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Leadership Crossroads

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Let’s begin with a little dose of perspective. Texas Longhorns are blessed to have the kinds of problems we have.

The (fake) grass is no greener anywhere in the country.

Love that Boise State offense, but would you want to watch your team in the cold, on blue turf, and playing a preseason-quality schedule from October through the end of the season?

Would you prefer to claim USC as your team, with two years of punishment for the transgressions that permeated an outlaw program for a decade?

Are you jealous of Crimson Tide fans enjoying their power running game crafted by a grade-A A-hole and executed by players not (yet) placed on medical scholarship to make room for oversized recruiting classes?

How would you like to be a Georgia Bulldog or a Tennessee Volunteer right now? Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. God bless Texas, and God bless Mack Brown.

Texas fans are exactly as Mack has described them. We expect our team to win every game with good kids who graduate. We expect our coaches to win every game without breaking rules or even bending them a la Nick Saban.

When our team loses a game, or doesn’t win impressively, we crash message boards and spread our misery like daycare toddlers with infectious snot. (Note to self…send e-mail to DeLoss about new cross-marketing scheme…winning biz pitch in three words…Burnt Orange Prozac!)

Alas, there are problems on the 40 Acres (aka paradise from the perspective of an exile), and they run deeper than a perpetual sunshine pumper such as myself would choose to believe. In part, Mack has created the problems, and Mack alone can solve them.

Derivative Problems of Succession Planning

We all know the history. Mack Brown is hired to succeed Mackovic, who succeeded McWilliams, who followed Akers who failed to adequately fill the shoes of a legend. Mack has made Deloss Dodds look like a genius, not the other way around. Twelve years of 9+ wins. Zero NCAA violations. His 8th season was a perfect season, with an undisputed national championship and incredible highlights from the best college football player in history.

Mack has done it all his way. He brought Greg Davis with him from North Carolina and stuck with him despite calls for his head from powerful boosters. Statistically speaking, the offense has been very successful. Lapses against elite defenses notwithstanding, Davis has been a successful coordinator and merits a heaping share of credit for the program’s success.

After the 2007 season, the defense was in shambles, and Mack recruited a young, smart, aggressive coordinator to infuse a new culture into a program that was growing too comfortable. Will Muschamp delivered an incredible transformation on defense, and after just one season Muschamp was fixin’ to become the third DC since 2004 to leave for a head coaching gig. Perceptively, Mack understood that Muschamp was different, and the fanbase would not tolerate his departure as well as Robinson’s or Chizik’s. Something had to be done, and the coach-in-waiting tag plus a Brink’s truck of cash was delivered.

Problem solved, new problem created. Next to Mack Brown, whose team is this? The major constant through years of success has been Greg Davis. Five DCs, one OC. Mack earned his stripes as an OC, yet he allows GD to call the plays. GD has been the braintrust, the power behind the throne. Until now.

Post 2009 season, Mack decides that the Horns need to develop a downhill running game. Was this GD’s recommendation or a reflection of Muschamp’s input on strategy? If the latter, how is GD taking it? This potty-mouthed, scrub player was nothing but a grad assistant when GD was on Georgia’s staff. He’s not even 40, ergo not even a “man” according to one Big 12 head coach. He puts together a fine game plan on defense. But now he presumes to influence the architecture of GD’s offense?

Pure speculation on my part, but I’m imagining that somewhere, somehow, GD either lost an argument or recognized that Mack was smitten with his named successor, and now he’s #3. GD seems to fit the role of a corporate survivor, one who has had the same boss for something like 20 years. A prouder man might have taken his talents to another program. Again, pure speculation, but it appears to these eyes that GD chose a passive aggressive tact.

Here’s Your Downhill Running Game, Mack

I’m not enough of an X’s and O’s guy to criticize or defend blocking schemes and running techniques, but like all of you, I can watch a game and draw reasonably accurate conclusions about whether or not the offensive philosophy is working. After watching four straight frustrating games, my takeaway is that GD’s play-calling, perhaps subconsciously, was intended to mark the downhill running game as a failure in order to regain philosophical control of the offense.

Witness the first series against Rice. We are featuring our new big back, Cody Johnson, who won the job during fall camp two-a-days by running downhill against Muschamp’s defense. Cody gets five carries in the first six plays, some of which was run in hurry-up fashion. Rice knows we are going to run, yet CJ goes for 37 yards in those five carries, netting three first downs. Somewhere in those runs he tweaked an ankle. After five carries in six plays, he’s also gassed. CJ runs to the sideline as Gilbert carries for six and Newton rushes for five and another first down. CJ runs back into the game for first down from the four.

