Dallas Colleges: Mack Brown
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.
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.”
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.
"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?
“What’s been the highlight of your career?”
“You know, it’s kind of hard to say,” Hicks said. “I think my best moment was that A&M game. I think everyone who experienced that game would say the same. But personally, it’s tough. I haven’t been out there in a long time. It’s hard.”
He’s referring to the win in 2011, but the senior linebacker is one of two Longhorns left who actually played against the Aggies twice. He jokes that he’s been around so long, he even played for Will Muschamp.
After the two years he just got through, after the crutches and boots and the many games spent on a couch or a sideline, Hicks is smiling again. The two-season detour that could've derailed his playing career is over, and he’s still standing.
Hicks came to Texas as a five-star gem from Ohio with immense promise. This is Year Five. Had his career gone according to plan, he’d be gone by now.
He played as a true freshman on that Muschamp-coached defense in 2010 and showed flashes of potential. He played through hamstring issues for much of 2011 but capped the season with a Holiday Bowl performance against California (eight tackles, two TFLs, a sack and a pass breakup) that suggested his big break was next.
Three games into 2012, Hicks’ progress halted with one painful pop. Doctors were hopeful the groin and hip injury he suffered at Ole Miss would only keep him out a few weeks, maybe a month.
He didn’t play another snap, and worse, he watched Texas’ defense give up the most yards in school history without him. But he rallied back, received a medical redshirt for his time lost and saw 2013 as a chance for a do-over.
Then came chaos. The BYU game. The Manny Diaz firing. The 1-2 start. And, soon after, more heartbreak.
His season-ending injury in Texas’ Big 12 opener against Kansas State was as random and inexplicable as they come. While running to cover a K-State tight end, he felt another pop.
“I do it every day in practice,” Hicks said of the play that caused his torn Achilles. “I do it every day in a game. It just happens. It’s something you can’t control.”
When his mother, Kelly Justice, told him she was coming down from Cincinnati for the surgery that following week, Hicks said no thanks.
“He’s like, ‘I’m fine, mom, you don’t need to come down,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”
The physical pain wasn’t really what bothered Hicks. Sure, he hated the crutches and vows he’ll never touch them again. But it was the mental aspect -- the task of trying to understand why -- that got to him.
“I’d never had an injury before I got here,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what it is, don’t know what happened to me. Maybe one thing led to another. Honestly, I have no clue. Achilles is one of those deals where it just happens. What are you supposed to do about that? I did everything I could to stay healthy. The year before, my groin, I did everything I could.
"I think about it all the time. What else could you have done?”
He was in a boot for more than four months, a spectator for the wild ride that ended in Mack Brown’s ousting. He couldn’t affect anything he was witnessing. He could only heal and wait.
“There was a period when he was pretty down and frustrated,” Justice said. “Anybody in that situation gets kind of angry. It’s out of your control, nothing you can do. You have to accept it and get busy getting better.”
As unfathomable as Hicks’ injuries have been, so is the constant state of change around him. He’s now on his fourth defensive coordinator and his fourth linebackers coach at Texas.
“When we talked to Coach Brown and Coach Muschamp way back during the recruiting days, it seemed like they were a very stable kind of program,” Justice said.
That was 2009, when Texas was chasing a national title. How much has Hicks’ world changed since? Well, during his senior year at Lakota West High School, he took an official visit to Florida.
He came away surprised and impressed by their defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong.
“We both really liked him,” Justice said. “Jordan even said, ‘I’d like playing for him.’ They had an instant connection.”
Strong still sees plenty of potential in Hicks. He’s confident everyone else will if he can just stay on the field. Vance Bedford, the fourth defensive coordinator, says Hicks can be one of the Big 12’s best linebackers this fall. He’s playing like it so far in fall camp.
“You can tell that he’s hungry,” new linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said. “You can just tell by the way he carries himself and the way he’s practicing.”
Hicks shed 10 pounds to get to 235 and vows his speed and strength are back. He already got his first few hits out of the way in practice and sees no reason to play with any hesitation.
If he wants it, Hicks can push the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in 2015. But he’s already working towards his Master’s in advertising. Most of the guys he signed with in 2010 are gone. When he’s back in Cincinnati, he says some folks are surprised to learn he’s still playing. Mom is trying her best to not be nervous.
