Mack Brown: A Rational Take

Jamie Squire

"Rational" doesn't imply arrogance or ego. It doesn't mean "perfect". Rational is simply an ambition; a desire to think without irrationality and emotion. It's a way to attempt to view a situation through a more impartial lens.

I am already on the record as suggesting that the college football world is changing in ways that I do not believe are friendly to the Texas program as a whole or to the higher levels of our staff. And I have suggested, without making recommendations, that energetic, creative, and decisive leadership will be needed to navigate these changing waters.

At the end of the day, however, any practical discussion on this issues arrives first at the feet of one man, Mack Brown, and forces the questioner into one of two roles: antagonist or defender. Non-friend or friend. While I hope to also look deeply at Deloss Dodds, Manny Diaz, and other controversial figures at the intersections of these tribal battles in Longhorn nation, I believe we must begin with the true linchpin of the football program.

Diagnosis

As a strategy consultant, one of the most powerful tools I have when sorting through any new complex challenge is finding the proper diagnosis. A sound diagnosis will premise all future thinking and actions as I engage the problems that bedevil organizations. A bad diagnosis will make it very difficult for me to ever get any momentum and may even hurt the organization I'm working with more than help them.

If you have cancer, and the doctor diagnoses you with cancer, your entire treatment plan can be constructed around this premise and you will likely have the best chance to improve your condition. But if you are diagnosed with cancer when really your problem is some difficult hormonal imbalance, no amount is chemo or radiation is likely to help you improve your situation. Mis-diagnosis is a major problem in the medical world, though it doesn't receive much public attention. It is equally as big of a problem within non-medical organizations.

Regarding Texas, the basic arguments for or against our performance issues these last few years often originate in the diagnosis of the arguer. Someone who sees our problems as "fine enough coaching, but too many injuries to our young players the last two years" will recommend very different treatment options than someone who believes a more fundamental read would be "Our current leadership has no toughness or grit--we are too soft."

While I will not try to detail every possible diagnosis in the arguments about Mack, there are clusters of diagnoses implied by each position. And being explicit about one's belief on this matter can make for much more productive discussions of the situation.

I would advise anyone who really wants to engage in deep discussions about the program to constantly tease out the fundamental assumptions and diagnoses used by arguers. We are rarely explicit about them when we argue, and yet these factors anchor our arguments.

The Four Basic Arguments

Since Scipio's brilliant piece after the OU game, I have followed almost all the chatter on this forum (and others) about Mack Brown, and I believe that the vast majority of opinions fall into four basic themes. There are some variations to these themes here and there, bull all in all I think the heart of the arguments are contained in these options:

1. Mack's biography has earned him two more years. And anyway it looks like we are improving and well set up for a potentially strong run in the next two years. Let it play out.

2. Mack needs to go, and primarily for the reason that the program needs room for evolution and more intense curation at all levels, including (but not limited to) the need for Texas to be more competitive within the conference and against OU.

3. Mack gone or not, major changes are on the horizon whether we want them to be or not. Winter is coming. Either way we must get out of transition and make progress that matters both now and moving into the future.

4. Manny Diaz has been terrible and the defense has been extremely disappointing. Burn the house down.

Argument #1: Biography

PRO:

Perhaps the most powerful argument to be made for Mack Brown is anchored in what he has accomplished for Texas since he arrived. Any person who is willing to look past his record against OU and his total number of conference championships will see that Mack has done as much or more for the program as almost ANY coach has done for their program in the BCS period. Under Mack and Deloss, Texas has built a billion dollar brand and the beating heart of it is the football program. Just read the well-researched article in the Austin American Statesman after the National Championship win and you will see what a remarkable architectural job Mack has overseen. Texas is a transformed program from 1997, and there is no arguing this point.

Under Brown, Texas undertook an historic run of 9 and 10 win seasons. They created a legend of Vince Young in one of the most exciting games in college football history. And then they mentored and molded a three star quarterback from little Jim Ned High School and made him the winningest quarterback in college football history, and had a shot at a second national title in four years under his leadership.

The idea that one 5-7 season, and then another season where our key offensive players were injured, is hardly justification for removing a coach of such stature. There is no evidence to suggest Mack forgot how to coach football. He admitted things fell apart in 2010, but since then his rebuilding job has been excellent overall and Texas is steadily improving (minus some misfortunate injuries that have slowed us down here and there).

