The news of QB Connor Brewer's transfer isn't particularly surprising for anyone following the program, but it does expose a scary depth chart for a Texas team that should be favored to win a 2013 conference championship in a down Big 12. And if the team fails in that goal because of an injury to starting QB David Ash, it can't be chalked up to simple bad luck. It's a microcosm of the broad mismanagement that has characterized Texas Football over the last half decade.
It exposes the strange incapacity of the Texas coaching staff to keep quarterback - the most important position on the field - from the razor's edge of depth chart disaster.
Some of that is attributable to recruiting decisions, specifically the players they did take - or numbers that create competition that they won't (Mack has proven far too willing too fold under recruit demands on the size and composition of a QB class or simply not approach the position realistically), evaluation models (are we committing to mobile QBs or not?), and the management of legacy candidates (the Case McCoy fiasco) and high value coronations (Garrett Gilbert).
2005 - Colt McCoy
2006 - Jevan Snead, Sherrod Harris
2007 - John Chiles, GJ Kinne
2008 - No QB taken (Garrett Gilbert coronation mode engaged)
2009 - Garrett Gilbert
2010 - Case McCoy, Connor Wood
2011 - David Ash
2012 - Connor Brewer
2013 - Tyrone Swoopes
2014 - Jerrod Heard
Between 2005-2007, Texas took five quarterbacks. And that's a good thing. Only two of them were highly recruited (Snead, Chiles). There was open competition for the spot, Colt McCoy emerged to grab the reins, and Texas had their QB - with some early hiccups - for the next four years. Competition works, even when it's unpleasant.
Highly touted Jevan Snead proved to lack mental toughness and transferred out to a starting role at Ole Miss; John Chiles was allowed to gain 25 pounds of fat destroying the only attribute he brought to the position - but was tabbed a feelings-saving second string for a good portion of his early career; Sherrod Harris was a career back-up from a winless high school program happy to be here, and GJ Kinne - who the Texas coaches essentially power-ranked dead last of the five commitments over those two years despite being a clear Division I starter went on to a very fine college career at Tulsa (3 year starter dual threat, 9472 yards passing, 81-32 TD:INT ratio; 1365 rushing, 15 TDs - Tulsa was 10-3 in 2010 with Kinne while Texas was 5-7 under Gilbert). Kinne is still floating around NFL camps.
It's worth noting that over this time period, Texas probably lost two conference championships and a national championship due to injuries to McCoy and not having a capable back-up. The proper evaluation of Kinne could have meant an entirely different legacy for Mack Brown at Texas. And a much-needed buffer through the 2010-2011 seasons where Texas might have absorbed the Gilbert failure and recruited possible solutions around him.
Brown's learning from the five QB tumult of the 2005-2007 period (which, by the way, had the desired effect - the emergence of an elite starter in Colt McCoy and a strong successor in Kinne that we squandered) is that competition is ugly and coronations are tidy.
So we begin a new phase.
Incredibly, in 2008, Texas fails to sign a QB (coach's son system QB Riley Dodge "de-committed"). And I'll skip over the possibility of Andrew Luck and RGIII in order to preserve your sanity. The paths were being cleared not only in recruiting but with the players already on campus as Sherrod Harris opts out of his senior season and John Chiles (rightfully) cements his position switch to WR.
Gilbert is your guy post-McCoy. There is no other option.
Bloodless coronations are wonderful, except for the fact that Mack Brown has never gotten an effective starting QB from one. Perhaps he should have noticed the competition that defined Simms-Applewhite, the tumultuous early VY years (Chance Mock!), Colt's nip-and-tuck pre-season push by Jevan Snead, even David Ash having to claw his way up as a freshman and sophomore.
Gilbert, of course, bombed. And Texas was left scrambling after having ZERO QBs on the roster from the previous FOUR YEARS before him.
The Longhorn recruiting response to Gilbert's failure was Connor Wood - a private school QB with dodgy accuracy and good measurables and Case McCoy - an undersized, weak-armed legacy recruit. No national focus, no hustle to address the problem. And a severe complication of the political dynamics that Mack loves with a McCoy on campus.
After Wood and McCoy, Texas returns to one QB recruiting classes as if QB depth is now adequately solved and that a massive influx of talent and competition isn't required to restore the position. And that's not second-guessing - here's what I wrote in Spring of 2011 about Mack's troubling need to squelch competition.
Result: a true freshman David Ash is pressed into action far too soon and Case McCoy is forced to see the field at all.
Finally, just when Texas is actually starting to develop an actual FBS depth chart, Connor Brewer - possibly a very useful career back-up that could allow younger QBs some breathing room - leaves, and exposes a back-up situation reliant on a true freshman running QB project in Tyrone Swoopes and another QB - a "senior leader" - who took his ball and went on a 10 week mission when the Texas coaches finally had a realistic talk about his ability level instead of placating him with an endless stream of delusion-inducing bullshit.
The situation is simple: David Ash can't miss a game. In an offense in which the QB is going to be asked to take hits in the passing game when the defense brings numbers in exchange for downfield opportunities and must be able to provide a dual threat in the running game to open up the inside zone. There are no double TE max protection calls anymore. The spread offense means hits on the QB. Period.
In 2014, Texas brings in a promising prospect in Jerrod Heard, but his future depth chart now looks alarmingly like another coronation if Tyrone Swoopes doesn't grow as a passer and becomes a promising TE. I personally like Heard quite a bit, but who knows what he'll become? I have zero interest in coronations. I want untidy bloodbaths inspired by Darwinian competition.
Mack Brown, wounded by too many messy QB controversies, hates them.
So, Longhorn fans: hope the crown fits. And that David Ash is made of iron.