"It ain’t where I’ve been, fat boy – it’s where I’m going."
- Tommie Frazier, Nebraska QB, to Warren Sapp (Orange Bowl, 1995)
Scip’s terrific offensive post-mortem set up the analogy of the Texas football program as an addict in (what we all fervently hope to be) recovery and illustrated the pain and pitfalls to be expected in such a situation, even if the addict in question is CURRENTLY trying to straighten up and fly right. I think that captures the overall picture even better than the angle I’d been planning, but based on a lot that I’ve seen and read in Longhorn Netdom over the last 48 hours I’m going to roll this out anyway and see where it takes me.
First aside – I was one livid son of a bitch on Saturday, and remained one through most of the weekend, but I’ve grown a bit calmer with distance. I’ve read much and posted little since Saturday, but much of the prevailing opinion from Longhorn fans seems to be in demanding that Mack surrender anything from another pound of flesh to his entire head for the sin of sloth – for allowing the program to fumble and fester and fall to the depths that we all endured last season. Given the shocking extent of the rot that had set in, the obvious flaws that lingered WAY too long and the fact that he’s still cashing a cool $5 mil a season despite that abject failure, that’s a very understandable desire, and fine so far as it goes.
However, I think that viewpoint has also been conflated with a different idea. The idea that the only way THIS YEAR’S team – this plucky, impeccably-coordinated Phoenix rising majestically from the ashes - could conceivably take such a beating is that they were hamstrung by Mack’s softness/sportsmanship/clapping/what-have-you. Unfortunately, the excitement of watching this young bunch Becoming over the first four weeks of the season obscured the fact that they won’t be coming close to an elite level of across-the-board skill, athleticism, functional strength and overall bad-assery for a good while now. And the difference between Becoming and There slapped us pretty brutally in the face.
I’ll admit to being as guilty as probably anyone in getting caught up in the schema uber alles mindset that Harsin and Diaz could coordinate their way past inexperience, talent gaps, strength disadvantages and outright mismatches through sheer wizardry and deliver us at least a close, hard-fought defeat with honor. Scheme can overcome some of those things some of the time, but asking it to overcome ALL of them at the same time was asking far too much. Now, SHOULD things like big experience deficits, gaps in overall talent, disparities in functional strength and glaring mismatches exist between Texas and Oklahoma, given all of our natural advantages? Hells to the no. But right now they DO. And I’m of the belief that they are a function of Where We’ve Been, not Where We’re Going.
Second aside – when I found out that Will Muschamp was leaving for Florida I was at my company Christmas party. I immediately went into a black-mood, black-hearted, blackout-inducing drinking spree and was likely only rescued from humiliation by the fact that our SVP showed up at 10:30 and got cut off from the bar by 10:42, thus pulling focus from me and every other drunken idiot there. I was 100% convinced that we had let the wrong guy walk out the door and that we were looking at a Bowden-esque lost decade. The Mack/Bowden analogy has come up quite a lot over the last couple of days, but soon after recovering from my epic post-party hangover last December I started seeing things that convinced me we were going in the right direction.
- We made outstanding hires at every vacant coaching position including S&C. Young, attentive, motivated, energetic, innovative – everything the program had been lacking. Their renown within coaching circles and what I’ve seen on the field so far reinforce my faith that I wasn’t misguided in my enthusiasm.
- We inked a top-notch recruiting class on the heels of our disastrous season and locked up commitments for another one in 2012. Chalk this up to Mack’s salesmanship, a balls-out effort from the new staff, We’re Texas-ness or 6th street punani, but we are going to have the talent to compete at the highest level and the fact that we didn’t suffer more for 2010’s sins in this regard is flat-out amazing.
- Mack isn’t meddling. As plugged-in as various sources here, in the ‘Cosm and other places are, I find it nearly impossible to believe that there wouldn’t be some whispers out there if any of our new coaches felt that Mack was inhibiting them from doing their thing. There’s been nary a peep.
All the elements that I thought were positives at the time have been bearing fruit this year. We had almost forgotten what a real running game looks like, but watching what we’ve been able to do with limited offensive personnel through scheme and alignment has been fantastic. We didn’t have to ascend from a bottomless pit on the other side of the ball, but watching the fearlessness and great tackling we’ve seen from our young secondary has been great (frosh and sophs vs. Broyles and Stills with no pass rush was never going to be pretty). The flashes we’ve seen from guys like Shipley, Bergeron, Ash, Malcolm, Diggs, Edmond, Des Jackson and others portend good things for the future. And still no word of meddling from Mack.
