Texas football season never really ends. There is the occasional short hiatus as other sports take up space, but football, well, it's on a fan's mind all the time. That's why in the middle of a hot July, with the Longhorn football season still 37 days away (who's counting?), over 1,000 people showed up for lunch just to listen to a few guys talk football.
The Austin Sports Commission hosts the Texas Gridiron Kickoff every year. The event includes honoring Texas High School football coaches with the Sonic Leadership in Coaching Award — this year given to Bastrop High Coach Gerald Perry for his work with the kids following the Bastrop fires — and the American-Statesman trots out their pre-season All Central Texas High School team. Everyone claps respectfully. But that's not why they're here.
They're here because the Texas Gridiron Kickoff luncheon is the only time you will hear the four coaches making up the Texas football inner circle talk to each other, together, on the same stage at the same time: Head Coach Mack Brown, Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin, Co-offensive Coordinator Major Applewhite and Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz.
And they're entertaining.
"I think we're about to be good again," Brown predicted, based on nothing more than a hope, a prayer and a firm conviction that his staff, now with a year of experience together, can make the adjustments needed to get this young team ready.
Over the course of 30 minutes it is more clear than ever that these guys are light years ahead of where they were last year. Still, Head Coach Mack Brown did his classic best at keeping expectations low. "We're not as good as everyone thinks we are," he explained. "We are so young, so inexperienced, even our older guys are young."
And his lieutenants followed suit. "We remind them [the players] that we have a long way to go," said Diaz.
No breaking news was revealed by the coaches of course. "You media and fans always know more than we do anyway," joked Brown. But there were some moments that revealed the depth of change the Big 12 conference has endured.
Former Southwest Conference foe Texas Christian University (TCU) and West Virginia now complicate an already difficult schedule for a young Texas team with only six seniors that had significant playing time last season. TCU was a Mountain West powerhouse breaking into the BCS in 2010, and West Virginia brings tradition and a hostile home game environment. The Mountaineers destroyed Clemson in the BCS Orange Bowl last year. Jokingly Brown said he called Texas Athletic Director Deloss Dodds after watching that game asking "can we get them out?"
When asked about the new 2014 Champions Bowl — pitting the best of the Big 12 versus the best of the Southeast Conference — Brown said he was all for it. "It pits the two best conferences in the country at the end of the year. We'll be able to quiet some of that talk across the country if we do what we are supposed to do [and win]."
As for the team, the coaches spent most of their time talking about quarterbacks — they still have no idea who will start, "it's a competition," said Harsin, "and competition breeds excellence"; running backs — yes, they are sure they can get enough plays to each of three budding superstars to keep them all happy, "you want those guys to want the ball" said Applewhite; and the defense, "we do not want to be in the Holiday Bowl again this year, with all due respect to the Holiday Bowl," said Diaz. "The defense has to get get better or we will go back to the Holiday Bowl again."
By the time they finished, Brown was more conciliatory about his team's chances. "I think we're about to be good again," he predicted, based on nothing more than a hope, a prayer and a firm conviction that his staff — now with a year of experience together — can make the adjustments needed to get this young team ready.
This season, over 160,000 players will suit up to play Texas high school football before 30 million fans over the course of 108 days. Football may be a game, but its place in Texas mythology and legend is already well-rooted.
On August 6, those players report for camp, every one of them along with their parents, their friends, their schoolmates and their communities will hope for that magical season that brings glory and pride for one fleeting moment.
There is plenty of time to delve deeply into the details of each team and each game — for now let's just enjoy the anticipation of another football season. Today we are all undefeated.