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Bruce Feldman Gives Mack A Shoelace, Still Manages To Hang Himself

Meet co-head coach, Sally Brown.

Stacy Revere

I've long made it my policy to try to ignore Mack Brown's public pronouncements. Parsing through his press conferences and interviews and sifting through misinformation in support of Mack Brown Inc meant for public or media consumption isn't particularly useful. You might as well read Bill Little essays to a sobbing Joseph Conrad.

However, after the 2010 disaster, and a three year cumulative Big 12 record of 11-15 combined (but with a sharply ascending trend line!), I've started to realize that many of Brown's comments intended for public consumption are in fact sometimes real approximations of his world view, his understanding of cause and effect.

Or, if not, they're at least a fair indicator that he currently has no one in his life that will sit him down and point out when he's actually hurting himself peddling nonsense to a Texas fan base that has more than its share of smart, capable people. Where I used to be able to chuckle at fan overreaction to some glossing over or oversimplification of a problem, I no longer am able to so easily distinguish between what Mack says and actually believes. He's lost the benefit of the doubt.

Which brings me to this recent Bruce Feldman interview. I really like Feldman, not just because he wrote Meat Market, which made Ed Orgeron a Cajun Sling Blade cult hero, but because he knows his stuff and will tell it like it is.

Witness his interview objectives:

Recently, I sat down with Brown for an extensive conversation in which the coach talked about, among other things, the direction of his program, his quarterbacks, what motivates him these days and how UT ended up getting soft.

Works for me, Bruce. Let's get to it. Stick around to the end, readers.

Q: What are you most optimistic about coming out of this spring?

Brown: We're getting more depth back, which has been one of our biggest problems. When we were really good, we were two-deep so injuries just didn't wipe us out. The last three years we've had so many injuries, it's been unbelievable and it's been hard to coach.

We lost depth because we confused having bodies with having players and because we failed to coach and develop for half a decade, more or less quitting on offense entirely. Let's be clear about the causes. As for injuries, in aggregate over those three seasons, we didn't experience that many injuries, at least not more than you'd expect playing an inordinate number of young players in 2011. Immature players get hurt. The 2010 team was, on balance, pretty healthy. 2012 was about what you'd expect. While we didn't have the remarkable luck of, say, the 2005 or 2008 teams, we weren't hit by Biblical devastation.

Q: Where is (QB) David (Ash) in terms of his development now?

Brown: He's so much further ahead than where he was last spring.

Last spring, I remember him walking in and saying, "Gosh, I just feel so much more comfortable from where I was [in spring, 2011] as a high school senior. I know the offense. I know the coach." But this year, he's got some confidence to really build on. The comeback win at Oklahoma State [41-36, in which Ash went 30-37 for 304 yards and three TD passes] really helped him. The bowl win [over Oregon State] really helped him. He played good against Baylor. He played good against West Virginia. He played great at Ole Miss.

Ash making the Colt McCoy or Vince Young junior year jump isn't unreasonable (and no, I don't mean he'll match their play, but within his own potential), and he'd better, because much of this offense will hinge on his abilities to distribute, make adjustments, and perform at a high level. Much of Harsin's offense was intended to simplify Ash's world. This one will have simple keys, but it will be more open-ended and require accuracy and some processing speed. At least the version that can work against a real opponent. If we don't grow beyond the simple "count box/throw screen/inside zone" if/then decision tree, any defensive coordinator willing to crack the code will eat our lunch with solid athletes.

Q: With the Boise State system using lots of motion and shifts and window-dressing, did you still do as much of that now that [former UT OC] Bryan Harsin moved on [to take the head coach job at Arkansas State]?

Brown: We're running the same plays.

We'll see. And the mix and intent of the plays is what matters.

I felt like we really needed to do this because this league is tempo but also for our defense because if you don't see it every day, it's a mess. Oregon State just gave out, and Mike Riley said, "We couldn't rush the passer. There were just too many plays. We just gave out." [Despite a seemingly average number of plays run by Texas in the game -- 64 -- the Longhorns did have two nine-play touchdown drives in the second half that each barely took three minutes to run.]

Please recall that the reason for the move to a traditional running game in 2010 was Mack's assertion that elite college football was going to a SEC pro-style offense (inspired by Alabama) and that one of the primary benefits of the change would be our defense seeing in practice what they'd see in games.

Three years later, Brown decides that college football is completely different. Now it's about tempo and play volume. And we serve the defense best by emulating that on offense. And now we're on our 3rd offensive coordinator in four years.

Brown is the human embodiment of recency bias.

As for Mack's Oregon State contention, Feldman is being kind here, but his parenthetical correction demonstrates that Brown is babbling. The Oregon State game illustrates the exact opposite of what he contends.

