linemen. A redemptive performance is now a must.

Last year’s BYU game was Texas’ first treacherous step toward reconstruction. This year’s game can be the first step toward a revival.

“It’s a new year, new day, new team, new coaches,” Diggs said. “We’re going to go out, have a new attitude and we’re going to have fun.”
The exchange started with a silly (or stupid) joke about football, but not the kind that will be played in college stadiums around the country this weekend.

After Germany blasted FIFA World Cup host Brazil 7-1 on July 8, I joked on Twitter that the Brazilians must have hired former Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as a defensive consultant.

Within an hour, Diaz sent me a direct message on Twitter, asking me to call him the next day.

Our conversation the following day was cordial, and I thanked Diaz for reaching out. I apologized for the inconsiderate joke and told him it wasn't anything personal. I could have used a handful of coaches as the butt of the not-so-funny joke, but, for whatever reason, Diaz popped into my head.

The last time college football fans saw a Diaz-coached defense on the field, the Longhorns allowed a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Then-Texas coach Mack Brown fired Diaz the next day.

After largely spending the rest of the 2013 season in isolation, Diaz will return to the sideline as Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator in Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesOn Saturday, Manny Diaz will coach his first game since being fired after Texas' loss to BYU last September.
For Diaz, it's his first shot at redemption, albeit against what is expected to be one of the country’s most prolific offenses.

"Everybody in this profession is at heart a competitor," Diaz said. "I'm super, super excited about the opportunity to get back out there and go at it again."

Diaz's fall from grace was nearly as stunning as his meteoric rise through the college coaching ranks. A former ESPN production assistant, Diaz started as a graduate assistant at Florida State in 1998 and was a defensive coordinator at an FBS school within eight years.

After spending four seasons at Middle Tennessee State from 2006-09, Diaz transformed Mississippi State’s defense into one of the country’s best in 2010. In 2011, Brown hired him to turn around Texas' defense.

The early results at Texas were good: The Longhorns led the Big 12 in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense in his first season. In 2012, the Longhorns allowed only 212 passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12 despite losing star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks to injuries.

Then, the wheels fell off at the start of the 2013 season. Nearly a year later, Diaz is reluctant to talk about what transpired at Texas. He has never criticized Brown or the decision to replace him with Greg Robinson only two games into the season.

"There's nothing to me that matters about what happened," Diaz said. "The issues there were multifaceted, and I think everybody involved, if they had a chance to go back, would change some things."

In the end, firing Diaz didn’t accomplish much. The Longhorns lost to Ole Miss 44-23 the next week before winning six games in a row, including a 36-20 upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma. But the Longhorns lost three of their last four games, allowing 38 points against Oklahoma State, 30 against Baylor and 30 against Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Brown was forced to resign and coached the Longhorns for the final time in the bowl game. Brown, who had a 158-48 record in 16 seasons with the Longhorns and guided them to the 2005 national championship, now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Diaz, 40, spent much of last season coaching his sons' football teams. He consulted with a few teams but declined to name them because "Twitter would blow up."

Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz called him in January and offered him a job. Holtz wouldn't have had to go far to find out what really happened to Diaz at Texas last season. His son, Trey, is a sophomore walk-on quarterback with the Longhorns.

"I think Skip had an intimate knowledge of what was really happening behind the doors," Diaz said.

Diaz isn't the only coordinator looking for redemption this season. Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who resigned amid allegations that he abused his players, is Iowa State's new offensive coordinator. New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's past two college coaching stops, as Georgia Southern's head coach and then Auburn's defensive coordinator, were far from spectacular. New Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense at Georgia allowed a school-record 377 points last season.

But perhaps no coach has fallen as hard or fast as Diaz, who went from a wonder boy to, well, the butt of jokes in a matter of a couple of games.

"I think it's the nature of this profession," Diaz said. "I think you see it now more than ever. I think the game is more volatile than ever."

Diaz's career rehab will start near the bottom of FBS football. Last season, the Bulldogs went 4-8 in Holtz's first season. Louisiana Tech's victories came against FCS foe Lamar and FBS opponents UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss, which combined to win four games in 2013. The Bulldogs lost consecutive games against Tulane, Kansas (which ended a 22-game losing streak to FBS foes) and Army in September.

Holtz hired Diaz to do what he did at every one of his previous stops -- make the defense better.

"I think Coach Diaz has done a phenomenal job with this defense and the things he has put in," Holtz said. "I think he makes it very complicated, but yet, at the same time, it is very simple for them to learn. It appears complicated, but I think he has really simplified it in terms of being user-friendly for the players to take it and embrace it."

The Bulldogs' first challenge is a daunting one, trying to slow down OU's high-powered attack. The Sooners had their way against Diaz's defenses in two previous meetings, outscoring the Longhorns 118-38 in victories in 2011 and '12.

