It took only three years — three very long years in the minds of Longhorn Nation — to destroy what took 39 years to rebuild.
Today it's nearly impossible to overstate the level of irrelevance the Longhorn football program has fallen into. Sure, there are a lot of college football teams that would kill to be 8-4 and playing in the Alamo Bowl against a tough, ranked opponent like the Beavers of Oregon State.
But those teams are not Texas.
Mack Brown must be exhausted hearing the constant discussion that wraps around where Texas is now compared to where they were just three years ago. Exhausted sure, but he's paid a lot of money (a LOT of money) to fix it, and so far the results are unimpressive.
In fact if you spend a few minutes looking at the statistics since 2009, the results are not just unimpressive, they are positively embarrassing for a program that nearly won a national championship on January 7, 2010.
- 11-15 against the Big 12 Conference
- 3-11 against ranked teams
- 0-3 against Oklahoma
- Alabama, the team that beat Texas in that infamous 2010 game, is 34-5 since, and is playing in their third national championship game in the last four seasons
- The Longhorns cannot even sell out the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio for their last 2012 game
More than enough ink has been spilled talking about how this happened, so I thought it might be time to talk about how it stops, and no, winning the Alamo Bowl, as nice as that would be, has nothing to do with putting the Texas Longhorns back into the national conversation.
Here are my five New Year's resolutions for the Texas Longhorn football program:
1. Start the head coach transition immediately
Note, I am saying "head coach," not "all coaches." This is not the time to once again clean house. The Texas football program is not broken, it is simply in need of new energy and new ideas. With co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's surprise departure a few weeks ago, Texas need not change anything more. There is strength in developing consistency in the coaching ranks and Texas has great coaches. Changing coaches every two years will not take the program down the road.
And no, I am not saying fire Mack Brown. As I've said many times, Mack Brown is only the second coach in Texas history to get the Longhorns to the national title, and as such, has earned the right to decide when to step down. That said, Mack, (Deloss? President Powers?) it's time.
Changing head coaches is delicate work. The Texas Longhorns are not broken, but it is clear now three years later that Mack Brown is not able to pull the right strings. The emotional damage from that 2010 national championship loss was deep. After falling off the proverbial cliff the following season, Brown completely re-made his coaching staff. There is only one leader still with the team — Mack Brown. It's time for him to take responsibility for the lack of progress.
Major Applewhite, the beloved former Longhorn quarterback, should be nearly ready for the job. With Harsin's departure to Arkansas State*, the Texas offense now belongs to Applewhite, an experienced offensive coordinator at Rice, Alabama and now Texas. The Longhorn leadership must prepare the transition now — get Applewhite into the managerial role, let him begin making decisions about the future of the team and let him choose the game plan, all with Brown's input of course.
Teach your protegé, Mack, and then let him take over for the 2014 season.
*On a side note: Seriously Bryan Harsin? Head coach at Arkansas State is better than Texas' offensive coordinator? That move by Harsin speaks volumes about the state of the Texas Longhorn leadership. Clearly Harsin and Brown were not on the same page. Of former Longhorn coordinators going on to head coaching jobs — Greg Robinson (Syracuse), Gene Chizik (Iowa State), Will Muschamp (Florida) — Harsin's choice is the biggest surprise.
2. Commit to the best rushing offense in the country
The Longhorns enjoy the best tandem of running backs in the country, at least on paper, and so far they've proven it on the field. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray rewrote all of the Texas high school record books and both landed at the top of the national recruiting charts. Neither has disappointed when given the chance to shine in the Texas offense.
But those chances have been few and far between. Despite Mack Brown's call for a power rushing team like the great SEC teams (read, Alabama), he doggedly stuck to the familiar, running when he had to but preferring that spread offense the Big 12 loves.
Texas has Heisman potential with Gray, and Malcolm Brown provides the one-two punch Alabama used to win two national championships. Further, Texas clearly lacks a quarterback capable of taking over a game (see below). Both Brown and Gray can take over games — let them.
