Thursday, March 3, 2011
Spring attitude change on tap for Texas
By David Ubben
AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown is done talking about the 2010 season. He made sure his team knew it at a 30-minute January meeting when he explained what caused his team's jaw-dropping 5-7 season -- one year after a loss in the BCS National Championship Game.
He told his players not to talk about it anymore. He said doing so is unnecessary, negative and would do little to keep it from happening again. The best way to make sure they followed his advice, Brown said, is to set the example.
The only time you'll catch Brown talking 2010 is if a question drags it out of him. And even then, it's not a safe bet.
Mack Brown has put 2010 behind him and is looking ahead to the 2011 season.
"It’s not being rude, it’s just, as a team we have moved forward," Brown said.
The entitlement Brown sensed early last season, and detailed after it ended, has no choice but to leave. After the 2010 season, Brown made changes within the program. He replaced three coaches and filled the void left by two others who took different jobs. His players are now forced to take the field with plenty to prove, bent on resuming a winning tradition rather than riding the wake of double-digit win seasons, which has been the case in the previous nine springs. The fourth of 15 spring practices is set for this afternoon and the process of turning those offseason changes into wins has begun.
"This is like our first year. The excitement and the enthusiasm from our players and from our fans, I feel the same way it was in '98. We obviously can’t walk around with our swagger and talk about how great we were last year. So, we’re going to keep our mouth shut and earn our right to be back to what we’ve been," Brown said. "We’re talking to our kids about earning the right to go back and talk about being like the other Texas teams. And that’s why we’re not talking about last year. We’re talking about you have to earn that right to go do that."
That chance won't officially come until September. Brown has closed all workouts to media to give new coordinators Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz time to implement their systems without the worry of early scrutiny. The same for his players, Brown said, especially the quarterbacks.
There's no depth chart for now, in part because there can't be and in part because Brown doesn't want there to be one yet. Texas has just eight offensive linemen suiting up for spring practice. For now, Texas' first seven practices are devoted to help players learn their new duties. The next eight will be about establishing separation.
The team's new motto, "Brick by Brick" was established early in offseason conditioning. The foundation at Texas is there, reinforced by 128 wins and four BCS berths in the 11 seasons before last year's disaster. But in the "What have you done for me lately?" world of college football, it's tough for most fans to see anything on top of that foundation at Texas after a season like 2010.
"I’m a young guy. I haven’t been through too much in my life, but football-wise," said senior safety Blake Gideon, "that was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt."
Gideon couldn't even bring himself to watch most of the bowl games that, for the first time in his career, he wouldn't be a part of. He took in the first.
A season after playing in the BCS National Championship Game, Blake Gideon could hardly stomach bowl games at all.
"I had such a sick feeling in my stomach from it, that I just had to get away from it," he said. "I just watched the least amount of football I could. I ran from every television."
He didn't watch anymore until the second half of the national championship, where, a year earlier, he was on the field instead of on a couch.
"Last year, I think the sense of entitlement meant that we were living off the accomplishments of the past," said linebacker Emmanuel Acho. "We were living off ’08 and ’09. Now, in 2011, it’s only about us. Nothing that happened last year matters. This is our team. We have to go work day in and day out to make sure we’re as successful as we want to be."
That "entitlement" problem should be long gone by now.
So, brick by brick, they're trying to build a new tradition among the punchlines over the past six months.
"These kids have a tremendous amount of pride," Brown said. "They’re not proud of what happened last year, and they’re going to make sure they work hard to fix it."
In January, each coach got up and introduced himself to the team. No matter if they were preparing for their second week in Austin or their 13th season, they all said the same thing: This was their first day at the University of Texas.
"That was really a big point to us," said senior running back Fozzy Whittaker. "We’re starting over."
So after a set on the bench press, or after a practice or set of sprints, players make a mental note.
"That's another brick," Acho says with a smile.
He'll be saying that plenty for the next six months before Texas kicks off its 2011 season.
"We’re trying to build a house here, and every day we’re adding another brick to the foundation," Whittaker said. "We’ve got a lot of bricks to lay between now and next season."