Can Greg Robinson Succeed As Texas Longhorns Defensive Coordinator?

Gregory Shamus

And what would success even look like?

While Robinson's failures at Syracuse are well documented and total, they're of little interest to me, mostly because there are plenty of good coordinators and position coaches who make lousy head coaches.  And I have no idea how to evaluate someone's ability to recruit Ithaca or get their football team to perform on carpet in an airplane hangar in front of fat girls from Long Island.  I'd rather watch a Carmelo Anthony Stop Snitchin' video or see Melo go 13 for 32 from the field with no assists in a NBA playoff game.  Am I bitter about our Final 4 loss still?  Yes.

Robinson was absolutely awful at Syracuse, but it's probably not all that relevant.

Robinson's failures at Michigan are.  And they're worrisome, perhaps only mitigated slightly by the fact that Rich Rodriguez forced him to implement a defense he didn't really understand or agree with (the 3-3-5) with a talent level that could charitably be described as subpar.  Lloyd Carr did the Wolverines no favors with his last few recruiting classes.  But Robinson's defenses were awful at Michigan.  Historically bad.  The Big 10 wasn't exactly an unsolvable riddle at the time either.  They were lagging their FBS brethren substantially in scheme and speed.  I'm not sure how much he was to blame - but "not at all to blame" strikes me as the wrong answer.  Maybe he's just not very good at coaching a bad defense, particularly when so many of his concepts rely on a baseline tackling and recognition ability in the back 7. That doesn't bode well for Texas, by the way.

It's quite possible that Robinson may be the same competent defensive practitioner we experienced in 2004. But that's not going to be enough.  He'll have to be better than that.  Because the power structures of this league are different (i.e. Texas ain't a power), offenses have evolved far beyond Leach's primitive 2004 version of the Air Raid, and he just took over a defense that doesn't enjoy the physical aspects of the game led by a head coach Helicopter Mom who does everything he can to undermine his assistants and file any edge the team has to rounded softness with his insistent weird personal neediness.

So let's talk about the pros and cons of The Gerg.

Based on that one year in Austin - the only thing I truly know well about him - the positive side of the ledger for Robinson is this:

PROS

Solid ability to scout and game plan for specific opponents.

He was the first DC under Mack Brown to actually come into the OU game with a coherent game plan built around destroying what OU does best in the passing game - namely killing their slant game and forbidding any easy timing routes where receivers can adjust to the ball in space.  He watched Sooner film!  Hoo-ray!

The jams were fierce and our safeties made the middle of the field a mine field.  We were a studied defense. Robinson made Jason White a buffoon (and that OU WR corps featured Mark Clayton and Travis Wilson - legit dudes) and simply conceded that Adrian Peterson was going to get his running on an honest front.  He refused to allow OU any balance or easy scores.  The Horns D valiantly held OU to 12 points and forced multiple turnovers.  All for naught, unfortunately.  Literally, naught.  0-12.

The Texas Tech game was another solid example of a clear scout of a one dimensional opponent.  He decided that Tech wouldn't run for a single positive yard all game (Tech threw for 400 and ran for negative 17), decided to make 3rd and 1 a passing down for them, and invited them to make the throws if their WRs were willing to take the hits for four quarters.  They weren't.  Tech scored early and often in the first quarter and...then ended up with 21 total points and a 30 point loss at home with their last six possessions ending up lost on downs, three and outs, and a 4th quarter touchdown with the game already out of reach.  It was a smart, logical game plan.

Good position coaching.

Robinson helped Derrick Johnson to develop into a Butkus Winner and, perhaps even more impressive, got a very good year out of Aaron Harris at MLB.  When Robinson departed, Harris descended into laziness and Cypress Hill mix tapes.  I won't comment on Eric Hall.  Robinson wasn't a miracle worker.

Sound red zone defense.

We won't be blitzing cornerbacks or dropping Jackson Jeffcoat into coverage on goal line defense, for starters. Robinson seems to possess some understanding that offenses have limited options as the field constricts.  That's a helpful thing in a defensive coordinator.

Can plan around personnel deficiencies.

People forget that 2004 Texas defense didn't have a pass rusher.  We had a wicked back 7 (with a couple of notable exceptions) but our DL was built more to stop the Veer than Verticals.  Unless you count Tim Crowder.  And I don't. Our DTs were big boy space eaters, Brian Robison was still learning to play DE, and we rarely blitzed our LBs. Robinson had little ability to get a four man rush, but he still managed to field a solid defense.  I appreciate that. Frankly, I'm a bit tired of Texas coaches who need to have every personnel box perfectly checked in order for them to be competent.  Robinson played his cards pretty intelligently, for the most part.