Mack has earned two more years, perhaps more. And further, be careful what you wish for because there is no guarantee that a replacement will come anywhere near Mack's accomplishments at Texas.

AGAINST:

The problem with the biography argument is twofold. First, it is fixated on the past and not the here and now or the future. Second, it selectively minimizes criteria that many consider to be critical metrics.

To the first problem, while it is true that Mack has overseen an amazing transformation of the program, he has also admitted to letting the program slide and struggling to find the energy to maintain the full thrust that a major competitive program requires. There is an assumption that it is not a passion for coaching and rebuilding that has kept Mack in position the last few years, but rather some other obligations like nostalgia, legacy, or control concerns. Past performance deserves great respect, but fit for the here and now as we move into the future is the criteria by which any new coach would be held accountable, and Mack has not earned the "Paterno Blank Check" that elevates him above rigorous accountability.

The second concern is also strong. The discussion of 10 win seasons, exploding revenue, and powerful recruiting also minimizes a few important factors that exist in parallel. Despite the 10 win seasons, Texas has consistently been out-coached by our greatest Rival OU, and this has cost us within the conference and also on the biggest national stages.

Further, while our recruiting has been very good on paper, we have experience a huge amount of attrition in the program. There is a staggering amount of talent that never made it to the field, left the program, or never saw the field in the position they were recruited to play, leaving some major deficits in real time maturity on the field. In fact, one important reason our team struggled so much in 2010, as well as with injuries in 2011, is that we were so young and brittle at key positions; due in large part to some really critical recruiting mistakes.

To this group, biography takes a back seat to here and now accountability. What Mack did before does not justify two or three more years of purgatory, which could cede important ground to our rivals if we play out the "longest goodbye".

Argument #2: Regime Change

PRO:

Most of the heart of this argument is covered above, with one or two exceptions. This group chooses the criteria for evaluation in a different way than those who argue for keeping Mack based on biography. The biography crowd is looking for a resurgence in what they believe are Mack's defining characteristics as a coach. They tend to see Texas' advantages as much more stable, and tend to believe that we will maintain strengths in national relevance, recruiting, and revenue even with a few down or rebuilding seasons.

But those who argue for regime change see a very different picture of the world. They are not looking for Mack to tap into his old reserves. Instead, they see Texas' position as much more fluid within the fabric of college football. They believe our advantages are part of a complex fabric that, if not defended and tended properly, can dissolve. Many of these folks remember the 1980s and 1990s, and seem to remember how mortal Texas can be.

They look at 10 win seasons as a great metric, but one that should take a back seat to conference championships, hind-sight recruiting evaluations (how did we REALLY do in finding and developing talent?), and wins against our biggest rivals. Both groups love our BCS wins, but the biographers see it as confirmation of Mack's talent and the regime changers see it as a smokescreen that is used to shroud areas of concern in our program's performance.

AGAINST:

The strongest argument against regime change, outside of biography, is the idea that change for change's sake is unwise.

The swarming mob may call for a head on a plate, but who will you put in Brown's place? Nick Saban? C'mon, get real. More likely we are looking at a Smart, Patterson, or Fedora--not Lombardi. And unlike a Lombardi, we don't know that Patterson or Fedora can perform under the excessively hot lights of Texas and the billion dollar rodeo.

Even a distracted and weary Mack Brown is a much better alternative to a Rich Rodriguez at Michigan or Zook at Florida. Change itself is no guarantee of positive transformation.

Argument #3: Winter is Coming

PRO:

This position is generally occupied by people who have nothing against Mack Brown per se, but who also are terrified to relive Texas' long stretch of irrelevance of the 80s and 90s. They tend to weigh the 10 win vs conference championships criteria pretty evenly, seeing the merits and failings of both, but don't believe any single conclusion is compelling enough to settle the matter.

To this group the issues at the level of the program are obvious. There is a bigger problem at play, even if there is not way to completely put a finger on it. They want to see a tougher team, better talent development, and more competitive coaching--but they're not sure they want to risk it with some of the names being floated around as alternatives to Brown. They tend to be excited at the thought of bringing in Nick Saban, and may even look like regime changers when they think about a guy like Saban on the sidelines, but the thought of Ron Zook or Patterson suddenly spikes the anxiety as they are well aware that careless change can ruin a decade of sacred saturdays.

