Morning Coffee Is Ready To Talk Criticism

If you're not spinning from Texas' inexplicable 9-3 season that featured defeats to Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M (arguably the only three games which mattered), fear not - a quick perusal of the official Longhorn football channels should provide you with all the spin you need.

***For starters, the home page of Texas Sports on late Friday afternoon was a feature on the men's basketball team and their evening tip with New Mexico State. Nominally, not a huge deal, except that Texas basketball is #6 on the athletic department's agenda on a normal weekend, right behind: (1) Texas football recap, (2) Texas football box score, (3) Texas football photos in action, (4) Texas football postseason look ahead, and (5) Texas football commentary from Bill Little.

***Speaking of Bill Little, he's done an especially nice job of spinning the embarrassing loss to A&M. I wish I'd thought of it myself, honestly:

The strangest season in recent college football history continues to baffle, confuse, frustrate and yes, disappoint, folks all the way from Austin, Texas, to Baton Rouge, La., to Los Angeles and beyond.

Nothing was as it seemed, and reality appeared to be an illusion.  In a universe where everything thing is constantly changing, what all of us yearn for is consistency in something.  And that, in the end, was the most frustrating thing for Mack Brown and his Texas Longhorns last Friday in College Station.  In fact, the toughest part to understand about this season is that too often, it appeared the only consistency was inconsistency.

But then, that wasn’t just about Texas; it was about everything related to this 2007 season in college football.

For a while, it appeared that there were three potentially great teams—Southern Cal, LSU, and Oklahoma.  Now, barring unforeseen circumstances, all three will not be playing in the National Championship game.

If you're not fluent in Spin, I'll be glad to translate that for you: "My dear Longhorn fans, lest ye be too disappointed in the struggles of 2007, let us remember that it's been a crazy year for LOTS of teams!"

In other news, you should plan on asking your professor to ignore the tardiness of your paper because there were a half dozen of your classmates who also failed to turn in the assignment on time. Because failure is relative, right?

***And last, though I can't confirm this one just yet, I'll bet you dollars to donuts that we're in for a repeat of 2006 and no Monday press conference from Mack Brown. As more than a few of you have pointed out, the strategy from Bellmont when things aren't going well is to hunker down, let the storm pass, and jump back in for the next phase of the news cycle.


"I'll be back in a week. Or two. Did you see that LSU lost?"

Okay, now that I've got the Cynical Asshole Segment out of the way, let's talk a little more concretely about what's got to happen from here forward. At the end of the day, I don't totally blame Mack Brown or Bellmont Hall for trying to spin damage control; though I'd rather they didn't, it's more or less par for the course. There aren't many big NCAA athletic departments who are going to get out in front of the storm, and with big money stakes come big money corporate maneuvers. That's just how the game is played.

And in fact, I'd note that the one message that was repeated at BON more than any other over the last three days was that, "This is what Mack will do. This is how things will go. Nothing will ever change."

Accepting, then, that this is the SOP, it might be more beneficial to ask: "What can be done?" After all, we aren't the first group of disgruntled stakeholders who feel like the decisionmakers are all too content with the status quo. So if you're really displeased with the way things are going, consider one of the following:

Contact the Longhorn Foundation. You know as well as I do that with matters like these, money talks. If you're a donor to the program, let the Longhorn Foundation know that you're unhappy with the way the money is being spent. Considering the overall health of Longhorn athletics in general, and Longhorn football in particular, I'd suggest finding a tactful way to note your desire for change, but I can't say I see anything wrong with noting that you've been voting with your dollars and will continue to do so, based on the responsiveness of the recipient. [Longhorn Foundation Fax Number: (512) 471-7706 / Email, Director of Longhorn Foundation, Craig Helwig: craig.helwig@athletics.utexas.edu]

Pen a letter to the Statesman. It may not be the world's premier newspaper, but we do know for a fact that the folks at Belmont read it. We can also be sure that those who are writing the AAS Texas content will be more likely to ask critical questions if they know they're backed by a swell of fan (reader) discontent. [Send a letter to the AAS Sports Desk.]

Make your voice known here at BON. I can't promise you that anyone in the know will read your take if you post it here, but I do know that when movements - even grassroots one - reach critical mass, decisionmakers take notice. Though posting here is an indirect way of letting your opinion be known, it's a good start. Pen a diary. Make an argument. Be persuasive. Offer solutions. If I could suggest one course of action to someone who had a strong opinion, it would be to do your best to persuade others to your point of view. There are lots of reasons why "heady" discourse is so strongly encouraged here, but chief among them is that anyone can bark about general failure - few can articulate persuasive ideas to fix them. If you've got a good idea for fixing the problems Mack Brown's dealing with right now, let us know. We all know something's broken, but it's hard to put a finger on what should be done. Lead the way.

