Commentary

Texas and its fan embracing challenges

An offseason of turmoil and change at Texas hasn't dulled the program's hopes

Updated: August 26, 2011, 9:31 AM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation.com

The way it has played out over all the years and miles is that Tom usually is at the wheel, while Theresa drives the music.

Together they wordlessly work in concert to make sure the timing is just about perfect as they hit the southern edge of Oklahoma. Thirty-seven years of marriage does have its advantages.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Tim Heitman/US PresswireMack Brown suffered through his first losing season at Texas and responded with massive staff changes.

"Right when we start crossing the Red River, that's when we play 'Eyes of Texas,' " Tom Richey said.

"That's when we start to feel home," Theresa added.

Summer drought is taking a toll on that river right about now, and the climate in the Big 12 Con-ference is once again heated. Texas A&M appears poised to bolt for the SEC, and commissioner Dan Beebe reportedly had a heated exchange recently with SEC boss Mike Slive.

But the passion in the Richeys, the only Texas football season-ticket holders who live in Ne-braska, and the roughly 450,000 living Texas alums still runs deep -- with or without Texas A&M.

"You know what it is to love something?" Tom asked. "We love Texas football, everything about it."

It's why the Richeys pile into the car and make the 30-hour round trip for every home game.

It's why super fan Scott Wilson has slept on couches, floors and backseats just to keep his streak of attending games -- 409 straight so far -- intact.

It's why 100,000 people flood Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium six Saturdays a year.

It's also why, after a 5-7 season, the fans are still there, not complaining, but clamoring for the next season to begin and hoping for better.

"It is disappointing not to have a successful season but it wasn't a crisis on the campus," Univer-sity of Texas president William Powers said. "People set a pretty high standard around here."

However: "I didn't get any emails. I didn't get any revolts from fans," he said.

Maybe there was no revolt. But heads did roll.

Most notably was that of Greg Davis, who had been by Mack Brown's side for 16 years as offen-sive coordinator. While Davis was shown the door, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp para-chuted to Florida.

The mass exodus made way for a major influx -- Bryan Harsin from Boise State, Bo Davis from Alabama, Darrell Wyatt from Kansas, Stacy Searels from Georgia and Manny Diaz from Missis-sippi State. New coaches. New styles. New attitude.

"We have a lot more energy on offense and defense," linebacker Keenan Robinson said. "Sometimes last year, the defense had all this energy and the offense didn't generate as much. This year it will be both."

That's the promise. Whether it becomes a reality won't be known for weeks.

But what is real and tangible at Texas is the resolve to turn around the program.

[+] EnlargeDeLoss Dodds and William Powers
Erich Schlegel/Getty ImagesUniversity of Texas President Bill Powers and athletic director DeLoss Dodds oversaw an offseason that included the launch of its own TV network.

"What we saw here was, going through tough times, [Mack Brown] got his game face on," athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. "I'm not sure he won't be better at what he is doing because of that.

"When you are winning, winning, winning, you change. And then you go through a losing season and you are back to fighting. And he got back to fighting and fixing it. I think he refocused and is focused. He has taken on the challenge. I think he is loving it. He is such a competitor that this is starting over."

Starting over means rebuilding.

"Brick by brick," linebacker Emmanuel Acho said.

And the Longhorns have plenty of resources to stack as many bricks as they want.

"Texas has always been Texas," said former Baylor coach Grant Teaff, now executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. "It has always been the thing. It represents the state. Unless your parents went to another school like Texas Tech or Baylor, if you were born in Texas, you were going to Texas."

Then again, Texas has enough to worry about. If the on-field product wasn't concern enough, there has been much uproar over The Longhorn Network, a 20-year, $300 million deal between Texas and ESPN.

First was the network's airing of high school games. The NCAA said that was not allowed. Crisis averted.

Then came the possible airing of a second conference game. Crisis confronted, but not yet solved.

The Longhorns, now more than ever it seems, face plenty who want to tear them down. Chief among them is Texas A&M.

"The thing is, The Longhorn Network is not going to win any games for Texas," said Bob Davie, former Texas A&M defensive coordinator and current ESPN analyst. "I would just hate to see that rivalry break up and Texas A&M leave the Big 12."

But it appears the Aggies' wheels are not just in motion, they are spinning furiously -- not that Texas is fretting over the departure.

"It is what they choose," Texas offensive lineman Tray Allen said. "They want to go to the SEC, go to the SEC. If they want to stay in the Big 12 we will show them what they usually see when they stay in the Big 12."

Above it all is the overriding issue that no one knows for sure how much of an advantage the Longhorn Network might be for Texas.

"This is a business," said Randy Rodgers, former Texas recruiting coordinator for John Mackovic. "It's all about how often [the recruit] sees your brand. The more he sees you the more he learns about you. He just needs to see your brand in a positive light."

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy Garrett Gilbert
John Rivera/Icon SMI Even an ongoing quarterback battle hasn't dulled the optimism for the 2011 season.

And with Dodds at the helm of the ship, Texas doesn't appear headed toward any major icebergs as it expands that brand beyond the state's borders.

"[They] have recruited coaches who project the image of the university, which is academics, and we do things with integrity," Powers said of Dodds and women's AD Chris Plonsky. "We do it the right way here."

It is true that Texas -- despite wearing a hideous, sooo last season dress -- is still the prettiest girl at the dance that is college football.

According to the university, the athletics budget, which topped $140 million for fiscal year 2010-11 and has grown by $8-10 million each year, dwarfs all others. Ohio State, Florida and Wiscon-sin are but a few who are trying to keep up.

Texas' private donations have climbed even while the bottom has fallen out of the economy. Do-nations were roughly $35 million in 2007-08. They now top $37 million, according to budget officials at Texas.

The Longhorns have not been cited for a major violation in football since 1987. The top five teams in this year's coaches' poll -- Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, LSU and Florida State -- have all had major violations within the last seven years.

And Texas is in the middle of a triangle that includes two top-10 TV markets, Dallas/Forth Worth and Houston , and one top-40 market, San Antonio.

"We are blessed with a lot of TV sets and a big fan base," Powers said.

A big, patient, loyal fan base.

"They are patient right now," Dodds said. "But I would say fan reaction to a 5-7 football season was shockingly understanding.

"They understand. They are smart. And they know we are not in bad shape. Recruiting is good. The facilities are in place. We are going to be fine."

Right now, fine is good enough for the Richeys.

After 30-plus years in exile they packed the car to finally move back to Austin, where they prom-ise to stay till Gabriel blows his horn.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation.com

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