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Garrett Gilbert’s Confidence

Over at Shaggy Bevo, there's an interesting thread that centers on a UT journalism student's article from an advanced feature writing class. The paper, which hasn't been published, is a feature on former Longhorn quarterback Sherrod Harris, who left the team last August.

The author, Laken Litman, is a recent graduate and she offers a reasonably well-written, if a bit one-sided account of Harris' Longhorn career, including his decision to leave the program. The catalyst for that decision, according to Harris, came at halftime of the 2009 national championship game.

After the break, Brown told Harris he was going to start the second half.

“I was like finally,” Harris said. “I’ve been waiting a long time. A long ass time. It was my time. I knew all the plays.”

Helmet in hand, Harris stood in the middle of some ex-Longhorns who now play in the NFL on the sideline before the second half started. Vince Young, Aaron Ross, Brian Orakpo and Kasey Studdard – all members of the 2005 National Championship team – were pumping Harris up. He was ready. Confident. Smiling.

Right as special teams kicked off, Brown approached Harris while he was still surrounded by some of the Longhorns’ all-time greatest players and said, “Hey, we’re going to go with Garrett, we don’t want to hurt his confidence.”

“I was pissed,” Harris said.

“And VY was like, ‘That’s complete bullshit, coach. Why would you even tell him he’s going to start.’ And he walked away.

“Then Aaron Ross was like, ‘I can’t even watch this anymore.’

“Coach Brown was standing right there and all those players leave.”

Now, the final outcome likely wouldn't have changed. Gilbert had been the No. 2 quarterback all year and Harris hadn't even been in a game since September. But the takeaway from that exchange is Brown saying “Hey, we’re going to go with Garrett, we don’t want to hurt his confidence.”

If true, that was the first of three notable instances where the coaches' desire to keep Garrett Gilbert's confidence buoyed has risen above team-wide considerations. The second one came against Kansas State in November. Gilbert was having a horrific game: five interceptions through three and a half quarters. The game was out of reach and Brown and Greg Davis were ready to make the switch to Case McCoy to finish it out. Instead, they left Gilbert in the game. "Couldn't get Case warmed up in time," they said.

I'm not sure what was worse: Gilbert's performance or our coaching staff's cover up job.

Finally, last month, the Statesman's Kirk Bohls reported that Gilbert has already been told he's the starter in the fall, but coaches wanted to keep it on the hush-hush so the other quarterbacks would keep working hard. If true (Bohls has been known to sensationalize), the quarterback competition was as rigged as one of Jim Tressel's raffles. Mack denied that it happened, but you give me three data points and I see a trend.

This seemingly compulsive need to boost Gilbert's self-esteem ("you da man, GG!) could ironically have the opposite effect. If you feel the need to consistently tell me that you have confidence in someone, then I begin to question why you keep telling me that.

It could be a way of forcing Gilbert into a team leader role, but in his two years on campus we haven't seen any indications that this role comes naturally. There's no doubt that the team needs individuals who hold their teammates accountable, and it seemed logical that the quarterback would take on this responsibility - especially coming on the heels of of Vince Young and Colt McCoy's leadership - but hoping and wanting a kid to be a leader doesn't mean he actually will be. When you arrive on campus in a cloud of entitlement (or a limousine) it's tough to win the guys over that worked their ass off to get there.

The coaches shouldn't continue to try to make Gilbert into something he's not. If he's the best option at quarterback, then so be it. In a wide-open competition, Gilbert could very well emerge as the Longhorns' best choice this season. But handling him with kid gloves and edifying a predetermined position on the depth chart is detrimental to him and to the team. It's not quite to the point where Mack is answering questions for his QB at a post-game press conference but there's a growing sense of deja vu in regards to how the staff has handled Golden Boy 2.

If Gilbert could beat out Connor Wood, David Ash, and Case McCoy in a truly open competition during two-a-days with equally split snaps, the team would have his back. But make him earn it. After getting neutered by Greg Davis' system in a 5-7 season that couldn't end fast enough, we need to make sure the kid still has it.

Gilbert played without fear in Lake Travis because he trusted the system and the players and coaches knew he was the best guy to execute it. He was the man. Two-time state championship winner, Gatorade National Player of the Year. All that's out the window. After piloting Texas to its first losing season in 14 years, now he's just another QB on the Texas depth chart learning a new system.

But is it really a clean slate? Not if you're asking Sherrod Harris.