Every Mack Brown Press Conference Ever, Explained


Putting Mack on the psychiatrist's couch as the rest of us stand on the ledge.

Nobody can lay in trenchant commentary after a Mack Brown press conference like our own Fake Ken Tremendous. For that matter, no one can predict future press conferences like FKT, either.

I wouldn't dream of trying to step onto that beat. What I would like to take a stab at, though, is explaining WHY Mack's pressers are full to the brim with ludicrous assertions, context-free statistics, cognitive dissonance and general tom-foolery. And, more to the point, why the program itself bears so many of the same crosses - dubious assistants, neutered aggression, the elevation of harmony over competition and the abject absence of accountability - in 2013 that astute observers started pointing out in the early part of LAST DECADE.

Has Mack spent a decade and a half refusing to correct observed flaws due to a core ethos that puts values like harmony and family-ness ahead of winning? Does he refuse to address them out of pique, or petulance, or some unearthly and brain-melting degree of stubbornness?

Maybe not. Maybe he is simply incapable of recognizing flaws in the context of actual coaching performance.

Let me present the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence.

Social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger first hypothesized about this effect over a decade ago, and their initial experiment asked undegraduate students to rate their own performance on an exam they had just completed. A clear pattern swiftly emerged with respect to poor performers:

Worse students grossly overestimated their own performance, while top students somewhat underestimated theirs... For the bottom quartile, while their actual performance may have put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated their mastery of the course material to fall in the 60th percentile and their test performance to fall in the 57th. Bottom performers tended to overestimate their performance by roughly 30%; a general pattern that has been replicated many times over since.

Sound like anyone we know? Where would most reaonably informed observers rank Mack relative to his peers on the actual 'coaching' aspects of a head coach's job description? Where do you think Mack would rank himself? How qualified did Mack appear to be able to 'fix it' after the 2010 meltdown? How qualified did Mack think he was?

Dunning and Kruger point up the vicious cycle bred by this phenomenon:

People fail to grasp their own incompetence, precisely because they are so incompetent. And since overcoming their incompetence would first require the ability to distinguish competence form incompetence people get stuck in a vicious cycle. The skills needed to produce logically sound arguments, for instance, are the same skills that are necessary to recognize when a logically sound argument has been made. Thus, if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else's, are right or wrong. They cannot recognize their responses as mistaken, or other people's responses as superior to their own.

It's not an effect that presents itself solely in academic settings - Dunning and Kruger variously observed the same phenomenon in more real-world settings:

...among debate teams taking part in a college tournament and hunters quizzed about their knowledge of firearms just before the start of hunting season; among medical residents evaluating their patient-interviewing skills; and among medical lab technicians assessing their knowledge of medical terminology and everyday problem-solving ability in the lab.

...and, one suspects, among coaches who decree patty-cake practices while their opponents prepare for live-fire blocking and tackling, who retain clearly overmatched assistants due to a simple inability to distinguish good scheme from bad, and who find themselves going to battle against their fiercest rival with precisely zero QBs who have both a D1 arm and a D1 snap under center.

Dunning and Kruger are careful to assert that the reason for the effect does not derive from a deficiency in general IQ:

...rather... (the effect) seems to arise from the general top-down approach in which people estimate their own performances: In evaluating ourselves, we tend to start with preconceived notions about our general skill and then we integrate these notions into how well we think we are doing on a task.

It's not about calling Mack a moron - it's about identifying a specific area of self-reinforcing incompetence that, unfortunately, encompasses most of his current job description.

Can the Cycle Be Broken?

So is Dunning-Kruger destiny? Was Mack's fate to be ever benighted with regards to his own shortcomings?

Maybe, maybe not.

The article presents a couple of additional studies that both offer insight into what we've seen during the course of Mack's tenure. The first suggests that people can, in fact, be taught additional discrimination skills:

(In another study) students first participated in a logic test and then rated their perceived performance. (Again, poor performers grossly overestimated their performance on the test, and high performers erred towards the side of modesty.) This time, in a second phase of the experiment, half of the participants were now given a mini-lecture on how to solve the type of logic questions they had just seen on their test. When given their original test to look over, the participants who received the lecture, and particularly those who were poor performers, provided much more accurate self-ratings than they had originally. They judged their performance quite harshly- and even lowered their confidence in their own general logical reasoning ability, even though, if anything, the mini-lecture had strengthened that ability, not weakened it.

The presence of guys like Dick Tomey and Will Muschamp certainly provided the opportunity for the kind of "external communication of meta-cognitive skills" that the research indicated can significantly improve self-assessment ability in individuals. What's more, each coach immediately preceded or coincided with a mini-Cultural Revolution that defined the Longhorns' most successful runs. The article spoke positively of this kind of meta-cognitive awakening in the context of "laying the groundwork for self-improvement."

The flip side of the coin lies in people's innate ability to discern good performance from bad through comparative study. Further experimentation found significant differences that, one again, broke down along the lines of core competence level:

(Researchers showed students) some samples of other people's answers. (Such) comparison opportunities were sufficient for high performing students to revise their self-assessments and rate temselves more accurately. Quite notably, providing poor students with sample answers of their better performing peers did nothing to improve their relative self-assessment. In line with Dunning and Kruger's hypothesis, poor performing students seemed to lack the ability to identify other student's answers as superior to their own, and therefore were unable to use this information as a benchmark for re-evaluating their own relative performance.

If I were to join Dunning and Kruger for a whip around the ol' lab, I'd look for a way to test this hypothesis:

Only through consistent, repeated application of external meta-cognitive guidance can inherently incompetent individuals overcome their inability to distinguish good performance from bad via their own observation.

This is, perhaps, a more charitable view of how Mack came to swiftly backslide once messrs. Tomey and Muschamp were out of the picture. It wasn't a petulant desire to repudiate these guys' practices - it was the simple loss of the kind of constant external input Mack needed to recognize good coaching practices in the first place. It's also another reminder that DeLoss' laissez-faire failure to offer Mack any forthright feedback during his slide ended up doing neither of them any favors.

It's a near-certainty that the book is closing on Mack's tenure as the head man at Texas, so trying to figure out how to apprise him of his performace at this stage is a moot point at best. But, for a time, guys like Tomey and Muschamp tried to give him the feedback he sorely needed. And you never know - maybe a couple of seasons watching from North Carolina as Muschamp patrols the Texas sideline could help Mack recognize quality coaching once and for all.

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