This group tends to be the most reasonable in debates about Brown, but they are also relentless in harping on a perceived broad level weakness in the configuration of the program, and this can make it hard for them to enjoy wins or shake away losses. Everything seems much murkier than simple coaching worries. For some of these folks, even wins can seem like ominous signs that "winter is coming". They also tend to analyze Deloss, Brown, Diaz, Harsin, and Bob Stoops as a woven cord, considering how one affects the others more than just single players within the group, which can be wickedly frustrating to people who perceive the problem to be more black and white.

AGAINST:

Perhaps the most powerful rebuttal for the "winter is coming" argument is that it is indecisive. The odds that we will really root out the full canvas of causes of our struggles is pretty low. Likely, broad change will only come with regime change and there will be a lot of buried secrets under the cement of Belmont that the public will never have access to.

Also, failing to make a change does not defer consequences. If, indeed, Mack remains due more to legacy and revenue decisions, the program will not improve by empowering those faulty reasons for retention (which is what indecision does). It may sound nice to call for greater accountability, but the likelihood that Deloss will somehow tighten the leash on Mack is a fool's bet.

Essentially, this is a passive decision to side with the biographers, but without even the guts to pick a firm position on "why".

Argument #4: Disappointed in Diaz

PRO:

There is a large group that is simply disappointed by Diaz, and not a little disappointed, but utterly let down. Many express opinions that sound more like betrayal than heartbreak. It was believed by most before the season that if only Texas could get Ash to play as a modest "bus driver", that we had a good shot to be a consensus BCS contender. Perhaps these thoughts were ambitious, but they were present.

Not a single person in the national media predicted our defensive struggles--which have been an historic failure for Texas. Even if Texas does back into the BCS by surging through their final two games, it would be perceived to happen in spite of the defense and not because of it.

In general, those against Diaz believe the issue to be an argument against Mack's style of management. It may be a great move to bring in young, hot-shot coaches. But if you can't manage the hell out of them, ripping off the headphones and taking over for them under duress, then you cannot lead a program that is defined by youthful energy.

The thought of Mack as CEO, citing stats and motivational maxims as Diaz stunts and twirls his defenders into historic defensive underperformance by Texas boils the blood of a huge number of fans. And not just regular fans, but boosters and donors as well.

AGAINST:

Writers here at Barking Carnival have done a very good job digging into the situation with Diaz. Most observers with a level head see that Diaz's problem is not all scheme, but is a mix of injury, experience, execution, mitigation, game planning, and scheme. Diaz has struggled, for sure, but not all the stats are against him; in fact has done a pretty good job of holding some powerful teams below their season scoring over the last two seasons. At the very least, there are mixed statistics and implications can be read as both good omens or bad omens, depending on the agenda of the person interpreting the stats.

It may seem silly to think that Diaz's struggles justify burning the house the ground, and yet this has been a very common sentiment by emotional fans over the last few weeks. I don't know, if they really traced the argument out, that they would agree with it point by point. Regardless, the argument commonly emerges across most longhorn discussion forums in the heat of discussion (and even a few times by journalists in the national sports' media).

CONCLUSION

I've tried to give a very simplified reduction of the major arguments that are swirling around Mack Brown right now. Ideally a reader will decide for themselves which they believe is driven by a stronger rationale, and which fits their diagnosis of the program most accurately.

As for me, my diagnosis for the program unfolds something like this:

While Texas the football team appears to be gaining some ground over the past few years, Texas the program is facing some eroding advantages. As a program there appears to be a struggle to maintain toughness, game planning rigor, and energy levels relative to our rivals on the field and in recruiting.

Based upon that diagnosis, I fall into the third argument regarding Mack Brown -- Winter is coming, we need to prepare. I have remained very loyal to what Mack has accomplished and I would be pleased to see him become the compass that gets us back on track. But I also don't have endless patience, and believe the changing competitive fabric of the college game right now (in almost all areas, including: recruiting, the NFL, schemes, shifting power structures, conference realignment, emerging college playoffs, etc) demands a response from Texas. Whomever takes on this fight for Texas must do so by a guiding rationale for the here and now, and not ride biography. There must be fresh accountability systems in place with no tipping of the scales for nostalgic reasons. Nothing MORE should be demanded of Mack than a new regime, but neither anything less.

I am fine if this is Brown. I am resolved if it is not. Any transition made should be done with the skill you would demand of a billion dollar brand, putting the right time and effort into making the best decisions possible.

Is this a sound diagnosis? What camp do you fall in?

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