Have you ever wanted to sit down at a nice Mexican dive with our mad genius offensive coordinator, sip a few cold ones, and talk football for a few hours?
Today's Longhorn Luncheon in the Erwin Center with Bryan Harsin and 300 other die hard Longhorns left that goal unfulfilled, but he did reveal a few gems about the makeup of this team (driven, hungry) and one key personality trait in himself (keep reading) that bodes well for where this mad science experiment is heading.
The attendees at these weekly gatherings primarily consist of car dealership owners, lettermen from the 1940's (and their wives), non-lettermen retirees (and their wives), and average fans like myself with flexible lunch schedules that enjoy a fine Cisco buffet and limitless iced tea.
I always try to grab the seat directly on the spot where Kevin Durant was standing when he drained the heat check trey in double OT against Acie Law and the Aggies. But I'm OCD when it comes to booster luncheon seating, just like Bryan Harsin is when it comes to pre-snap movements working in fine concert. He clearly wasn't happy with the two motion penalties ("That CAN'T happen in a game. Ever.") but seemed excited by having a relatively benign five yard penalty become a teaching tool in practice. He is a tactician of the highest order and the refined surgery performed by Kellen Moore on Georgia's defense on Saturday is a perfect example of what kind of legacy a guy like Harsin can leave on an offense once the concepts are fully installed, the personnel is in order, and the execution becomes second nature. He doesn't even need to be there anymore!
The Q&A session at these things always starts slowly with a few general questions, such as:
"Welcome to Austin, coach. What do you think of running backs?"
"Thanks for coming here today. Do we still have tight ends?"
"Hello, coach. BYU is a very strong, fit team. Do we lift weights during the week?"
All true questions.
Then the comedians come out...
"I'm fine with all your wildcat, wildhorn crazy formations if you will agree on just one thing. THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE NAME IS MAD COW."
(raucous laughter ensues)
"Is it true you're going to switch our field to burnt orange?"
He used this question to segue into how impressed he was by the gameday atmosphere ("That's a BIG stadium. Wow.") and how important it is for the fans to help feed the defense the raw meat of emotion and momentum in the form of NOISE because it definitely affects an offense, leading to false starts, delay of game penalties, and hurried reads. This isn't anything new but you find yourself nodding along with anything he says. If he wanted to send our guys to Fallujah for spring camp to get more experience in sandstorms in case we face a team in the Mountain West in some superconference future world, we would unanimously agree this is a brilliant idea. YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. He went on to praise the energy of our defense in practice this week and encouraged them to get as many Pick 6's as possible because it makes his job easier. That's Mack Brown humor, folks. He's already wearing off on the boy genius. Head coach in waiting?
Ha ha ha ha! ha ha ha ha!
Just as I start to fall asleep in a post pasta-with-meat-sauce-coma, a soft, precise voice came across the PA:
"In the second quarter when we ran the 989 route combo, with the two outside routes and inside post route by the TE, were you satisfied with the progressions Garrett made from X to Z receiver, or would you prefer he dumped it in the flat to Fozzy?"
SOMEBODY HAS BEEN READING LONGHORN SCOTT!
Wait, is that actually Longhorn Scott? Hmmm ...didn't see Vespa parked outside ... scans room across sea of tables looking for mental ward fuzzy buzz cut with matching beard and ironic glasses ... did someone actually ask that question? Where the fuck am I...? Is this some kind of -
"SIR, MORE ICE TEA? SIR?"
"Oh! Me. Sorry. Yes, thanks."
Of all the geriatrics in the house, I'm the dude in his mid 30's nodding off. Something about large group luncheons in dark arenas that put me in a catatonic state. Or maybe that was Bill Little's intro story about his kids playing too close to the practice field, prompting Harsin to ask them to move (really, that was the whole story). In a different setting I could listen to Harsin prattle away for hours about schemes and coverages. Unfortunately he can't reveal much, as evidenced by his restrained praise for David Ash when some dude asked if the freshmen QB would play more this week. "He's doing great and we'll just keep giving him more until he soaks it all up. But yes, we're working on different packages for David every week." Knowing the juicy secret of Jesus' redacted practice report, I really wanted to ask him why Ash would be deployed at left guard on goal line situations, but time ran out. You'll just have to wait!
If there's one thing to take away from any interaction with Bryan Harsin, it's that he is supremely confident without a hint of arrogance. He's 100% genuine. Maybe it's an Idaho thing. Basically, he knows his scheme is better than the opposing defense's because he's spent years in the film room making sure he always has an advantage, whether it's from leverage in the running game from stacking tight ends in motion, misdirection on counters and sweeps, or exploiting safeties that cheat up in run support with quick shots down the seam. The litany of pre-snap motions, checkdowns (theoretically), passing options out of running formations, and running options out of passing formations are carefully selected wrinkles that give him real time flexibility in the play booth. Greg Davis' phone book of bubble screens just spontaneously combusted.
One of the better questions of the day was about what goes through Harsin's head when he's calling plays. If he only has 40 seconds to work with between snaps, ideally he wants the huddle broken at 30 seconds and the ball snapped with 18-19 seconds on the clock. That's some uptempo, cooking with gas on smurf turf offense. We're nowhere close to that kind of gridiron magic, but it's not hard to envision a quick hitting juggernaut of power, misdirection, and speed that would make even Manny Diaz dizzy. Let alone Brent Venables. He might want to bring a few extra forearm sweat band/play cheat sheet things to Dallas this year.
The one obstacle in the Dreamwagon's path to BCS glory is that this high wire act requires an ace trigger man at the wheel. (And a shitload of mixed metaphors). A Kellen Moore. A Colt McCoy. Gilbert's not there yet and there are legitimate concerns about his ceiling as a player. Most viewers of the Rice game, whether live or on a pirated Internet stream, saw the #7 they watched last year -- a one read QB with an elongated delivery, happy feet, and a slightly improved deep ball. Yes, it was week one but the opponent was still Rice. Those problems will continue regardless of the opponent's talent level. So don't be surprised if Ash's package grows exponentially in the coming weeks leading up to conference play. Not anatomically. His package of plays.
The very first thing Harsin said today was "It's great to be 1-0. I love winning."
I honestly think he'll do whatever it takes, even if it means starting a freshman QB halfway through the season because the other guy wasn't getting it done. His world is very simple -- Is this guy giving us the best chance to win? Right now, everyone probably agrees it's Garrett Gilbert. But it's telling that three QBs took snaps in the first game. And we know Mack Brown's world isn't that simple. How this plays out will be interesting to watch over the next few weeks and at times I will wish the Internet had been restricted to the sole cause of promoting global warming. Because nobody would use it and I wouldn't have to hear some guy named Fitzhugh in Switzerland tell me why our new coaches suck because Gilbert is still starting.
I hate polls so I will pose a simple question: How do you think the snaps are apportioned one month from today in the Cotton Bowl against OU?
Either way, I'm confident Bryan Harsin's gameplan will give this offense a real chance to win the game.
We couldn't say that last year. And that's why you should have lunch with Bryan Harsin sometime.