"It's a program I have a lot of respect for," Diaz said. "They challenge the bond of your team. When I got here and found out we were playing Oklahoma, that's the first thing I told our players. It's what they do with their style of play and tempo. If you drop your gloves, they'll pound you."

The Bulldogs' defensive coordinator knows all too well about being knocked down. Will Diaz get back up?
Over the next two weeks, we’ll continue to close the door on the 2013 season. Every Big 12 team suffered at least one loss during the regular season, and losses can be as beneficial as wins. In this team-by-team series, we’ll take a look at the best loss of the year for each Big 12 team, including what happened and why it matters.

[+] EnlargeTaysom Hill
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsBYU QB Taysom Hill shredded Texas' defense, handing the Longhorns a lopsided defeat.
On Thursday, we focus on Texas.

Best loss: 40-21 at BYU on Sept. 7 in a game that opened eyes, not only in Austin, Texas, but nationwide.

What happened: The Longhorns defense watched as BYU rushed for 550 yards and averaged 7.64 yards per carry. Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill had 17 carries for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Texas, which started the season with talk of being in the national title picture, looked overwhelmed, outmatched and ill-prepared in the loss. And David Ash left the game with a concussion, the start of his head injury issues that cut his season short.

Look up worst-case scenario and this Longhorns loss is a prime example.

Why it was helpful: First off it woke up Mack Brown to the realization that a change at the defensive coordinator spot was needed sooner rather than later. Getting beat is one thing, but losing while the defense is lethargic, sloppy and lacking a competitive fire is quite another. Brown fired Manny Diaz the next day and hired Greg Robinson to take over the defense. The Longhorns defense was a different unit under Robinson, who simplified things while allowing UT’s athletes on defense to be playmakers instead of thinkers.

Most importantly, this loss instilled an “us against the world” mentality into the Texas locker room. Carrying the label "Texas football player" meant one thing when they boarded the plane to Provo, Utah, and quite another thing when they landed back in Austin. From that point forward, the Longhorns circled the wagons and focused on accomplishing the goal of winning a Big 12 title. That goal was still within reach on the season’s final day thanks to a 7-1 start to Big 12 play before their season-ending loss to Baylor. The complete turnaround was sparked by this loss.

Revealing stat: 15.24. Hill averaged 15.24 yards per carry against the Longhorns’ defense, the third-highest yards per carry average by an FBS quarterback in a game this season behind UCLA’s Brett Hundley (16.1 against Virginia Tech) and Auburn’s Nick Marshall (15.29 against Tennessee).

Quote of note: “Our game plan and goal and objective was to stop the quarterback and tailback. We did neither. The decision to change defensive coordinators was based on our lack of ability to stop the run, period.” -- Texas coach Mack Brown one day after firing Diaz and hiring Robinson.

Big 12 predictions: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
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How could anyone decline Caymen Bishop’s submission for guest picker?

I'm a 14-year-old kid from Moore, Okla., and I would love nothing more than to be a guest picker for a week on my favorite website, alongside my favorite college football writer. I myself am hoping to be a sports journalist someday. I follow the Big 12 very closely and would represent the younger fan’s insight into the college football world.

Good luck, Caymen, and don’t make me look too bad.

This weekend, I’ll be with the Red Raiders for a third straight game, as I head back to Lubbock for their showdown with fellow Big 12 contender Oklahoma State. Max will be in Austin manning the Longhorns as they try to move to 5-0 against Kansas.

To the Week 10 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-1 (.800)

Guest picker (oil-rig Colin) last week: 4-1 (.800)

Trotter overall: 41-12 (.774)

Guest picker overall: 26-10 (.722)

Texas 42, Kansas 9: Is Texas ever going to lose again? Somebody asked me this week if the Longhorns would be undefeated had they started out the season with Greg Robinson at defensive coordinator instead of Manny Diaz. I’m not so sure. The final scores against BYU and Ole Miss weren’t close. But I can’t argue that it might have been possible. The defense has been so much sounder with Robinson. How different would Mack Brown’s status be had he not decided to keep Diaz through the offseason? We’ll never know. But that singular decision could have lasting effects on who is Texas’ coach next season. Either way, it’s not unthinkable the Longhorns will be favored in every game until they travel to Baylor in the season finale. What a turnaround this is turning out to be in Austin.

Caymen’s pick: Kansas nearly upset Texas last year, but don't expect that to be the case here, as Case McCoy has another big day. Texas, 35-10

Kansas State 39, Iowa State 20: The Wildcats have emerged as the best team no longer in contention for the Big 12 crown. TCU and West Virginia might still make a bowl game, but K-State is the only one of the three that looks like an actual bowl team. The healthy return of Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson at wide receiver will be a huge boost for the passing attack, as the two totaled four touchdown receptions in last week’s rout of the Mountaineers. After a tough first half of the season, the Wildcats are not going to be able to defend their title. But they still could factor into the conference race by knocking off one of the contenders. The Cats will not be an easy out for Tech or Oklahoma this month.