“He definitely has that passion again. He has a fire burning,” Justice said. “I honestly don’t know what the future holds. We’re just hoping and praying for a healthy season.”
Hicks is ready for another redo. This time, he just wants to go out with a few good memories. He still needs an answer for that career highlight.
“I understand the pressure I’m under,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and handle my business. I plan on doing that."
Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.
When a new coach is hired, especially at a place like The University of Texas, it usually creates excitement with prospects and high school coaches on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that buzz isn’t there. With the addition of ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge on Thursday, Texas A&M further tightened its grip on the top talent in the Lone Star State.
On the other hand, the Longhorns, whose 2015 class is ranked No. 11 in ESPN's rankings, are struggling within their home state. Texas has yet to gain a commit from a top-10 in-state player. To make matters worse, Strong’s staff is losing commits to conference rivals and SEC powers in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oklahoma.
“In the state of Texas, A&M has taken over,” Cedar Hill (Texas) High School coach Joey McGuire said. “Through what coach [Kevin] Sumlin has done and then what Johnny Manziel did to help put that school in such a great position, it's helped them move to whole different level. They're the hot thing going right now. It's hard to beat, even for a program like Texas.”
As any Texas fan will tell you, there’s nothing worse than losing to the hated Aggies. The recruiting beatdown could continue as A&M is in good position with cornerback Kendall Sheffield, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end James Lockhart and cornerback Kris Boyd -- all ESPN 300 prospects strongly considering playing in College Station.
A Big 12 assistant who recruits in the Lone Star State said he could see that Texas would have problems on the recruiting trail the minute Strong announced his staff. The assistant praised Strong for luring Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State and believes his addition will help the Longhorns find some hidden gems along the offensive line. But after that, the assistant said it was hardly the all-star cast many thought Strong could assemble, given the school’s resources.
“I thought [Strong] needed to bring in guys that can stand toe-to-toe against A&M, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and all the other top teams that recruit in Texas,” the coach said. “He needed guys that had deep ties with the high school coaches in Texas. Instead, he got a lot of coaches that can win recruiting battles against Cincinnati, UCF and teams like that. This is the Big 12, not the AAC.”
In defense of the Longhorns, Strong did retain Bruce Chambers, who is entering his 17th season in Austin and has connections with high school football in the state. He also hired Les Koenning, a 1981 Texas graduate who is entering his 34th year of coaching after previous stops at Mississippi, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Replacing Mack Brown wasn’t going to be easy. Replacing the relationships he so tirelessly built with Texas high school coaches will take some time.
All of this has made Strong’s job of recruiting local talent more difficult than most assumed it would be when he was first hired six months ago. But all is not lost. There has been no shortage of effort from the Longhorns’ staff, and Strong can sway some recruits with a simple formula this fall: winning.
“If Charlie Strong comes out and wins, there might be another flip,” McGuire said. “If they can come out and surprise some people this year and win games, then they’re going to be the hot team with recruits. Winning and losing is going to make a big part of those schools' recruiting classes.”
The former All-America wide receiver at Texas had an easy time transitioning into life after football following his three-year stint in the pros. Shipley has a burgeoning TV career as the host for "Bucks of Tecomate" and "Tecomate Whitetail Nation" on Outdoor Channel and is chasing his love of fishing, hunting and all things outdoors.
Shipley is also trying out acting in his spare time. He's portraying former Texas great Cotton Speyrer in "My All American," a movie about Freddie Steinmark and UT's 1969 national title team which is filming in Austin. ESPN.com recently caught up with him to talk about his new ventures, his brother and his former coach.
Shipley: Oh man, I was laughing the other day because they gave me my own trailer. I think they have to. That deal is going to be really fun. Growing up here, you hear all these stories about the national championship teams in '69 and '70 and Freddie Steinmark and all these guys. To have it made into a movie is pretty special. I'm happy to be a part of it and playing Cotton.
How do you like seeing the old-time uniforms and haircuts?
Shipley: What I'm having to get used to is no facial hair. I've been bearded for a while now, so I still haven't gotten used to that. But the uniforms, it feels a lot like junior high when you have the big pads. The biggest difference is being in pads for 12 hours a day. In the NCAA and NFL, they can only keep you on the field so long. That's been a little different.
How is working with Aaron Eckhart? Think he's doing a good job portraying Darrell Royal?
