The Longhorn athletic department is in a state of malaise. I resolved myself to it last year, and so didn't really feel like weighing in on each setback or minor scandal since - as predictable as each has been. I'm experiencing Program Fatigue.
Are any of you?
This is a decaying program that won't renew itself until the cleansing fire - set by a crowd gathered outside of Bellmont, or carelessly set from within by the friction of incompetence - burns high and bright.
The current athletic program is a mansion built of wormwood, run by caretakers who religiously collect their rents, mind the exterior gardening, buff the brass, ignore foundation and infrastructure; and pray that the closets full of skeletons pointing their fingers at a basement filled with bodies won't be discovered until their annuity milestones are realized or their personal ego narratives are fulfilled.
Generally, when confronted with persistent, wrong-headed, behavior, one must ask: "Stupid or Evil?"
I'm with Stupid. At least if you consider sloth and arrogance part of its categorical subsets. The evil here, if any, consists mostly of self-interest, hubris, and ham-handed attempts to excuse, deny, or minimize the excavated evidence of the accumulated layers of neglect.
Texas Athletics has now run the predictable gamut of organizational offenses - sex scandals, greed, neglect, bare complacency, egotism, professional abuse of power, and clumsy nepotism that would make a Middle-Ages Pope - or a middle-aged Coach - chuckle in appreciation.
We know the principals...
DeLoss Dodds is good at what he does, but a 73 year old man can't lead a sweeping, organizational change. Particularly one that still sees profit as the ultimate goal for an athletic department. Profit is a crucial means to the end, but not the end itself. Wins and championships - the shiny lucre that fans are actually paid in - seem, at least in my reading of Dodds, merely a minimum necessary threshold needed to guarantee a certain input on the great formula of revenue. If sub .500 Big 12 football over the last three years (the Longhorns sport a shiny 11-15 conference record) and a CBI tournament basketball team (what the hell is the CBI?) still keeps Texas in the financial high cotton, who cares if our teams play in the low weeds? Those easy profits - for which we owe Dodds many thanks for his part in the fundamental alteration of the program's funding structures, but are mostly attributable to the reality of Texas demography - have also allowed Bellmont to become a bloated, flatulent bureaucracy that exists only to perpetuate itself; an insulating cocoon away from the harsh slings and arrows of reality. That environment - whether in government or athletic programs - doesn't so much foster scandal and minor corruption as guarantee it.
Mack Brown is a Dockers commercial. Vague images of satisfied well-being punctuated by meaningless slogans. When some outside force shakes him from his happy place, we see Tough Mack, but Tough Mack is a reactive force, not a vital one. He flails around, mindlessly apes the successful (We Gonna Run SEC Offense!), reverses course again (Oh No, We Aren't!), and Bellmont sells it as tactical flexibility.
I've always argued vehemently against the Mack Brown CEO moniker, and his inability to cut his losses, or enforce some sort of organizational rigor or vitality once "success" had been met is his greatest failure after a decade of achievement. Not throwing good money (and time and energy) after bad is a fallacy that most Quizno's managers figure out by their second shift. Much less a CEO. Watching Mack Brown do organizational strategy is a small town mayor asked to deploy NATO assets.
Rick Barnes is the best basketball coach in Texas history. He stayed relatively clean in a NCAA cesspool of cheating (should we even care anymore? - a post for another day) and it would be hard to argue that he lacks an internal fire. I've largely been a defender of his over the years. He's also failing. Maybe the ego fondling fixers of AAU ball have combined with the self-esteem generation to create eggshell-skinned players that are impossible to coach under the time-honored methods of Good Coach, Bad Coach and You Must Earn My Love. Maybe he just caught a really bad break with an officious NCAA and a selfish Myck Kabongo.
Part of being a leader is accepting that things that aren't your fault are still your responsibility. Sometimes, it's just time for a change. There is a standard. One Barnes more or less set. Thank you for that. Now, meet it.
Augie Garrido is a spectacular baseball manager and a hell of an interesting guy, our own red-assed Buddhist. You know why I know he's a fantastic coach? Because he can ignore large parts of the mathematical certitude that is baseball - a now undeniable algorithm of cause and effect that exists as in no other sport - and still win a lot of games. When your players cannot hit a baseball hard off of or over various walls because you value the esthetic of the "complete player" and "complete baseball" (read: bunting, fielding, base-running, general pep) at the expense of depositing baseballs into windshields, and you still manage to win more than any manager in college history, your value add in other areas is off of the charts. But his chapter is ending soon. What's the plan?
Women's sports. There's no lack of posturing here and we're taught to nod at all of the platitudes of Title IX - both the admirable and eye-rolling - but we should agree that a state university has a mission for all of its students, women benefit from athletics - even if no one is paying to see them in comparison to the men, and we should be good at the ones we play because we're goddamn Texas. Any questions? Whatever Chris Plonsky's supposed value as a TV contracts maven, as a pure manager in her job title, she has been substandard given the resources at her disposal. And may well have been flicking matches at a Human Resources powder keg, to boot. Want women sports to matter? Want a place at the table? Make them matter. Otherwise, be gracious, cash the checks provided by the revenue programs, fulfill your broader mission, and avoid scandal. If you can't manage that, thanks for the memories.
Why does this decline - both in performance and basic professional standards - grate so much?
First, I'm a Texas sports fan. And we're pissing away our massive potential and resources. Across the board. That's the easy part.
But it's much deeper than that. Texas - the University of - the school, the broader community, the idea - represents a set of values, some of which I can't really articulate beyond a general tolerance for people of different backgrounds, a sense we should do things right and ethically, and an aspiration for excellence. Texas failing, in and of itself, doesn't twist the dagger. Athletics are a cyclical business. It's in how we're failing. The bald complacency. The smug posturing. The bureaucratic buffoonery. The open mockery of our standards. This is not the Texas of our best aspiration.
The University of Texas I knew as a student in the 1990s was built on largely meritocratic ideals. I was admitted based on a formula that cared little for where I came from. Call it cold, call it a blunt tool; I call it justice. I was good enough, or I wasn't. I took classes from professors that were largely excellent at their craft and when I put forth effort, I flourished. As a freshman, when I focused on my social life to the exclusion of academics, the same professors graded me mercilessly and I nearly failed out. It was a favor. And a lesson. Texas had a set of standards. Meet them. Or you can't be here. Some decry the large institutional education. Perhaps I should have been "counseled" and "supported" beyond the harsh reality of a bad grade, a long hard look in the mirror, and a father who wanted to know why I was pissing away his money. I decided to meet the standard. I had been failing Texas. It wasn't failing me.
Open up a college rankings magazine. Look at the numbers. In science, engineering, law, business, the humanities. Find Texas. Think about where we would have been ranked and regarded fifty years ago. Even thirty. It was a hard, well-earned climb. And there are a hell of a lot more schools invested in success in academics than in football. Our coaches have it comparatively easy with better resources. Yet, when we're not in the Top 20 in some academic discipline, I'm surprised. Despite the comparative rating disadvantages inherent to a large public institution. None of that success came from reputation, marketing, or politicking. It was earned and fought for. It was built on disparate groups of people agreeing that we should all try to kick ass because a place without standards is meaningless.
Is the current Athletics Department measuring up that standard? Forget the AP Poll. Forget other institutions. Is Texas Athletics measuring up to us?
Is this your Texas?