With all that said... there's a segment of the UT fanbase out there that's reacted a bit defensively about all this unrest. Some of it is justified, but some (I'd argue) is not. To those who think there's too much complaining, I note that there are two lines of criticism that need to be addressed (and which don't merit the same response):

Criticism 1: Mack Brown is to be blamed for the problems with Texas football right now, and the solution to these problems won't come about until there's a new head coach at Texas.
Criticism 2: Mack Brown is responsible for the problems with Texas football right now, and the solution to these problems involves making staff changes he is generally unwilling to make.

I don't blame some folks for stepping up to defend Mack Brown against the first line of criticism. I count myself among those who think swinging the angry axe at Mack Brown's head would cause more problems than it would solve. And I think that Mack Brown - warts and all - is consistently underrated as a problem solver. The man may drive fans mad with the way he deliberately works through things his way, but he gets the benefit of the doubt for his overall body of work, which includes a national championship. Calling for Mack Brown's head strikes me as myopic as blitzing Robert Killebrew.

However, those unhappy with the unrest right now do need to articulate a different line of reasoning against the second criticism. As a fan who generally supports Mack Brown and is grateful for what he's done at Texas, I do think we've reached a point where he's surrounded by too much that is comfortable.

I think most of us can look at our line of work and think about a time when plowing forward with "what we know" is no longer sufficient to keep us at the top of the game. Whether that's learning the ins and outs of new media marketing, or figuring out how to increase your direct sales to customers, or adjusting the branding of your product to an evolving marketplace, the lesson in every business is the same: you have to stay out at the forefront of the curve if you want to remain ultra-competitive. More often than not, that means integrating new people and ideas to help you evolve from what it is you know best.

Mack Brown doesn't need to teach himself the Xs and Os of the newest, sexiest offensive or defensive schemes. But there comes a time when being surrounded by that which you're comfortable with no longer serves you well. Mack can choose to ride that comfortable horse into the sunset, or he can choose to invigorate his staff with some hungry young talent who will help challenge the way he coaches football for the remainder of his career.

If he decides to stick with what he knows? I think most of us agree that it's more likely than not that Texas football will continue to be very good, but not necessarily elite. But Mack Brown might want to think long and hard about whether he wants his coaching finale to include another push for greatness. And if, as he says, that's what he wants to do, then making some uncomfortable changes right now seems like the prudent thing to do. Duane Akina has proven an unsuitable hire. And Greg Davis may represent too much of a comfort food for this program to jump out of its current slump.

Mack's got this program in the right position to field great teams. But turning that positioning into top market value is going to require some innovation. And I don't think that's an unfair criticism to make.

By the way, I'd like to note that if anyone's been watching Tennessee Titans games this season, you'll have to agree that succeeding with Vince Young is not simply a matter of inevitability. The Texas coaching staff deserves credit for putting together the team and scheme that it did to lead to that national title. I know it's sexy to say that the only reason Mack Brown won the national title was because of Vince Young, but it always has (and still does) struck me as a lazy argument. For all the criticism I'm happy to direct towards the UT staff right now, I can't find it in me to take anything away from the job they did in 2004-05 with Vince Young and his teammates.

Do we win a national title without Vince? Clearly not. But is it instructive to talk about a coach not winning a national title "without the help of his superstars"? Not really. If winning these things were a simple matter, we'd not have had nine national champions in the nine years since Mack Brown arrived in Austin. The BCS came to being in 1998, Mack Brown's first in Austin. In order, Tennessee, Florida State, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, and Florida have won the title. If Missouri and West Virginia win next week, we'll have our tenth different national champion in ten years.

Cheapening Mack Brown's national championship strikes me as a bit petty, and an unfortunate distraction from the real issues. Mack Brown deserves every bit of glory he's received for that crystal trophy.

The most instructive criticism of Mack Brown will focus on his inability to win conference championships. I have no interest in taking away what he did with Vince Young; he did that era right - winning a conference and national title. What I'm concerned about is picking up conference titles without Vince Young. That... has been a problem.

I don't understand those who want to take away from Mack's national title; I agree wholeheartedly with those who expect better Big 12 results from Mack Brown. Keeping the two separate is, in my opinion, for the best.

--PB--

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