Shipley: Actually, I've talked to Aaron a ton. The other day, I probably visited with him for an hour and a half. He's taking the role very seriously and it's obviously big shoes to fill. I took him to the stadium and showed him around, showed him the building and the old pictures of these guys in the movie, all the memorabilia. I think he's going to do a great job.
How did you get your break with Outdoor Channel?
Shipley: It's a pretty incredible deal. David Morris, who's a hunting legend, was co-hosting the shows with Jeff Foxworthy for a long time. I've basically taken Jeff Foxworthy's spot. It's awesome and it's a full-time job.
Josh Hamilton was supposed to come down on a hunt with these guys and his whole family got sick and had to cancel. They called me and I came down. I was in Amarillo and I drove all the way down to Laredo, about 11 hours, with my wife and did the hunt. That went great and David pulled me aside and said he was looking for somebody to take the load off of him and eventually become the face of "Tecomate." He said, 'If you think you might be ready to be done playing football ...' and I didn't even let him finish. 'I'm ready. Sign me up.' Really, I guess I should thank Josh Hamilton.
I'd imagine that kind of work takes you all over the country, right?
Shipley: Yeah, for my hosting next year we have hunts on the docket for Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin and then I'll have some in Texas. It's all over the place.
Is there pressure when the cameras are following you on a hunt and you need results?
Shipley: There is, yeah. One hunt this year, it was down to the wire, the last afternoon of my hunt. With our schedule there's no extra days, you've got to get it done. I shot my deer from 300-something yards the last day and it was the only one I saw that was potentially for the show. So yeah, it's pressure. It's a lot like playing a football game. You've got the cameras on you and you've got to make something happen.
You knew your playing days would end eventually. Is it crazy to you that this is what you ended up doing? Or was this your plan all along?
Shipley: This is crazier to me than playing in the NFL. This was my dream job. A lot of people laugh about that. My uncles were giving me a hard time, saying, 'What are you trying to do, do all of our dream jobs?' I wanted to do something in the outdoor industry, I knew that, but to get a hosting job on one of the highest-watched show in outdoor television has been a huge blessing. It kind of just happened.
You spent some time this spring fishing with Mack Brown. How'd that go?
Shipley: It was fun. He wanted me to show him Lake Austin because he spends a lot of time out there and he knew I'd caught some really good fish out there. I took him out there and showed him some of my fishing holes, and we're going to do that again sometime.
Did he seem like he's enjoying the time off and the chance to relax?
Shipley: He told me before he does anything else, he wants to spend a good amount of time playing golf and fishing. I know him and Miss Sally have gone on some trips. I think it's been great for him to have some time to decompress. We all know that job at Texas is super stressful and a high-demand job. I'm sure he's liked having some time to be a normal person again.
Your brother, Jaxon Shipley, is entering his senior year. What are you expecting this fall?
Shipley: A lot of people don't know this, but he had a pretty significant surgery right before last season started and missed all of two-a-days. They went in and cut the attachments for his groin muscle on both sides and reattached them. They were torn and frayed everywhere. I don't know how he was even back to being able to play. That was four weeks before two-a-days.
He just didn't feel great last year, and I was impressed he played the way he did for going through that. I think watching him in the spring game, he looks like he's way ahead. I think he's going to have a great year.
SEC games are won and lost in the trenches, but the league has always poked its chest out from the running back position.
This season is no different, as the league is once again loaded here:
2. Georgia: When healthy, Todd Gurley is arguably the country’s best running back. He has that rare combination of size, speed and explosion that make him a terror for defenses. Even with nagging injuries, Gurley has 2,374 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Fellow junior Keith Marshall proved to be a great complement to Gurley with his explosiveness, but is coming off a devastating knee injury. Expect freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to get chances, along with youngsters Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman.
3. South Carolina: Junior Mike Davis has the skill to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. He can pound away with his strength and break the big run. He has nearly 1,500 career yards and the talent to make this his last year in college. There isn’t a lot of drop off with Brandon Wilds, either. Injuries have been an issue for him, but when he’s on the field, he usually outworks opponents. He’s also a good blocker and a receiving threat. Shon Carson has shown flashes, but has to put it all together. Keep an eye on David Williams, who could be the back of the future.