Caymen’s pick: Kansas State’s passing game looked incredible last weekend, and Iowa State’s 101st-ranked pass defense won't be able to stop it either. K-State, 42-24

TCU 15, West Virginia 12: This is almost a must-win for either side’s bowl aspirations. West Virginia’s offense has been slightly less disastrous, but TCU’s defense is the best unit in this game. This is an offense the Horned Frogs will be able to dominate, giving their own inept offense enough field goal opportunities to prevail and keep TCU’s bowl hopes alive.

Caymen’s pick: Toss-up game. But West Virginia will force TCU into some turnovers. West Virginia, 21-17

Texas Tech 35, Oklahoma State 28: The Red Raiders have lost four in a row in this series, including a 66-6 whipping the last time the Pokes came to town. Last weekend, OSU’s rushing attack finally came alive as Desmond Roland overwhelmed Iowa State on the ground. The Cowboys won’t be able to do the same to Tech without a viable passing attack. After all, the Sooners only got moving against Tech once Blake Bell started completing passes downfield. OSU, however, has shown no signs of fashioning a viable passing attack. The Cowboys are ninth in Big 12 games in completion percentage (46.8), leading only Kansas. Tech’s passing attack (63.0), meanwhile, has been crisp with Davis Webb at QB. The Red Raiders will turn the ball over, and they’ll commit penalties, but they’ll also make plays in the passing game. That proves to be the difference in this key Big 12 matchup.

Caymen’s pick: Lubbock will be rowdy and rocking, and so will Tech’s offense. Tech, 45-38

Robinson sees Texas defense progressing

September, 25, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Greg Robinson can spend hours in the film room and at a dry erase board planning and scheming for opponents. That’s the easy part, the job he’s been doing for more than 30 years.

But getting to know his own kids takes time. Entering week three as Texas’ new defensive coordinator, Robinson is glad that familiarity is finally coming along.

“I don’t call them by their numbers anymore,” Robinson said with a chuckle. “Starting to call them by their names.”

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayNew Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson saw drastic improvement from his players in game two since taking over for Manny Diaz.
Robinson arrived in Austin on a Sunday night two weeks ago with the daunting task of fixing up Texas’ defense with only three days of practice at his disposal amid the embarrassing 40-21 loss at BYU that cost Manny Diaz his job.

He’s been hard at work ever since, doing everything he can to prepare for Texas’ opponents and find solutions for the flaws he inherited. Nobody expected perfection in his first week on the job, but Mack Brown needed to see progress by week 2, when Big 12 play began. And time heals all wounds, right?

The time Robinson gets this week is invaluable. A bye weekend means no opponent, which means plenty more time to focus on his personnel and implementing his ideas. It means, finally, he can slow down.

“Having a bye this week is really, really helpful,” Robinson said.

He hasn’t installed everything he has planned, but an extra 10 days could do wonders for him and his players. Getting Iowa State on a Thursday night next week also means extra prep time for Oklahoma.

As Diaz learned the hard way, this is a results-driven business. No matter the challenges Robinson faced in taking over on less-than-short notice, he has to coax better play out of his Longhorns defenders. If Texas’ performance against Kansas State is any indication, he might have this defense back on the right track.

We could go over all the numbers that say Texas’ defense got better from week 1 under Robinson to week 2, but most of them aren’t going to tell the story. Frankly, Ole Miss’ offense is better than the one K-State brought to Austin. A few numbers are promising, though.

Ole Miss averaged 6.04 yards per rush. K-State, which ran only four fewer plays than the Rebels, was held to 3.03. Texas stopped twice as many Kansas State rushes at or behind the line of scrimmage than it did against Ole Miss.

An interesting measure of a bend-don’t-break defense is how often an opponent scored after getting its initial first down on a drive. Ole Miss scored on 75 percent of those occasions. K-State? 33 percent.

Some of that is scheme and preparation, and a lot of it is motivation. Texas was staring down the possibility of starting the season 1-3. That scenario was unacceptable to its seniors.

“We control our effort,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “That’s the thing. They can’t coach effort. We have to go and play hard, executed everything. That’s what we did. We made sure we executed the plays they put it.”

In the moments after the BYU loss, the leaders of Texas’ defense offered their unconditional support to Diaz and said he was still the right man for the job. They didn’t know much about Robinson when he arrived, but they’re buying in to what he brings to the table as their new leader.

“He made the promise that he was going to give us all he had, and that’s what he did,” defensive tackle Chris Whaley said. “We make the promise that we’ll give him all we have, so it was a great second week.”