We were seeing with our defense that we couldn't substitute. We couldn't call defenses 'cause they were snapping the ball 15 to 18 seconds. And when you set your defense, they'd change it. I think it'll help us more on defense than it will on offense.

That's why it's useful for a DC to teach his defense broad principles instead of making every play a cat-and-mouse game between coordinators, as ours flips through his mental roladex for the perfect counter-measure, and seeks to communicate to a bunch of panicked guys on the field while the play clock winds down. Our problem wasn't the inability to get in a new play, it was a group of guys operating in a system of play calls rather than a coherent defense operating on broad, flexible principles.
Feldman's follow up to Mack's "we want to run 85 plays a game" contention makes me smile...

Q: Do you recall what you guys averaged the year you won the BCS title in 2005?

Brown: It was a lot. [72.3 plays per game.] In fact, the thing that skewed the numbers is that Vince [Young] didn't play much in blowouts. [UT won eight of its 13 games that season by 31 points or more.] He probably only played the first few series of the third quarter in four or five games.

It wasn't. And I won't flog Mack again over his (mis)understanding of statistics, but this is familiar ground. Passing a lot generally means more plays run and a longer game. And VY was the master of the 5 play, 75 yard scoring drive - you know, 'splosives! The key takeaway on offense isn't aggregate plays. The Young offense - as with any good offense - was devastating because of it's PER PLAY effectiveness. Baylor runs a lot of plays but kicks your ass PER PLAY, too. Because of design, execution, and players. That's the most important takeaway.

Q: Who were the pleasant surprises here this spring?

Brown: [Early enrollee QB] Tyrone Swoopes should've been out at the prom instead of out here playing football. He's 6-5, 240-something and not heavy. He runs faster than he looks. Kinda like Vince. It seems just like he's gaining on people. He's got a great arm. He's just got to work on his fundamentals some, but he's definitely got a chance. We knew he was talented because we've had him in camps for three years. He's quiet around us, but he really competed well.

[Offensive linemen] Sedrick Flowers and Kennedy Estelle really stepped up and played well. Defensively, [linebacker] Peter Jinkens came on and did well. [Linebacker] Dalton Santos stepped it up. As did Steve Edmond. Sheroid Evans, who was a track guy, put himself in the mix at corner. He's a long-armed, 6-foot guy who is one of the faster kids in the country. This spring, he decided to be football-only and had a great spring. He's a very physical kid and should be a pro prospect. He can really help us. We also had a couple of young defensive ends, Shiro Davis, step up. We've got more players than we've had. We've had a couple of really good recruiting years again, so our numbers of guys that can really play is back up.

Encouraging across the board. We do have some good young players.

Unfortunately, Mack saves the most-out-of-touch piece for last. And it confirms so much of what I'd heard from the Muschamp and Harsin camps in their respective departures.
Ready to get weird, people?
Feldman asks how Brown coaches differently now, and he meanders into this...

We got blindsided by the 5-7 season [in 2010]. It caught us off guard. It was frustrating.

Agreed. But, just out of curiosity, who's the we here? Mack and his assistants? Mack and Texas fans? The royal We?

[Wife] Sally and I sat down with the president and the athletic director [of Texas] after that season. We basically said, "If y'all are disappointed with us, we'll go do something else."


(Needle goes off of record)

The we is you and...Sally? Come again?

They said, "Do you want to stay?"

Bill Powers and Deloss Dodds asked our head coaches, Mack and Sally, if they'd like to stay?

I said, "Yeah, we'd like to stay. We're obviously not in a great position, so it's going to take us some time to get this thing back."

"Sally has some really great ideas on going to the Oregon spread I'd like to bounce off you fellas!"

Wait, he's just being misquoted, right? Surely this will be cleared up...

They were great. They said they wanted us to stay. What Sally and I decided to do was hire some younger coaches and get it back where it should be.


We had our 10 years of 10-plus wins. Thirteen years is a long time. At that point, Sally and I had to make a decision: Are we going to put the energy back into this thing and go full-speed ahead to get it back? Or is it time to let somebody else have it?

Takes deep breath. You mean some other famous husband-wife head coaching duo like Will and Carol Muschamp? Or Nick and Terry Saban? Bill Belichick is divorced - no way he could handle the head coaching load at Texas. Dude is supposed to bake brownies and recruit five stars? He's only one man.

She said, "You can do what you want, but you shouldn't back away until you're finished."

"...and then Sally diagrammed how to run a proper load option out of the Pistol without losing RB depth while I took notes on a Snoopy spiral with a quill dipped in rarest indigo."

I think the young coaches revived me. I sincerely started over in my mind. I'm counting this as Year 3 instead of Year 16, and I think that makes a difference.