4. Arkansas: The Razorbacks didn’t do a lot of good things on offense last season, but Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams presented a formidable duo for opposing defenses. Together, they rushed for 1,985 yards and eight touchdowns. The second number has to increase this season, but if the line improves, these two should produce plenty of headaches this fall. Korliss Marshall only played in eight games last year, but people around the program think he’s the biggest home run threat at running back.
5. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel is gone, but the backfield should be fine by committee. Tra Carson has what it takes to be a bellcow back with his blend of power, explosion and elusiveness. The Aggies could have a solid one-two-punch with Carson and Trey Williams, who might be the most gifted of A&M’s backs. Brandon Williams and James White should get carries too. White looks like the back of the future and is an every-down pounder, while Brandon Williams might be the fastest of the bunch.
6. Auburn: What Tre Mason did last year was nothing short of impressive, and the system he ran will only benefit the guys after him. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant both rushed for more than 600 yards last season and each had six touchdowns. Artis-Payne could carry the load, while Grant is used as more of the speed back. Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber could get some carries, but keep an eye on true freshman Racean Thomas, who could really challenge Artis-Payne.
7. LSU: Jeremy Hill might be gone, but Terrence Magee could start for a handful of SEC squads. He rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns last season and stole some carries from Hill here and there throughout the season. He isn’t easy to take down and is more elusive than Hill was. But he’ll certainly be pushed by freshman Leonard Fournette, who was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. Senior Kenny Hilliard returns with more than 1,000 career rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
8. Florida: This might the Gators’ deepest position. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor started to get more comfortable last season and is faster and more agile right now. He’s trying to be more of an every-down back and carry the load, but will get plenty of help from Mack Brown and Matt Jones. Brown has really turned things around in the last year, while Jones should be 100 percent after knee surgery this spring. The wild card could be freshman Brandon Powell, who could be a real threat in the passing game.
10. Ole Miss: The Rebels have a solid duo to work with in juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Both registered more than 500 yards last season and were neck-and-neck for most of the spring. Expect an attack by committee where Walton has more of the flash and Mathers uses more power. Jordan Wilkins is a really physical back who is more of a grinder than the other two. There isn’t a workhorse, but all these guys fit what Hugh Freeze wants to do on offense.
11. Mississippi State: Another team with a potentially deadly duo headlining its backfield. Josh Robinson was third on the team last season with 459 yards, but averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He packs a punch and can break the big plays. Nick Griffin had a great spring, but has dealt with multiple ACL injuries. Having him healthy for the first time is huge. There’s excitement about Brandon Holloway moving to running back, and youngsters Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams could get chances this fall.
12. Kentucky: The Wildcats have plenty of questions on offense, but there’s hope at running back. Sophomore Jojo Kemp led the team in rushing last season (482), but will battle Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, who might be able to do a little more with his athleticism and speed. Josh Clemons is back after sitting out two seasons with injuries, and freshmen Mikel Horton and Stanley Williams will give Kentucky good depth.
13. Tennessee: Senior Marlin Lane has a ton of experience and will relied on even more with Rajion Neal gone, but inconsistency has always been something that has hurt Lane. He’s yet to hit 700 yards in a season, but he’s shown flashes his entire career. Freshman Jalen Hurd, who has great size and athleticism, is being viewed as the real deal in Knoxville and will have very opportunity to grab a good amount of carries this fall after enrolling early. Him taking the starting job wouldn't surprise anyone.
14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason was pleased with where his running backs were coming out of the spring. Junior Brian Kimbrow, who has a ton of wiggle and speed, is stronger, which should help him between the tackles. The Commodores could have a future star in redshirt freshman Ralph Webb and veteran Jerron Seymour, who led Vandy with 716 rushing yards, is back, giving Vandy some good depth to start the season.
Among his peers, the effects of Brown's move are still being realized six months later. This was a Texas-sized boulder in the coaching pool, and it caused a tremendous ripple effect.
Directly or indirectly, Brown's decision to leave Texas affected the jobs of 103 coaches and influenced coaching changes at 47 college programs, four NFL organizations and two high schools. The impact of the legendary coach's departure was felt at every level of the game.
In ending his 16-year tenure at Texas, Brown didn't just cede the throne of one of college football's most coveted jobs -- a job so powerful that Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Art Briles, Gus Malzahn and Jim Mora all received raises just for being rumored UT candidates. Brown's move also altered the lives, careers and futures of coaches around the country.