So this is all sunshine and roses, right?  No.  Unfortunately, the negative side of the Robinson ledger is pretty damn persuasive.

CONS

He's dated.  And you don't just get back into the game.

Whether at the NFL or college level, coaches who take themselves out of game currency find themselves hopelessly outmatched by the evolution of the game when they return.  Joe Gibbs is one of the finest pure coaches to ever put on a whistle, leading the Redskins to three Super Bowl wins with three different QBs (a scrub, a discarded veteran, and an overrated pretty good guy) while innovating some of the most novel offensive approaches of his era.  When he came back to the Redskins after a hiatus, he was just another guy struggling to keep up.  It was amazing to watch.

The game is moving fast.  And we don't realize it until we see a relic try a comeback.  Mack Brown quit on the job for four years.  You think he's caught up?  He has no idea what good looks like.

Remember when the 46 defense was an unsolvable juggernaut?  Anyone running it now as their base defense is looking to have Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees throw for 575 yards and 8 touchdowns.

The Big 12 is an incredibly unforgiving league for any football coach who isn't keeping up with the game, much less setting the trend lines.  Robinson ain't - and watching some film in your living room speculating about what you might do isn't currency.

Robinson is stuck with someone else's defense.

He can tinker.  He can reshuffle line-ups.  He can cajole and prod.  Heck, he might even force our defense to engage in unpleasant physical violence during Tuesday practices with hitting, yelling, and aggression. OH DEAR GOD, THAT MAN HURT THAT OTHER MAN AND STOOD OVER HIM AND GLARED, ISN'T SOMEONE GOING TO STOP THESE BOYS!? It's OK, Mack.  It's OK.  They were just playing foot-ball.

Robinson can't fix bad fundamentals overnight, we can't call time-out and redo Fall camp, and he is going to have a hell of a time implementing his preferred defense that asks DBs to let a WR catch the ball in front of them and punish, has DL operate with discipline and selflessly eat up blockers, and has LBs scrape, recognize, and play the game as empowered thinkers instead of enslaved white board scrawlings.  Nick Saban takes a year or two to implement The Process.  We're expecting Robinson to be up and running by...Tuesday?

Multifaceted offenses give him trouble.

In 2004, Arkansas and Matt Jones lit Texas up on D with deep play action and the option game, but somehow managed only 20 points because we locked down in the red zone and forced some (lucky) turnovers.  Similarly, Oklahoma State killed us with play action off of the running game and screens - Donovan Woods went 12 of 18 for 224 yards - on their way to a 35 point first half.  And somehow never scored again.  Remember that game?

Busts happened far too often when the offense was multidimensional and presented multiple problems.  Robinson really did his best work when he could take away the one main thing an offense did well.  Offenses that do a lot pretty well led by multidimensional QBs pose a problem.  Somewhere, Baylor and Oklahoma State's offensive coordinators are rubbing their hands together and cackling.

The stink of failure doesn't wash out.  And a decade of it lingers.

Maybe he's a very good coordinator who has endured almost a decade of incredibly bad luck.  Can you name some others?

Robinson is a stopgap.

There's no future for Greg Robinson at Texas.  There's no future for Mack Brown, his head coach.  We're expecting player, much less recruit, buy-in on this desperation move? Robinson has positional authority.  And not much else. And Mack Brown gets an eye roll from his players these days.  In a game like football, positional authority means nothing once the players see the Great Oz behind the curtain.

Mack Brown picked him.

Anyone Brown is comfortable with worries me.

This staff is a political viper's nest.

Duane Akina will resent not getting a crack at the DC job again.  And he was already operating in his own little personal fiefdom of DBU Island where he pretty much ignored Diaz and created his own structures.  And that couldn't have been more obvious watching our pathetic run fits from the secondary against BYU.  It's as if Akina and Diaz had never met, much less game planned together.  That's going to get better?  It has to - or Robinson is dead already.

Bo Davis will blame Diaz's slanting gap monkey use of his DTs to cover the fact that he's done a piss poor job of development.  This is about buying time, getting the resume out, and planning a smart exit.  Ask Bryan Harsin and Will Muschamp about that.  That doesn't help to win games.

Our offensive coordinator just injured our starting QB and early season bright spot in a stubborn fit of pique, but is still the Applewhite of Mack's eye.  Case McCoy as your starting QB doesn't help your fragile defense, though it does increase the chances of me humming Yakety Sax on 3rd and 7.

Mack Brown is looking for coordinator #5 to throw under the bus if it means getting another 5 million a year and a chance to get another crack at a face-saving final 11-2 type of season.

Let's just say our current coaching staff lacks alignment in interests.  Greg Robinson will need a suit of chain mail, much less a head set.

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