It doesn’t matter if Mack Brown’s decision to replace defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with Greg Robinson two games into the season was a panic move or not.
It’s a debatable label that Brown denied, even though his explanation on Monday for why it isn’t–“We are early in the season”—made less sense than sticking with a two-linebacker nickel scheme. That’s what the Longhorns did while BYU ran up 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss on Saturday night.
Brown watched the game tape twice in the hours after the loss. Sunday afternoon, he relieved Diaz of his duties and asked Robinson from a role as an analyst from his home in California to Brown’s defensive coordinator in Austin.
“The decision to change defensive coordinators was based on our lack of ability to stop the run, period,” Brown told reporters on Monday. “We had that problem at times last year. I thought we had straightened that out at the end of last season, especially the Oregon State game.”
Clearly, that was not the case. Brown’s decision has been made, and it has to work, or Diaz won’t be the only coach in Austin looking for a new job at the end of the season. The excuses are gone. The talent and experience are there for Texas to officially turn a corner from the 5-7 nightmare in 2010. This was the year Texas built toward and the year it was supposed to be “back” and winning like Brown did when he won at least 10 games for nine consecutive seasons.
He said he made “some hard decisions” last year and decided to bring the defensive staff back because of the progress it made late in the season.
“They knew they were on a short leash,” Brown said. “They knew they had to pick it up. After last Saturday, I wasn’t going to let continue what happened last year to happen this year.”
The Longhorns don’t look like a 10-win team eyeing a return to the BCS. They look like an average team with a leaky defense that hasn’t fixed the tackling issues that led to the worst run defense in school history a year ago.
Brown knew it, and made a make or break decision in a make or break season after one of the worst losses for the Longhorns in his 15-plus years in Austin. It was bad enough to make Brown make a change at coordinator during the season, something he’d never done before.
“I didn’t think this was going to happen,” Brown said.
With talented players like defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat or linebacker Jordan Hicks returning from injuries a year ago, few did.
So much focus has been on Texas’ lack of an elite quarterback since Colt McCoy finished his career in 2009, but with the focus now on the defense’s failures, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Texas’ program is coming apart at the seams and will be under new leadership this time next year.
Even when Garrett Gilbert floundered with 17 interceptions to 10 touchdowns in 2010, Texas fielded the Big 12’s leader in total defense. It did it again the following year, despite Gilbert being benched and turning to true freshman David Ash and Case McCoy.
Ash has improved, but looks far from being the caliber of player McCoy and Young were, carrying Texas teams to national title games. Without a defense to provide a wider margin of error, getting back to winning like the Texas teams of the early 2000s seems unlikely.
Robinson’s defenses at Michigan, which failed to crack the top 80 in either season on Rich Rodriguez’s staff, didn’t seem to deter Brown from bringing in a replacement for Diaz that drew skepticism across the country. The former Syracuse head coach (10-37 in four seasons) arrived in Austin on Sunday night and got to work immediately on earning his raise from $62,500 to $250,000.
“When he went to Michigan, they weren’t very good,” Brown said. “We have good players on defense. We just have to play better.”
Brown’s future at Texas depends on whether or not he’s right about Robinson and the players he’ll inherit.
He trusted Diaz to fix the defense after an underwhelming performance for much of 2012. Brown’s bosses trusted him to fix Texas football after going 5-7 in 2010.
Diaz’s boss, Brown, had to make a change when his faith wasn’t rewarded.
Brown’s boss, DeLoss Dodds, may face the same decision come December.