Brown said he’s proud of how Robinson has collaborated with the rest of Texas’ defensive coaching staff. He has an especially strong connection with Duane Akina, the veteran secondary coach whom he’d worked closely with back in 2004.

“They’ve done such an amazing job,” Brown said. “They argue, they fight, but they did in ‘04. Then they come up with good stuff.”

They’re just getting started. Senior safety Adrian Phillips – or No. 17, as Robinson probably called him -- said he’s looking forward to finding out just what kind of coach Robinson really is over this next week.

The defensive coordinator can appreciate that. He too is starting to get a better sense of what he’s working with.

“Just being in the room with these guys, I’d be shocked if they didn’t just keep doing what they’re doing,” Robinson said. “And that’s getting better.”

3-point stance: Battle for Iowa

September, 12, 2013
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1. In four-plus seasons at Iowa State, Paul Rhoads may be 4-15 against ranked teams. He is 9-15 against the other nine teams in the Big 12. The Cyclones may have opened the season by losing to FCS cross-state opponent Northern Iowa, 28-20. But Iowa State has defeated Iowa the last two seasons, by a field goal each time. That’s called job security. The Hawkeyes come to Ames Saturday having won only five of their last 16 games. It may be mid-September, but there’s a lot at stake.

2. Despite the hysteria generated by Texas’s defensive meltdown and the subsequent firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ pulse remains slow and steady. Dodds said again this week to the Austin American-Statesman that head coach Mack Brown has his full support. He has said it for the last three frustrating seasons. That hasn’t stopped the job speculation. That never stops the speculation. One day, of course, Brown won’t be the head coach at Texas. You should live so long.


3. There’s plenty of feel-good stories at Colorado, which is 2-0 after going 1-11 last season. My favorite among the Buffs is junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who has traveled a long road to lead the FBS with 208.5 receiving yards per game (21 catches, 4 scores). Richardson missed a good chunk of 2011 with one knee injury, and all of 2012 with another. He’s back, he’s healthy and the Buffs, under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre, have a pulse.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Nearly 24 hours have passed since Texas announced the hiring of Greg Robinson as its new defensive coordinator, and to say they’ve been a whirlwind would be a severe understatement.

Mack Brown made the call to Robinson early Sunday afternoon. Manny Diaz is out. We need you in Austin. He accepted, boarded a plane, landed in Austin around 6:30 p.m. and headed straight to practice.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Rick BowmerTexas coach Mack Brown said Saturday's loss to BYU was unacceptable and that led to making the change at defensive coordinator.
Robinson was up past 1 a.m. cramming for his first big test as the new leader of the troubled Texas defense. He was still catching up on Texas’ defensive terminology on Monday. He is, understandably, too busy to do interviews with Texas media this week, and Brown said Monday he hadn’t even met with Robinson to talk scheme and planning for Ole Miss.

“He’ll have three practices between now and Saturday to try to get us in a better spot,” Brown said. “It’s a tough deal for him.”

It’s a tough deal for everyone in this Longhorn program. Usually these kinds of coaching changes are made on bye weeks. Brown let Diaz go Sunday in part because he had to buy as much time as he can to get Robinson ready for Texas’ Big 12 schedule.

The biggest reason may have been this: Brown couldn’t afford to sit back and watch things get even worse.

“That was unacceptable on Saturday night,” Brown said. “It went back to the three to four games we had in a row last year where we couldn’t stop the run. I wasn’t going to let that continue.”

He does not expect Robinson to work a miracle and fix every flaw in one week. Brown just needs to see progress, and the veteran leaders of his defense are ready to get to work … once they get their game plan.

“Obviously right now, we’re not sure what the game plan is,” Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “Coach Robinson, coach [Duane} Akina, coach [Bo] Davis are all in there getting all the film sessions and game plans ready to go. The biggest thing we’ve got to do is execute. We felt prepared for BYU. We were prepared. We’ve got to go out there and put it on ourselves to actually execute a game plan and do that effectively.”

Hicks admitted he was shocked Diaz was let go but believes his former position coach would want the team to move on and get ready for No. 25 Ole Miss.

Brown said Monday the plan Texas had to attack BYU was a good one. The players’ inconsistent execution of that plan was the real problem, and their coach was held responsible for that.

“If we would’ve performed better, if we would’ve executed his scheme better, he wouldn’t be in this position and we wouldn’t be in this position,” Hicks said. “We feel like we could’ve played better against BYU and had better opportunities.”

Brown saw enough from working with Robinson in 2004 to know he’s the kind of guy Texas’ defenders need right now.

“Greg brings a wealth of knowledge. He’s a true veteran,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that has three Rose Bowl rings and a Super Bowl ring, so he’s been there before. He handles pressure well, he makes great adjustments. When he was here before, we tackled very well, we chased the ball and we were very sound fundamentally. He’s a guy kids love to play for.”