These are just a few of the 103 men with similar dreams and brand-new plans.
You can read the rest of this story here.
As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
2. Art Briles, Baylor
3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
5. Gary Patterson, TCU
6. Charlie Strong, Texas
7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
10. Charlie Weis, Kansas
- Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
- I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
- In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
- Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
- As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
- Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
- This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.
The former Texas coach is developing into a bit of a star in the social networking world thanks to his newfound fondness for hosting late-night Q&As with his more than 59,000 followers.
On his @UT_MackBrown account, Brown has surpassed 2,300 tweets. Now that he no longer has to follow recruits, the 101 people he follows consist of former players, coaches, friends and football reporters.
Brown has stuck to his tradition of posting an inspirational quote each morning, referencing such thinkers as Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Zig Ziglar and Vince Lombardi. It serves as his thought of the day. And on a daily basis, Brown’s Twitter posts are about what you’d expect from an ex-coach who’s still living in Austin and loving Texas athletics.
He congratulated former players Jackson Jeffcoat and James Kirkendoll for receiving their T-Rings, Henry Melton for joining the Cowboys and Sam Acho for getting married.
He’s still following Longhorns sports closely and offering his support to the men’s basketball, women’s basketball and track teams these days. He’ll still retweet the Longhorn Network account from time to time.
Considering the public figure Brown became during his 16-year tenure in burnt orange, it’s no surprise he’s putting in an effort to keep up. He does seem to be enjoying this medium and the networking it offers.
And lately, on the nights he decides to take questions, Brown is open to chatting with anybody about anything. And he can really get on a roll.
On March 11, for example, Brown answered more than 60 questions in a span of about 70 minutes. Considering he does his tweeting from his iPhone, that’s quite the commitment.
His most prolific chat, to date, appears to be the one from March 3. He posted more than 165 tweets over the course of four hours, all in response to questions or comments he received.
That chat came the day after his close friend Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar. Brown’s live-tweeting of the Academy Awards drew lots of attention, too.
Congrats to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club. Good start. Jim Carey is really funny & I love Harrison Ford— Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown) March 3, 2014
In case you’ve been missing out on these Q&As -- and that’s understandable, because you never know when one will get going -- here’s a glimpse of what we’ve learned about Brown during his ask-me-anything chats.
- Brown does not hunt, nor does he drink coffee or alcohol. He loves to golf but acknowledges “it’s a tough deal.” He would not reveal his golf handicap. He does own six pairs of boots, size 10 ½.
- The most common advice he offers to those who want to go into coaching: “Follow your dream.” Brown said the coaches he looked up to were Darrell Royal, Bobby Bowden, John McKay, Joe Paterno, Bo Schembechler and Paul Dietzel. He’s also a fan of Bill Snyder.
- If Brown hadn’t gone into coaching, he says he would’ve become a lawyer. He says he’s never considered running for state office.
- His favorite meal is chili. He does prefer beans in his chili, which some Texans frown upon. His favorite Cajun food is crawfish, and his favorite candy is chocolate.
- His favorite movie is the 1969 classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” His favorite McConaughey movie is “A Time to Kill.” Brown did watch the first season of “True Detective,” but he does not watch soap operas.
- His favorite band is the Longhorn Band. His favorite Beatle is Paul McCartney.
- He believes Kevin Durant would’ve made a great wide receiver in college had he played football. It's hard to disagree with that.
- When asked if he would comment on Johnny Manziel, Brown said: “i only talk UT guys.” But he did offer that he thinks Tony Romo is a “great competitor” and that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota was tough to game plan against.
- If Brown were stranded on an island with three people, here’s who he’d want to spend his time with: Joe Jamail, the Longhorn booster who is his lawyer and best friend; Red McCombs, the billionaire Texas booster; and former President George W. Bush.
And that’s just the fun stuff. He’ll entertain questions about games he coached, offer nuggets about the big moments from his Texas career and all sorts of other football-related knowledge. Or, if you just want to be retweeted by Mack Brown, he can usually help you out with that too.
Brown is no doubt doing plenty of other things with his newfound spare time, but connecting with his fanbase is becoming one of his more popular endeavors. He’s simply out to offer up advice, praise and some honesty.