3. Find a quarterback
I've been consistent in my criticism of the Texas quarterbacks. Despite a few fine performances, both David Ash and Case McCoy have proven they are outstanding second stringers, not leaders. We will see what redshirt freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet can do next spring, but until someone rises to elite status, Texas must limit the touches to those who make plays. Ash and McCoy should be relegated to staying out of the way and simply putting the ball in the hands of Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, then Daje Johnson and ocassionally Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis.
Reports suggest Texas is looking to the junior college ranks for a quarterback. That's not a good sign, because...
4. Rebuild recruiting
Texas' recruiting is an embarrassment. The list of missed opportunities is long and getting longer. A team that at one time bragged about getting any player they wanted — "We're Texas" — now is digging into the junior college ranks to plug holes. That's something that never used to happen.
Look no further than the last two Heisman trophy winners, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, two quarterbacks the Longhorn recruiting geniuses passed on.
How does that happen? Sure, Texas thought they had the quarterback position sown up back in 2010. Garrett Gilbert was the nation's unanimous choice as the best quarterback available and he was a Longhorn. But by mid-season in 2010, it was clear something was missing and still, no recruiter was looking hard for a game-changer or at least a high school hot shot who could push Gilbert. Even today, three years later, Texas has one of the worst quarterback performance ratings in the Big 12 Conference.
And that is just at quarterback; we could write a book about missed opportunities on defense.
5. Attitude adjustment
Texas enjoys the most profitable college athletics program in the country. The Longhorn logo is recognizable around the world. No school has finer facilities, no school commits to spending on quality like Texas, and no school carries the reputation of arrogance like The University of Texas.
That culture of arrogance drips down to the players.
Mack Brown has repeatedly suggested that one of this team's problems stems from the players expectation that simply taking the field is enough to win. That arrogance is undeserved. It's time for a little humility and time to be introspective about the school's reputation.
I wonder if the distractions of big money and big investment have taken the athletics department's eyes off the ball. Big time college football has always revolved around wealthy boosters and sponsors, but today it also revolves around television contracts, individual networks, massive facilities and strained relationships with the educational arm of the universities. At one time the athletics director oversaw the athletics program, now there is much more to do.
Don't get me wrong, Deloss Dodds and Chris Plonsky are elite leaders, perhaps the best in the country at what they do, but they are busy people with more and more responsibility for things other than the performance of their teams on the field. When things go bad, maybe it takes two or three years to see it on a macro level.
Whatever the reasons, three years in football purgatory is too long. Change — lasting, meaningful and incremental change — must come now. Starting with a dose of humility, quieting down the "We're Texas" rhetoric would be a nice place to start. Frankly it's a little embarrassing when your football program is in its current state.
The Alamo Bowl
So on Saturday night, as the Texas Longhorns take the field against a very good and motivated Oregon State Beaver team, there is only one thing I'll be looking for and that's Major Applewhite's offense.
No one should expect wholesale change, but some change is necessary — committing to the running game, managing the quarterbacks, getting the ball into the hands of playmakers.
The Horns have absolutely nothing to lose, so if the Texas offense looks exactly the same as it did against Kansas State, we will know where Mack Brown sits on the coaching transition and we'll confirm why Bryan Harsin is looking for houses in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
The Texas Longhorn football team is not broken, but unless everyone at the university is happy with 8-4 and the Alamo Bowl, changes need to occur and they need to start now.
There years is too long, 8-4 is unacceptable, and below Texas high expectations. The changes so far have not brought progress and only one person can be held accountable for that.
We love you Mack, and we know you love the Longhorns, so be the leader we know you are, recognize your challenges and set this team up for lasting success.
The Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas Longhorns vs. Oregon State Beavers
Time: Saturday, December 29 at 5:45 p.m.
Place: Alamo Stadium, San Antonio, TX
Radio: KVET-FM 98.1 / KVET-AM 1300