Horns under construction this spring
Mack Brown believes Texas is headed in 'right direction' with changes
AUSTIN, Texas -- In the absence of championships, Texas has adopted change, both wholesale and nuanced, as its standard operating procedure.
Since 2010 there have been seven coaching staff changes (including three different offensive coordinators), three changes in offensive philosophies, a recruiting staff overhaul, a leadership change in the strength program. And, oh yeah, Texas even has changed the way it enters the stadium and, bowing to the SEC, tried to build the Stadium Stampede, a propped up pregame parade to the locker room into a tradition.
"I think self-evaluation is something that a lot of people have trouble doing. I've never had trouble with that," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "If we are not doing something right, I can admit that to myself and my staff.
"To move forward, that's what you do," he continued. "And to coach at a place going on 16 years, you're going to have your ups and your downs, and we've had those. I would like to think that every time we've had a lull, we fixed it."
Not quite yet. Texas has gone from five wins to eight wins to nine wins as it has molted repeatedly over the past three years. But Brown is the first to tell everyone Texas is not a nine-win program. The standard, the one he set, is higher at Texas. There is also the one little trifling detail that cannot be overlooked in Texas' sea of change -- Oklahoma. No matter what Texas has changed, it constantly has lost to the Sooners. Badly. Last year it was by 42 points. The year before it was 38.
Ah, but a new offseason has meant a new flurry of changes for Texas. Patrick Suddes, last seen at Alabama, is in as director of player personnel, a first for Texas. Larry Porter, last seen at Arizona State, is in as running back coach. Major Applewhite, last seen as the running backs coach, is in as play-caller. And an up-tempo no-huddle attack, last seen utilized by Oklahoma State and Oregon, is in as the new offense.
"I really believe we're headed in the right way," Brown said. "We're headed in the right direction."
Too late to change course now. Texas is three weeks into its four weeks of spring football. As for other, bigger changes, well, Brown was signed through 2020 following an 8-5 season in 2011. In addition, Texas president William Powers, himself more than slightly embattled due to a kerfuffle with regents, has thrown his support behind Brown.
"I'd like to state unequivocally that Coach Brown has my full support, as well as the support of men's athletics director DeLoss Dodds," Powers wrote on his blog following the regular season. "Put succinctly, Mack Brown is and will remain the Longhorns' head football coach."
But back to the more immediate changes, the ones that already have taken place, or at least are taking shape. First and foremost among them is the change at play-caller and quarterback coach.
"It was cool whenever I found out [Applewhite] was going to be my coach, things that he told me, never a lot, every once in a while he'd give me a piece of advice and all those things he told me before kind of flashed in my head, and I just realized every single thing he ever told me has been spot on and really helped me," Texas quarterback David Ash said.
Applewhite was named the quarterback coach and play-caller before the bowl game but had time to insert only six no-huddle sets into the game plan. Those six plays worked, as Texas, struggling to beat an inferior Oregon State team, flipped the switch at halftime and scored 21 second-half points, the most in a second half since its Week 3 win against Ole Miss.
Since that time Texas has spent most of its time trying to insert the wholesale changes necessary to effectively run its new offense against the talent of the Big 12. It's a daunting task, and the foolhardy might believe Texas will be able to execute with the flawlessness of an Oregon or Oklahoma State when the season opens.
Applewhite does not count himself among that group and understands that change, even for a team that has become accustomed to it, takes time.
"We are going to do what fits us best," he said. "There will be plays we run every bit as fast as the teams mentioned, but we are going to do what we need to do to win the ball game. If that is to snap it 55 times, we will do that. If it is snap it 85 times or 95 times, we will do that. There will be some elements when you look at us you will say, 'Wow, that was fast.' "
How fast the other changes implemented this offseason, specifically in recruiting -- where Texas, for the first time in Brown's tenure, is feeling significant pressure from Texas A&M -- is the other pressing issue for the Longhorns. The day Suddes was hired to organize recruiting efforts, the Texas coaching staff handed him a to-do list of 10 immediate items. On that was the establishing of a sophomore day. (Just last year the Longhorns, in another drastic change, started offering scholarships to sophomores.) It's the first sophomore day in Brown's tenure, and Suddes pulled it off two weeks after being hired.
"I think to be the best -- and that's where we are headed back to -- you have to hire the best, and you have to do the best in all areas," Brown said. "As I said, we used to be the best at everything, and everybody would come here and ask, and for whatever reason, we got behind some in areas, and it's time to fix them. And sometimes they have to be exposed before you fix them, and they were exposed, and we're fixing them, and I'm excited about that going forward."
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