What happens next? Goal line offense from the four and everybody knows CJ is getting the ball. Two runs yield a total of three yards. Not bad when you’re not even hinting at another option. Third down is CJ again. No subs, no timeouts, just stubborn I’m-going-to-ride-that-horse-till-he-scores-or-breaks play-calling. Third down is stuffed for no gain. Fourth down, for his ninth carry of the drive and fourth straight, CJ is asked to run a goal line sweep. Loss of four, turnover on downs, and faith in the downhill running game is lost.

CJ got three more carries in the first half for three, three and four yards. He gets the first carry of the second half for six yards. He is then not seen again until garbage time, where he finishes his day with carries of two and five yards. Fifteen carries total, nine on the first series. Only afterwards do the coaches know he’s tweaked an ankle. To recap: five downhill carries in the first six plays for 37 yards (7.4 ypc); four consecutive goal line carries for a net loss of one yard; four carries in the second quarter plus the first play of the third quarter for sixteen yards (4.0 ypc); two carries in garbage time for seven yards (3.5 ypc).

Did CJ really hurt his ankle? Certainly, but he’s a tough guy and chose to keep playing. Apparently he looked so bad on the six yard gain to open the second half that he didn’t get the ball again until late in the fourth quarter. Newton and Whittaker combined for 27 carries for 112 yards (4.1 ypc) and earned the starting roles in subsequent games. Neither possesses the size or power to execute the downhill running scheme.

Bottom line: Greg Davis overcommitted to the downhill running scheme for the opening series of the Rice game, which showed early success but concluded with GD gassing his starter and lone power back with nine carries in twelve plays. After that, we pretty much gave up the strategy we spent the entire offseason and summer camp implementing.

Compare this with our opponent Saturday, which I pray never visits Austin again. UCLA struggled in its first two games. UCLA had minus-6 yards rushing in the first quarter against Texas. UCLA stayed with its chosen identity until it worked. If I recall correctly, CJ’s carries against Tech were mostly from the shotgun and in short-yardage situations, and he didn’t get a single carry against UCLA. We tell the world for six months that we’re going to go with a power running game, and we have given up before the end of September.

Big Picture Ramifications

Muschamp may have influenced the strategy to transition to a downhill running attack in the offseason, but he doesn’t call the plays and he doesn’t choose which running backs play. Muschamp comes across as a guy who hyper-focuses on doing his job and is not the guy who’s going to pull a Buddy Ryan and show any signs of discontent to the press. But the imminent frustrations of this season will take a toll on Mack, Muschamp and the entire staff.

Mack will have important decisions to make, as will his chosen successor. The Georgia job will be open. Assistant coaching changes with the offense will need to be made. Will the changes prepare for a Muschamp-led team? Or will they show signs that Mack is not ready to let go? Who will have the greater influence in 2011, Coach Blood or GD?

At stake is Mack Brown’s legacy. From the perspective of this fan, I don’t see him pulling a Bobby Bowden and hanging on too long. I would hope that he would enjoy an exit like Tom Osborne, who finished his coaching career on a 60-3 run with three national championships in four years. In that situation, TO hired his personal-GD to succeed him, and that did not work out so well. The second time around, as AD, he hired a Muschamp-type in Pellini.

If Texas is going to struggle this season, I would prefer to see us struggle in primarily power-running formations with Gilbert under center. Let’s take our knocks and gain the experience needed to make a serious run for hardware in 2011 and 2012. Fans are wondering why 2-star recruits at Boise State can execute better running the ball than our 4-star recruits. Coaching may have a lot to do with it, but so does getting players consistent reps in schemes where they are expected to make plays to win games rather than playing not to lose them.

Judging by his actions rather than his words, if GD can’t commit to this downhill running plan until the starters either learn how to execute or give way to younger players who can, then it will be time for Mack to make the organizational changes that prove, without a doubt, that this will be Muschamp’s team in the near future. In that event, GD should be given a really big check and open an elite QB-coaching camp in Austin. MacWhorter should be given a smaller check and a bass boat. Both men have had outstanding careers and should be treated with dignity. However, they are not the future of the Texas Longhorn football program.

This fan is hoping to see Cody Johnson with 25 carries on Saturday, just not four-in-a-row or nine-in-a-series at any time. Put Gilbert back under center, pound the ball, run play-action, misdirection with Monroe as the change-of-pace back, and punt if/when it doesn’t work. Keep at it. If we have minus-five yards rushing after the first quarter, we’ll be a yard ahead of UCLA. If our defense keeps us in the game and our offense doesn’t give it away, I like our chances.

Thoughts?