Mack Brown sat in front of a microphone, and if you couldn’t tell he was steamed after a 28-21 home loss in 2010 to a 3-4 Iowa State team, all you had to do was listen. The program had reached a point where “you can’t trust your team and you can’t trust your coaches,” he said.
Whether it was a moment of regrettable honesty, a motivational tactic or both didn’t matter. It didn’t work. Texas lost its next four Big 12 games and finished the season 5-7. Three years later, Texas is dealing with a second consecutive blowout loss, and Brown is busy showcasing unrelenting positivity. Brown presumably alluded to those comments on Monday, and a lesson learned from their ineffectiveness.
“You’ve got to believe in your team. I made a statement a few years ago while we were struggling that I’m never going to make again,” Brown said. “These kids are really trying. These coaches are trying.”
Trying hasn’t been good enough as Texas enters Saturday’s Big 12 opener against Kansas State with a 1-2 record, its worst start since Brown’s first season at Texas in 1998. The Longhorns finished 9-3 that season, but the two early losses were both to teams in the top six.
Kansas State was one of those losses, and the Wildcats have beaten Texas seven times in nine tries since the Big 12 began. It’s been 10 years since Texas beat the Wildcats, a span of five games and two different coaches.
Texas was outscored 27-0 in the second half of Saturday’s 44-23 loss to Ole Miss and gave up a school record 550 rushing yards a week earlier on the road in a 40-21 loss to BYU, but Brown’s diagnosed at least one of his team’s needs.
“We need more confidence. Confidence makes you play more consistently and we haven’t done that,” Brown said.
The Longhorns rallied from a 14-0 deficit to take a 23-17 halftime lead against Ole Miss, and strung together one of the best stretches of football Texas has played in some time. Brown put together clips of the best plays during that run and showed it to the team on Sunday with the message clear: This is who we can be.
“We’ve just got to continue to pound on the positive and let them understand that we’re not as far away as it looks like after three weeks,” Brown said.
Monday, I asked Brown a direct question about what’s going wrong with the running game currently, but his answer focused on the defense’s improvement in swarming the ball and the improvement he expected to see with new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson getting another week to direct the defense.
Even if Brown’s words are positive, former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s midseason “reassignment” after the BYU loss offers overwhelming evidence that Brown isn’t oblivious to the Longhorns’ shortcomings thus far. Actions speak louder than words, but Brown’s looking to reinforce what’s surely a bruised ego. Texas rebooted after the 5-7 season in 2010, replacing a handful of coaches including both coordinators (defensive coordinator Will Muschamp became the head coach at Florida) and playing at least 25 freshmen in 2011 following the 5-7 season. Those freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors. This was supposed to be the year it all came together for Texas, and three games, Brown’s left trying to piece together a team that looks like it’s coming apart.
“We’ve been preaching Big 12 title since January, right when the guys got back. That’s been the goal for this team and that’s still out there,” Brown said. “We obviously have to improve as coaches and players, but we can still win the rest of the games.”
Injuries to quarterback David Ash (concussion, shoulder) and receiver Daje Johnson (ankle) have made life difficult for Texas, but considering the recruiting advantage Texas holds as the game’s richest program in its richest state for talent, losing a handful of starters isn’t a big enough excuse for losing a pair of games Texas was favored to win.
“I thought this would be the year we (play well for long stretches) and I’m still not giving up,” Brown said. “We’re continuing to work hard and continuing to be positive. The nature right now is after a loss, you just lay down and everybody gives up on you and then you’ve got to fight your way back through it.”
Focusing on the positive plays is a concerted effort to get rid of the negative plays that have plagued the Longhorns through the last two games, but what if the offensive mistakes and poor defense against the option are a more accurate reflection of this Texas team? No amount of words or confidence can change that.
“Our goal is to win the Big 12 championship, we’ve still got a chance to do that,” Brown said. “We’re starting out Saturday night.”