The big question is how different his take on Texas’ defense will be. Expect a more simplified approach focused on sound tackling and physical play, and Robinson will add his own wrinkles along the way. But there isn’t enough time at this point to implement sweeping big-picture changes.

“I guess we’ll have to see,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what to expect defensively. I’m not sure if we’re sticking with the same stuff or taking it in a new direction. I have no clue. We haven’t talked about it yet.”

To Texas safety Adrian Phillips, losing Diaz was just as painful as losing in Provo. Both results, he said, felt like a punch in the face. But he felt Robinson made a great impression in his first time meeting with the team Sunday night, and he’s confident his teammates will rally around their new boss.

“I mean, we have no choice,” Phillips said. “If we want BYU to be our only loss of the season, we have no choice but to buy in. I know my teammates want to be successful just like I do. We’ll buy into it.”

What exactly did Robinson say to his new players in his first night on the job?

“He was very brief with them,” Brown said. “He said, ‘Tough situation for all of us. I’m going to come in and try to do the best I can do to help get back on track.’ He broke them down. That was it.”

With less than 140 hours to repair Texas’ defense, he didn’t have time for much else.

Video: Texas defensive struggles

September, 9, 2013
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Mark Schlabach reacts to the latest example of the Longhorns' defensive struggles that allowed 550 rushing yards to BYU on Saturday.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
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One thing the Big 12 is not is dull. Here’s a recap of the wild weekend it was in the conference:

Team of the week: Baylor. The Bears completely dismantled a Buffalo team that hung tough with Ohio State last weekend. There was no hanging tough in Waco for the Bulls, who were chased out of town with a 70-13 shellacking. During one unreal 11-minute stretch, Baylor racked up 576 yards of offense while averaging 12.5 yards a play. The Bears also scored touchdowns on their first eight drives, and probably would have scored a ninth had they not run out of time in the first half. Baylor has won six straight dating back to last season.

Disappointment of the week: Texas. First, the Longhorns lost 40-21 to BYU. Then, they lost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who was fired Sunday and replaced with Greg Robinson. Mack Brown said at the beginning of August he was confident this would be his best team since 2009. If the Longhorns aren’t careful, it could be his worst. Texas has at least a half-dozen losable games left on the schedule, including this weekend’s meeting with emerging Ole Miss.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Eric GayJ.W. Walsh had a record day for Oklahoma State.
Big (offensive) man on campus: J.W. Walsh. The Oklahoma State sophomore answered many questions about his passing prowess in a 56-35 win over UTSA that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. Walsh set an Oklahoma State single-game completion percentage record by connecting on 24 of 27 passes. He found four different receivers for touchdowns and rushed one in on his own. Even though he’s known for his wheels, Walsh now has the 17th-best passing EPA (expected points added) in college football.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Gabe Lynn. The Oklahoma safety has been maligned in the past for giving up huge plays in the pass, notably in the 2011 home loss to Texas Tech. But Saturday against West Virginia, the former cornerback was delivering the huge plays from his new position. In the third quarter, Lynn intercepted Mountaineers QB Paul Millard, then later scooped up a fumble and returned it 27 yards. The two turnovers killed West Virginia drives and helped keep the Mountaineers at bay even while the Oklahoma offense struggled.

Special-teams player of the week: Tramaine Thompson. The veteran playmaker showed why the Wildcats have one of the most dangerous return units in the country. Thompson’s 94-yard kickoff return to begin the second half put an underrated Louisiana Lafayette away. The return duo of Thompson and Tyler Lockett remains one of the best in the country.

Play of the week: The last time a Kansas wide receiver caught a touchdown pass, Justin McCay was still playing for Oklahoma. McCay, now a Jayhawk, vowed to end that ignominious streak, which dated back to Oct. 22, 2011. In the second quarter against South Dakota, McCoy hauled in a 5-yard pass from quarterback Jake Heaps at the back of the end zone that put Kansas ahead for good while ending the streak for good, too.

Stat of the week: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baylor already has 16 touchdown drives of two minutes or less, which leads the nation. Oregon has 15. No other program is in double digits. The Ducks led the FBS last year with 45 such drives. Baylor is on pace this season for 104.

Quote of the week: “I haven’t even gotten out of the game. … I’d like to watch the video.” -- Texas coach Mack Brown, when asked after the BYU game whether Manny Diaz would remain his defensive coordinator. Brown fired Diaz the next day.

Replacing Diaz a panic move for Texas

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Bringing Manny Diaz back was better than bringing in a stranger.

That, in a nutshell, was Mack Brown’s mentality this offseason when he opted to retain the maligned Diaz amid the worst defensive season in Texas history.

