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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

A Retrospective

The Year in Review: Texas (8-5, 4-5)

Bill Powers, DeLoss Dodds joint statement: “We want Mack Brown to be The University of Texas football coach for as long as he wants.”Tue Jan 24 23:21:03 via TweetDeck

DeLoss Dodds and Texas are going all-in with Mack Brown and company, putting to rest any idea that, say, a certain report from a certain radio station in Topeka held any validity when it came to Brown’s future with the program. In a conversation with The Dallas Morning News’ Chuck Carlton, Dodds said of Brown, “he’ll be here as long as he wants to be.” This after the university decided to add another four years to Brown’s current contract, which now runs through the 2020 season. The contract, Dodds told Carlton, is a “thank you to Mack,” and if anyone deserves thanks for all that Texas football has become it’s Brown — yes, even after winning only eight games in 2011, one year after winning only five games and failing to reach bowl eligibility.

Dodds and Texas are consistently painted as out of touch with reality, puttering along like money-mad oil barons as the F.B.S. continues to draw and redraw its borders through conference expansion. The university has been maligned for its role in the latest round of expansion fever, with its Longhorn Network viewed by many as the straw that broke the Big 12’s back.

The Big 12 isn’t gone, in case you hadn’t noticed. But it has been altered permanently, with Texas A&M — a loss that will sting in perpetuity — following Nebraska and Colorado out of the door midway through the 2011 season. Blame Texas, if you’d like, and you’d be right, to a degree. Every power program looks out for itself at every turn; the Longhorns just got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, however.

In the case of Brown’s contract extension, Dodds and Texas show that the program is far from out of touch, despite recent examples to the contrary. “I’ve been here 30 years,” Dodds told Carlton, “and I’ve never been more committed to a coach than I am to Mack and the future of this program.”

Only a foolish program, one far removed from any basis in reality, would view Brown as a scapegoat for its recent two-year turn as Big 12 also-ran. Brown’s culpable, mind you, but only in one somewhat commendable manner: he trusted his guys too much. But even then, it’s hard to blame Brown for sticking with his tried-and-true posse of old-guard assistants; after all, the Longhorns did enter the 2010 season fresh off a berth in the B.C.S. National Championship Game.

Brown’s lone error came in his belief that his old guard could learn new tricks. After coming within one victory of a national title in 2009, Colt McCoy’s final season, Brown thought his loyal crew — Greg Davis and Mac McWhorter, for starters — could alter Texas’ offensive philosophy on the fly. More physical, less finesse. More between the tackles, less zone read. More old school, less new school.

And it was a failure. The 2010 season was lost before it began, as Brown’s loyalty came back to bite him and the Longhorns where it hurt. So cue up the coaching shuffle: Bryan Harsin, Manny Diaz and others in, Davis, McWhorter and others out. And begin the process of remaking the Longhorns’ identity on both sides of the ball — a process that probably should have started at full speed in 2010.

It wasn’t coaching that kept Texas out of the Big 12 hunt in 2011, but rather youth and inexperience. The coaching is there, and will be there for as long as Brown has the money and resources to entice talented coaches to enlist in Austin; in short, the coaching will always be there, now that he’s shown an ability to make difficult changes. Harsin is a keeper, as is Diaz. The latter’s aggressive style played extremely well with Texas’ consistently-replenishing defensive talent.

But Texas’ youth was striking. Twice as many true freshmen, four, as seniors started on the offensive side of the ball in the regular season finale against Baylor. In a Holiday Bowl win over California, the Longhorns’ leading passer, rusher and pass-catcher were true freshmen. This is what Harsin had to work with in 2011; the offensive struggles were more to do with youth than incompetent coaching.

Dodds, through Carlton: “We’re poised to be back again. We just need the kids to be a little older.” Come the fall, Texas won’t just be more hip to how Harsin and Diaz coordinate each side of the ball; they’ll be a year wiser and a year more experienced, which lends credence to the idea that Texas is simply months away from returning to the nation’s elite. Extending Brown’s contract only solidifies the idea that once the Longhorns do return to prominence, they won’t be going back down anytime soon.

Season grade: B Not quite a return to glory, though the Longhorns did add three wins to their 2010 mark. Clear improvement was made despite the youth issues and positively dreadful quarterback play, with the latter one area where Texas absolutely must improve heading into the fall. Until David Ash — the presumed starter — takes a step forward, it’ll be hard for the Longhorns to leapfrog past Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and move back to the top of the Big 12. But the defense was there, and will be there in 2012, so the retooling project has already shown tangible results. In 2011, however, the offense was nowhere near as competent as the defense.

High point A 27-25 win at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving. So long, Aggies, and don’t call us, we’ll call you. Outside of the 2006 Rose Bowl, it might have been the most pleasing win of the Brown era.

Low point Texas actually hung relatively tight with Oklahoma State, thanks to a solid defensive effort. Likewise with losses to Missouri and Kansas State, where the offense was an abomination. Two losses that got out of hand: Oklahoma by 38 points and Baylor by 24 points. The latter might have hurt worse, actually.

Offensive M.V.P. Well, it’s not one of Texas’ two starting quarterbacks — or three, if you count Garrett Gilbert. And it’s not a member of the offensive line; that group is still rounding into form. Let’s share the award between three true freshmen. Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley nearly led the Longhorns in all receiving categories despite missing three games. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron combined for 1,205 yards and 10 touchdowns. Extra points go to senior running back Fozzy Whitaker, an emotional leader who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the loss to Missouri.

Defensive M.V.P. Unlike on offense, here we find several qualified candidates. Quandre Diggs was an immediate hit as a true freshman, leading the Longhorns in interceptions from his cornerback spot en route to earning second-team all-Big 12 honors. Jackson Jeffcoat, another second-team selection, led Texas in tackles for loss and sacks. Their time is coming; for 2011, the award goes to senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. The duo held things down at middle and weak side linebacker, respectively.

Stock watch Happy days aren’t here again, but they’re on the way, I believe. Texas just needs time: the youngsters need to grow up, grow more confident and grow more comfortable in this offense, and when the offense meets the defense the Longhorns are going to be a handful. The coaching is there, as is the talent. As Dodds put it, Texas is “poised to be back again.” That might not show itself in a Big 12 title and B.C.S. berth in 2012, but the Longhorns are getting there.

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  1. Good analysis, Paul. I would add only that the talent of Vince Young and Colt McCoy masked a startling lack of development in the QB position at Texas over the past several years, resulting in this year’s mediocre performance by two inexperienced QB’s. Ash may be the answer at QB (the younger McCoy does not appear to have the arm strength to excel), but his relatively slow development this season does not give UT supporters any warm and fuzzies. That and the tight end position are clear weaknesses in an otherwise strong program.

  2. Parker says:

    Hi Paul,

    In 24 years at UNC and Texas, Mack Brown has won a grand total of 0 ACC Titles and 2 Big 12 Titles.

    In terms of dollars received per conference title, Mack may be the highest paid coach of all time.

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