Why’s he doing this? Because Brown, as he recently reminded his many followers, is just trying to stay true to himself.
"Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself & the right people will love the real you." Unknown-Be yourself. You can't be anyone else— Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown) March 15, 2014
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.
It started with promise, with Mack Brown confident the Longhorns could win the Big 12. Then Texas started 1-2, fired a coordinator, won six conference games in a row, upset Oklahoma, suffered a barrage of significant injuries and lost three of its final four, including its regular-season finale at Baylor with the Big 12 title on the line.
A week later, Brown resigned and a 16-year era at Texas came to an end with one final rocky 8-5 season. Here’s one more look back at the Longhorns’ 2013 campaign:
Offensive MVP: RB Malcolm Brown. While WR Mike Davis was named the team’s offensive player of the year, we’re going with Brown because he emerged as the workhorse of this Texas offense when Johnathan Gray went down with a torn Achilles. Brown started the year slow but finished with 904 rushing yards and surpassed 100 five times, including in critical victories over Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Defensive MVP: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. The senior played up to his big-time potential, earning consensus All-America honors, the Ted Hendricks Award and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Jeffcoat led the Big 12 in sacks with 13 and led the Longhorns in the locker room.
Best moment: In a result that few saw coming, Texas went to the Cotton Bowl and beat up on Oklahoma. The Longhorns attacked on both sides of the ball and won easily, 36-20, over the then-No. 12 Sooners. It was sweet revenge for a Texas senior class that had never beaten OU, and Texas got the Golden Hat for the first time since 2009.
Worst moment: A stunning 40-21 road loss to BYU on Sept. 7. The Longhorns gave up a school-record 550 rushing yards and completely fell apart in Provo in a game that cost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz his job. That loss and coaching change led to another defeat, at home against Ole Miss, which left Texas 1-2 to start the season.
Best win: The Oklahoma Sooners have been searching for a victory that would signal their return to the nation’s elite. They finally got such a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Oklahoma smoked the two-time defending national champs from Alabama, 45-31. With tons of young talent returning, notably quarterback Trevor Knight and linebacker Eric Striker, the Alabama victory could propel Oklahoma toward a national title run in 2014.
Worst loss: Baylor had a chance to put the finishing touches on a fabulous season. Instead, the Bears lost to UCF, one of the biggest underdogs in BCS history, 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl as the conference champion Bears ended their season on a sour note. It was still a great season for Baylor, yet one that didn’t end so great.
Best offensive performance: Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett were all terrific, but nobody had the bowl game Knight did. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He did have one interception, but even that pass bounced off his receiver’s hands. Those would be great numbers against anybody, and Knight didn’t produce them against just anybody. He produced them against Alabama.
Best special teams performance: Texas Tech dominated most of the National University Holiday Bowl. But the game became tense early in the third quarter when Arizona State scored on a 44-yard run to cut Tech’s lead to 27-20. Those tense moments lasted for just moments. That’s because Reginald Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders back up by two scores. Arizona State never threatened again as the Red Raiders cruised to a 37-23 upset victory.
Best play: With just a minute to play, Alabama got the ball back at its 18-yard line with a chance for game-tying touchdown drive. Instead, on the first snap, Striker came barreling around the edge and crashed into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped to the ground, and defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped it up and rumbled eight yards for a game-clinching touchdown. It was Oklahoma’s seventh sack of McCarron.
Worst play: The Big 12 had a similar play go the other way. Down 34-31, Oklahoma State drove into Missouri territory with a chance of – at worst – lining up for a game-tying field goal. Instead, the Cowboys called a pass on third-and-7, and before quarterback Clint Chelf could unload the ball, he was sacked from behind by SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam, who knocked the ball loose. Missouri’s Shane Ray gobbled up the fumble and raced 73 yards for the touchdown, as the Tigers won the game 41-31.
Best catch: On second-and-goal from the Michigan 8, Kansas State wideout Tyler Lockett was lined up across from Michigan cornerback Raymon Taylor. Lockett drove right into Taylor, then looked back to quarterback Jake Waters. The ball came sailing low, but Lockett went down to get his hands under the ball before it touched the ground, giving him his third touchdown catch of the game and putting K-State ahead 21-6.