He could’ve sent Diaz packing last December, and a large faction of the Longhorn fan base would’ve been satisfied. But he was convinced that Diaz, a young defensive guru who’d succeeded everywhere he went, was still the right man for the job.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesThe Texas defense led by coordinator Manny Diaz couldn't stop BYU on Saturday.
Brown would joke that Diaz hadn’t gone dumb overnight. In the end, it took only one night to end his tenure as Texas defensive coordinator.

Two games into the season, Diaz was officially relieved of his duties and reassigned within the UT athletic department on Sunday, clearing the way for recently hired football analyst and former Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to take the reigns and try to fix the mess BYU exposed on Saturday.

There were absolutely no signs this move was coming before Texas kicked off in Provo. This was a panic move by Brown, one that conveys just how concerned he is about Texas’ next 10 games.

That’s not to say this wasn’t the right move. The faith he’d put in Diaz to get Texas’ defense back on track was badly burned Saturday. BYU did exactly what Diaz had expected and prepared his defense for, and they still rushed for 550 yards -- nearly 100 more than a Texas defense had ever given up -- en route to an easy 40-21 victory.

Diaz was red-eyed and seemed shaken by what he’d witnessed when he sat down for his postgame interview. He was asked if he was confident he’d still be coaching for Texas’ next game against Ole Miss.

“Yeah. That’s not even a topic,” Diaz said.

Mack Brown did not say yes. He said he wanted to watch the game film. And the film didn’t lie: Texas did not make adjustments on defense. Diaz had no answers.

But one game, one terrible night, didn’t really do Diaz in. Add up the 15 games Texas has played since the start of the 2012 season and the Longhorns ranked No. 111 in FBS in run defense, No. 101 in yards per rush and No. 85 in yards per play allowed.

But Brown trusted him, at least publicly. When Texas announced the hiring of Robinson on July 17, as analyst who scouted UT opponents, Robinson made sure to include this quote in the press release: “In Manny [Diaz's] case, I don't want it in any way for him to feel like he has someone looking over his shoulder at all. That's not what I'm there for. I don't want to in any way inhibit him or any of the coaches. Mack and I talked about that, and that was important to me.”

Whether Brown brought in Robinson as his contingency plan if Diaz failed is debatable, but the selection of Robinson is no doubt a curious one for this reason: He is, essentially, the stranger.

Robinson last coached at Texas in 2004. He had no hand in assembling this roster. He didn’t plan to live in Austin as an analyst, instead commuting from Los Angeles for meetings, fall camp and home games.

Texas’ defensive players, the ones who insisted they 100-percent supported Diaz on Saturday night, are familiar with Robinson but hardly know him well. How will they react to the new leadership?

A fresh start might be just what they need, and Robinson could be the right guy needed to simply the scheme and put a Texas defense on the field that’s far better prepared. But there’s no guarantee this will be enough.

This is a gamble by Brown, no question. His gut feeling wasn’t wrong -- enough was enough. Manny Diaz couldn’t get the job done.

But there’s nobody else left to scapegoat and no room for excuses. Now Mack Brown has to get the job done.

Longhorns run defense passes first test

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
10:00
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The numbers Texas put up against the run Saturday in a 56-7 win over New Mexico probably satisfied defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. But one in particular got his attention after the game.

Diaz looked over the stats and couldn’t figure this one out. The Longhorns had given up an 18-yard rush. But when?

He racked his brain and was angry to realize he was coming up empty on an answer. He figured it out eventually.

“It was a fake punt,” Diaz said. “A fake punt was the longest run we gave up all night.”

Keep in mind that in the entire 2012 season, Texas gave up 34 rushes of 18 yards or more last season, third-worst in FBS, including four or more in five consecutive games. So, yes, this was a good first step.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
John Albright/Icon SMIAt least for one week, Texas' defense solved some of its issues stopping the run.
On a night when the Longhorns offense rightfully stole the show, Texas’ defense quietly and convincing passed its first test of the 2013 season.

The Longhorns held New Mexico State to 104 rushing yards and 2.7 yards per carry. Texas’ front seven accounted for six tackles for loss and was consistently disruptive for four quarters.

Holding the Aggies to just two of 12-plus yards was a solid feat simply for two reasons: Texas had said all along it had no idea what NMSU would run on offense under a new coach and offensive coordinator and, in the course of 38 rushing attempts, odds are a few are going to break past the first line of defense.

Not on Saturday. David Cazares, a safety, was responsible for the 18-yard run on the punt in the fourth quarter, and quarterback Andrew McDonald has a 15-yard run to end the first quarter.

More importantly, the Aggies went three-and-out on seven occasions. Getting off the field and making third- and fourth-down stops was a legitimate issue for the Longhorns last season, so that’s at least promising.