Exciting young talent in credible, innovative schemes receiving outstanding position coaching and top-notch physical development is Where We’re Going. That’s been out there for all to see since the first game of the season, and some was even on display Saturday – unfortunately, it was pretty much eradicated from notice by Where We’ve Been. Where We’ve Been got its fucking ass kicked on Saturday and dragged Where We’re Going right down with it.
I don’t want this post to be about calling out players by name - and it wouldn’t be fair to do based on this game without a film review that I have no intention in hell of doing – but suffice to say that a few of the ‘usual suspects’ have fully and finally been written off by me as ever contributing to Where We’re Going, be it this year or down the line.
Where We’ve Been on the offensive line gives us a mismatched crew with natural G/C’s starting at tackle as well as guys who’ve never benefitted from a redshirt year and who’ve only gotten ONE off-season of legitimate, focused S&C work. Where We’ve Been at tight end has a grab-bag of recruiting misses and guys who lack both the strength and basic fundamentals to block effectively (and while this was largely intended as a calming post, if anyone wants to scream for Bruce Chambers’ head I’ll fix you a hot toddy so your voice doesn’t go out). Where We’ve Been at wide receiver has provided us with no upperclassmen of any ability whatsoever and young guys who are getting their FIRST season of instruction from a competent and engaged position coach, as well as the first indoctrination that blocking actually matters at their position. Where We’ve Been has our secondary trotting out a combination of youth and EXTREME physical limitation. And defensive end just baffles the fuck out of me (at least from a pass-rush standpoint), but it sure as shit didn’t help either.
After quite a bit of rambling, I’ve wended my way back to my main point, which is this – we got beat up and embarrassed as natural personnel, skill and ability consequences of Where We’ve Been, not because Where We’re Going is inherently compromised. Our OL didn’t get pushed back because Mack had visions of puppy dogs dancing in their heads – they got pushed back because OL don’t develop Top Five-caliber technique and functional strength in a single off-season. OU’s receivers didn’t torch our secondary because Carrington Byndom offered a hand up to Kenny Stills – they torched us because we have young corners facing an All-America passing attack with zero chance of getting help over the top. David Ash didn’t rifle balls into coverage because he had never been hardened by Bob Stoops’ steely-eyed gaze – he fucked up because he was a puppy in a pressure cooker who's had most of his off-season and half of his early-season reps taken up by a QB carousel.
Third aside – Mack used up 98% of his goodwill with me in the lead-up to and execution of 2010. There will always be lingering gratitude for the fantastic memory of Vince hoisting the crystal football, but as I’ve said I’d have happily cut bait in favor of Muschamp had an either/or choice been presented to me last December. Three 38-point drubbings to OU are permanent stains on the honor of our program, and employing GD through 2010 was the equivalent of stealing money from the state of Texas itself while compromising the hopes and dreams of his entire constituency as a head coach. I commend him for many past accomplishments, but he’s been more than fairly commended and compensated for them already. Nothing I say comes from a deep-seated desire to defend Mack or to explain away his shortcomings.
Going forward, if you are depending on Mack to out-scheme an opponent then you are in trouble. If you are depending on Mack to whip the boys into a frothing, blood-and-guts pre-game rage then you are in trouble. And if you as a fan are depending on Mack to offer press-conference catharsis through a soul-bearing mea culpa, a fiery denouncement of all that Bob Stoops stands for or a dressing-down of an under-achieving senior, then you are in trouble.
Fortunately, Where We’re Going depends on Mack for none of these things. Where We’re Going depends on Mack to lend stability, program management and coffee-is-for-closers recruiting while Texas’ first top-to-bottom excellent coaching staff in recent memory and first top-notch roster since 2005 lay down ass-kickings to any and all. The staff we’ve assembled is the right one, and regardless of how you apportion the credit their recruiting success in the immediate wake of disaster is phenomenal. In 2010, complacency was our enemy. With this staff and recruiting momentum in place, stability is our friend.
With that said, the fact that the aforementioned top-notch, ass-kicking roster won’t be in place and coached up until 2012 at the earliest means that we’ll have a good deal more angst coming our way in 2011. While we’re riding out this roller coaster, though, don’t let the fact that This Never Should Have Happened to Texas make you think that It’s Going To Happen From Now On. Don’t get lost in the fear that the shortcomings of the past are fated to sabotage our future. And while everyone is due some venting – at Mack if you so choose – regarding Where We’ve Been, every one of us only has so many Longhorn Football seasons left. And you’ll probably have more fun if you focus on Where We’re Going.