Worst play-calling: The Cowboys were just 9 of 22 on third down against Missouri, and curious play-calling from offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich seemed to be a big reason why. Twice on third-and-3, Yurcich called running plays up the middle, which Missouri’s powerful defensive line stuffed to snuff promising Oklahoma State drives. Yurcich called another running play up the middle on third-and-1 at the end of the quarter, which the Tigers obliterated again. With the Cowboys defense dominating Missouri through the third quarter, Oklahoma State missed an opportunity to take command of the game. Third-down play-calling was a big reason why.
Best bounce-back performance: The Texas Tech defense had capitulated during a five-game losing streak, giving up 38, 52, 49, 63 and 41 points. But finally healthy again, Tech bucked up in the National University Holiday Bowl, holding Arizona State to 18 points below its season average.
Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” – coach Bob Stoops, after Oklahoma defeated the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide.
Worst official’s call: With the AT&T Cotton Bowl knotted at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma State cornerback Tyler Patmon appeared to have delivered the play of the game. He stepped in front of Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham to intercept James Franklin’s pass and returned it 37 yards into the end zone. Officials, however, flagged Patmon with pass interference – a ticky-tack call at best on Patmon, who on replays appeared to be going for the ball. With new life, Missouri capitalized to drive for a field goal, and the Tigers eventually won the game.
Best fan showing: The Longhorns didn’t have the kind of season they had hoped for. But in Mack Brown’s final game, burnt orange filled the Alamodome, turning the Valero Alamo Bowl into a sellout. The bowl game didn’t go the way the Longhorns had hoped, either -- a 30-7 loss to Oregon. But Texas fans sent out their coach in a classy way.
AUSTIN, Texas -- On the eve of his first full day as coach at Texas, Charlie Strong picked up the phone and did a smart thing. He called Mack Brown.
Strong made sure Brown knew the former Texas coach would always be part of the Longhorns program and is always welcome. Brown offered his praise and support. And he respectfully and firmly drew the line.
And with that, the baton was passed. The coach carrying it now showed us Monday he’s ready to run with a relentless fervor. Texas players would be wise to follow -- and good luck keeping up.
At his introductory news conference Monday, Strong made it easy to understand why he was tabbed to take over a Longhorns program fresh off its fourth straight season of not-good-enough. He’s here to bring back the edge.
Strong respects the tradition of Texas football. It’s the culture that needs changing.
“The mentality is always going to be a physical and mental toughness,” he said. “You have to build your program on toughness. That’s what all the successful programs do. It’s all about toughness.”
Strong’s move to Texas has been labeled a strange “fit” by national pundits, essentially because a man who values privacy and cares more about coaching football than being The Football Coach is signing up to live in one of the sport’s most oversized fishbowls. How is he going to feel comfortable?
Comfortable is a word he used just once Monday in his 45-minute news conference, in reference to ensuring Texas players get accommodated to a life led by new coaches. Comfortable is a word those players won’t hear much after their initial meeting with Strong.
The players are in for an offseason of uncomfortable, in the best way possible.
Tough and toughness are words Strong used 11 times. He admits he still knows very little about the players he’s inheriting, and they won’t return to campus for another week. But they better know what they’re in for.
This is a man with a plan and a rigorous standard. This is the guy who’s going to give Texas football the kick in the pants it needs if it wants to be great again.
“It's about the attitude,” Strong said. “The attitude they develop will be the attitude that's going to change this program. They have to develop the right attitude.”
That attitude won’t be optional. The Longhorns who care about winning championships will separate themselves. The ones who aren’t serious will be exposed.
It’s that “fit” that matters if Texas will succeed in its first year under Strong: Getting players to buy in to Strong’s brand of football and finding more who share his hunger.
As he proudly put it Monday: “We will work like it’s fourth-and-inches.”
Finding a passionate coach who’s excited to rebuild a juggernaut wasn't a difficult job for athletic director Steve Patterson and president Bill Powers, and members of the search committee admitted Monday there were several coaches who checked most of the boxes of the criteria they sought.
Strong was the one, they say, who has it all.
“We wanted somebody who was bright and an ethical leader, somebody who was physically and mentally tough, somebody who could really recruit and evaluate talent,” Patterson said. “Then once that talent is here, somebody who is a great coach and teacher who can really help our young football players grow both on the field and off.”