“I think we set the season up right,” UT defensive end Cedric Reed said. “We weren't sure we could tackle, but I don't think we missed many tackles. I think we came out with a fire and a great intensity that we wanted to show the country that we can play, that we're not the team we were last year and that we're a lot better.”

Diaz is quick to dismiss any comparisons to last season, though. To him, that's a futile exercise.

“For me, it’s not about better. It’s just about who we are. We cannot continue to try to compare ourselves to the past,” Diaz said. “That’s the same way whether the past was really good or wasn’t really good. It’s just different. These kids are different.

“This is as honest an answer as I can give you: We can never slay that dragon. And why would we try to do that anyway? Now we’re just looking in the past. We’re not trying to do that.”

The immediate future for Texas brings a challenge that New Mexico State couldn’t bring to the table.

Running back Jamaal Williams will lead the way for BYU’s aggressive offense Saturday in Provo. He had 144 yards on 33 carries in a monsoon at Virginia. The sophomore had three 100-yard games and 1,090 total yards last season.

Texas must also account for Taysom Hill. The dual-threat quarterback rushed for 42 yards and a key touchdown in BYU’s opener, and averaged 6.1 yards per carry in a more limited role in 2012.

The Longhorns have seen more than their fair share of talented rushing quarterbacks in recent years. That by itself won’t be a new challenge. But the struggles Hill and his receivers had last week in the passing game -- plus the possible absence of top receiver Cody Hoffman with a hamstring injury -- suggest new offensive coordinator Robert Anae could dedicate much of his game plan to exploiting a Longhorns run defense that was notoriously porous last season.

Because of that, Texas coaches are cautious to read too much into what they saw against New Mexico State. This will be a far more accurate measuring stick of just where Texas stands in stifling the run game.

“The front seven is playing better,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “The thing that concerned me is, we saw it was good in preseason last year and then just went away for whatever reason. We’ll know more on Saturday night."

LB Edmond ready for big year

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Steve Edmond was big. But he wasn’t strong.

The reason why the Texas junior middle linebacker fell behind freshman backup Dalton Santos this spring was simple: He just didn’t love the weight room enough. He was tipping the scales at 260 pounds, and progress was stagnant.

Now, it seems, everything has changed. He’s 235 pounds again. Players say he’s a menace in scrimmages, making sideline-to-sideline plays and chasing down running backs behind the line.

Edmond underwent a much-needed transformation this offseason. We’ll find out Saturday just how far he’s come, but the results so far have received unanimous praise.

“Steve started gaining respect in the offseason by losing a lot of weight,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “He’s had a very good camp and it’ll be fun to watch him on Saturday night, because I think he’ll be so much better than what people saw last year that I think they’ll really be surprised and pleased.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSteve Edmond's efforts to lose weight should place the Texas defense in better shape this season.
This time last year, Edmond made his debut in the starting lineup amid high expectations. He’s prepared to live up to them now.

What went wrong last season? Edmond wasn’t ready, or at least not as much as most assumed. Once Jordan Hicks went down with a season-ending injury, Edmond had no one to lean on for help, either. Edmond racked up 103 tackles, but on the days Texas’ defense struggled he was too slow to make reads and too hesitant to make stops.

When the offseason hit, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had urged his players to take their commitment to training to another level.

“Our guys, they didn’t not prepare before,” Diaz said Monday. “They just didn’t understand the level they had to prepare at to be successful.”

Santos bought in, lost weight and started thriving in the offseason lifting. That had to push Edmond.

By the time Edmond took the field for spring practices, Diaz saw a slightly different player -- one who finally competed with urgency. But the real progress came after the spring game. That’s when the light bulb came on.

“We went into April, went back to the weight room, and now Steve started realizing, ‘Whoa, these weights are changing me,’” Diaz said. “All the sudden he saw his body change, and the way he moved around changed.”

He put that on display throughout three weeks of fall camp, leaving no doubts about who would man the middle of the Texas defense in 2013.

The Longhorns would prefer to lean on Hicks and Peter Jinkens once the Big 12 slate begins and nickel defense is a necessity, but Edmond’s efforts to lose weight put him in much better shape to contribute.

When his teammates saw him chasing down fleet running back Johnathan Gray on a swing pass in a scrimmage, they knew he was going to be trouble for opposing defenses this time around.

“He definitely got going,” Hicks said. “He’s been playing very well. He’s a force. Now he’s smarter, he’s more experienced and he’s a force back there. He’s helping lead this linebacker corps. It’s just going to make our defense that much better.”

All that progress gets put to the test on Saturday against New Mexico State. Edmond’s more confident now, but Hicks says his personality hasn’t changed much. He’s still the quiet East Texan with a propensity for big hits.

“He’s the same Steve,” Hicks said. “Steve doesn’t really change for anybody.”

But he changed for Diaz, and soon we’ll find out just how much he’s changed for the rest of the Longhorn defense.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The talent on Texas’ roster is supposed to be on par with Alabama.

Seriously.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesTexas coach Mack Brown and his staff have some things to prove this fall.
Both schools have a total of 57 players on their 2013 rosters who earned four-star ratings from ESPN as recruits.

Thanks in large part to its recent No. 1-ranked class, Alabama has 40 players who received ESPN 150 honors in high school. Texas has 35.

Perhaps that gives some perspective on just what the Longhorns' coaching staff is working with entering this season. The cupboard is indeed stocked full.

The depth chart Texas is expected to release on Monday morning will be stuffed with experienced talent, most of whom were big-name recruits.

The coaching staff Mack Brown revamped after 2010 is entering its third season together. This group is responsible for recruiting more than 70 percent of the current 85-man roster, if we include the 2011 class those new coaches kept intact after arriving in Austin.

Make no mistake: These are the kids Brown and his staff wanted, the kids who were brought in to turn this program around.

They’ve brought together all the ingredients, but the recipe keeps changing. What exactly are Brown and his coaches cooking up for 2013?

We’ll find out soon, but having that talent base in place has Texas fans dreaming of a Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl -- or better. Brown has said all summer that this program is about to be real good again and go on a championship run. Now, it’s on his staff to deliver.

Their coaching could mean the difference between that conference title and another 9-win season. They’re working with essentially the same talent they had last season, losing only four major contributors from 2012. How much more can they get out of this group?

After two seasons of ups and downs, each of Brown’s assistants has something to prove. Major Applewhite is entering his first season as play-caller. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wouldn’t be back if many UT fans had their druthers. Even the revered Duane Akina has problems to solve with his safeties.

But this is the staff Brown hand-picked, and he’s praised the fact that, with the exception of Bryan Harsin’s departure, there is strong continuity in having nine of the same coaches working together for a third year.

“I think the coaches that came in two years ago understand Texas better now than they did two years ago,” Brown said at the start of fall camp. “It's a different place. It's a unique place.”

The expectations they must navigate through are high, sometimes unfairly so. If Texas, with its 19 returning starters and its best depth in years, isn’t great, the finger-pointing will start with the coaches. Especially if, for the third year in a row, they’re badly outcoached by Bob Stoops and Oklahoma.

That’s the burden of the job, especially in a season when Texas’ roster looks so good on paper and the rest of the Big 12 isn’t looking all that scary.

That Texas was voted the preseason No. 4 team by conference media says plenty about what the rest of the league thinks of the Longhorns. Yeah, sure, UT a loaded roster. So what? They always have that. What are they going to do with it?

That ranking doesn’t mean a thing one week from now, but still, the implicit message was clear. Texas isn’t the preseason league favorite because too many folks don’t believe it will be better coached than Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or TCU -- no matter how many games those teams combined to lose (14) in 2012 or how much talent Brown has on campus.

Five days from now, Brown, his coaches and all his once-touted players begin a season that could drastically change those perceptions.

“As I've said before,” Brown said, “we have to shut up and play, shut up and coach.”

Lunch links: Tech's storied sand pit won't return

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
12:00
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Revolution is back, and I don't care if I'm the only one left watching.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Manny Diaz's first mistake, the one that would lead to 112 more in the form of missed tackles, was believing, or at the very least not tempering, the hype.

"The mistake I made last year was that I was aware that expectations were higher for our team than they should have been," the Texas defensive coordinator said. "I think there were too many assumptions made. We said, 'Well, this guy is bigger and faster than the guy who graduated, so he must be better.'

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Patrick Green/Icon SMIManny Diaz believed in the hype of Texas' defense last season. He won't make the mistake again.
"The mistake I made is I should have said, 'Forget about it, it’s your turn now,' " Diaz said.

Their turn is coming up again; most of the same players in all of the same positions. And that is where the worry lies. Not much appears to have changed at Texas. Same players. Same coach. Oh, wait a minute: There has been some change. The two best players on a defense that was the worst in school history in 2012 are off to the NFL. So the team is without its leading tackler from a year ago, Kenny Vaccaro, and without Alex Okafor, who took over the Alamo Bowl and led Texas in sacks. And now there is supposed to be some excitement about the "turn" this group is about to take? Try hand-wringing worry.

"Understandably, we will have lost trust from people from our performance last year, and we understand that," Diaz said. "There’s nothing we can do until we go back out and play in the fall to regain that trust. Our job right now is to get these guys as good as they can be to become a physical, hard-nosed defense."

The first step in doing that is remembering, not who they were collectively a season ago, but who they were when they were at their best, when they were freer, faster and more fearless on the field.

"We can’t carry around the ghost of last year," Diaz said.

(Read full post)

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