Strong says he believes the right foundation is in place at Texas, though you know he’ll take time to inspect it. What he’ll find is potentially great talent that has, on the whole, underperformed and lacked consistency in Brown’s final seasons.
In Dec. 2009, Strong held his first team meeting at Louisville after landing the head job. That meeting became infamous.
Strong reportedly tore into his new team. Their standard both on the field and in the classroom wasn't high enough. He demanded trust. He laid down the law.
The result? He got their attention and earned their respect. He built up a program in his likeness, full of toughness and grit. He’s ready to build another at Texas.
“The bricks are there,” Strong said. “I just need to put another brick on top of it.”
And if he's really as good as they say, in time, these Longhorns will run through a brick wall for him.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas needed a head coach who wins and wins big. Athletic director Steve Patterson had admitted that from the start of his three-week search to replace Mack Brown.
Patterson has found a coach in Charlie Strong who has done just that.
The next head coach of the Longhorns comes to Austin armed with more than three decades of experience and perhaps just what this program has been missing. Agreeing to leave Louisville wasn’t easy for Strong, hence this long and arduous weekend, but he couldn't turn down the opportunity that Texas offers.
Strong came to Louisville as a defensive mastermind after helping lead Florida to two national championships in eight seasons. He coached 13 All-American defenders, six first-round draft picks and multiple top-five scoring defenses.
Yet for all those years of success, Strong was repeatedly passed over for head-coaching jobs. At age 49, he finally got his chance to be a head man after 27 years in the business.
"I just wanted somebody so hungry he would crawl here,” Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said when he hired Strong, “and there's no doubt he would crawl here.”
Strong was just as hungry to reward Jurich’s faith, and he certainly did that. Louisville won two conference titles and three bowls in his four seasons at the helm, went a combined 23-3 in his last two years and upset No. 3 Florida in last year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Strong, now 53, nearly moved on to Tennessee a year ago. Jurich persuaded him to stay. Now he’s ready for the big stage and his biggest job yet.
A respected recruiter, Strong has wisely hitched his wagon to recruiting Florida, especially Miami, where he found Teddy Bridgewater and more than a dozen other current Cardinals. Two-thirds of his 2013 roster came from in-state and Florida talent.
His recruiting chops will be put to the test in Texas, a state where he has few ties. He spent one year coaching in this state -- as a Texas A&M grad assistant in 1985 -- and had no Texans on this season’s Louisville roster.
Establishing a new pipeline in Florida would be a significant breakthrough for this program, but Texas also needs a coach who can keep up with Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M and regain control of the Lone Star State.
That’s just one of many tall challenges facing Strong and his staff, but in his four years at Louisville he proved adept in an area Texas has struggled with in recent years: player development.
Strong won 12 games this season with a starting lineup featuring 13 former three-star recruits and eight two-stars. Bridgewater, who has emerged as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, was one of just two four-star starters.
Marcus Smith signed as a three-star wanting to play quarterback and became an All-American defensive end. Six more of the former three-stars and a trio of two-stars earned all-conference honors last month.
And by all accounts, the Cardinals players revered Strong. He’s known as a tough, fiery disciplinarian with high standards, and that might be just what this program needs now.
Still, this hire is guaranteed to come with second-guessing. It’s Texas. A big job comes with bigger scrutiny.
No matter how the Texas fan base feels about Strong, it wants to know why the Longhorns didn’t wait for Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, or why Baylor coach Art Briles never interviewed. Those were a few of the perceived Plan A candidates, and some pundits will argue that Texas didn’t make a splashy megahire. But Patterson won’t care what gets said this week. He has served as athletic director for 40 days and knew he was staking his reputation at Texas to whomever he selected.
We don’t know whom Strong will bring with him to Austin or who will comprise his first staff. We don’t know what offense he’ll run. But we do know he’ll inherit plenty of talent, endless resources and far greater expectations.
For better or worse, Strong has more in common with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops than Mack Brown. If Patterson was concerned about finding a coach with a reputation for being excessively media-savvy, as Brown was throughout his tenure, the AD would’ve gone in a different direction.
Instead, it seems safe to say that Patterson cared much more about the other side of a “fit”: a proven, tested and respected success. A coach who’s a winner and a program changer.
That’s what Texas needed above all else, and winning is the best thing Strong can do to assure a divided fan base that he’s the right choice.