Back to back losses to Texas A&M.
Let that sink in a minute, if it hasn't already. If you need help getting depressed about it, remember that Aggieland exists for one reason only - beating Texas - and we lost to a head coach who was fired despite winning two in a row against the Longhorns.
Now are you properly morbid?
Good. Because you should be. We're not allowed to feel sorry for ourselves - the best football season of our lives was merely two years ago - but Longhorn fans have every right to be disappointed with the encore. One might call 2006 a near miss on an outstanding surprise year for Texas, but no reasonable evaluation of 2007 can be so generous.
Kansas State, a team that ultimately lost games to Iowa State, Nebraska, and Fresno State, didn't just pull off an upset over Texas. They whipped the Longhorns. At Darrel K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
The loss to Oklahoma, though painful, was at least forgivable - the team played hard and played well and could have won the football game. It's not a good outcome, but it wasn't an embarrassing effort, either.
But the season ending loss to Texas A&M... God. I wasn't kidding when I preached before the game it was a critical one for Texas and Mack Brown to win. With a victory, Texas finishes 10-2, winners of six straight, with a fanbase buzzing about the gutty turnaround of the season. With a loss, well... go re-read the first couple paragraphs of this post.
So here we are. The high from 2005 is worn off, a hangover is setting in, and our head coach has heretofore believed that 10 wins is Tylenol. We know better.
With that in mind, I note that we're hearing all the right points out of Texas practice camp this week. All jobs are open. Nothing is taken for granted. No one will be coddled. A player who makes a mistake has to stand in front of the entire team.
Good, good, and good. Great. I'm happy to hear it. And believe it or not, I'm pretty damn excited about our bowl game. But getting out of a rut requires more than hitting the high notes after a setback. It requires a legitimate evolution. So Mack, I propose three lessons for you to take from all this:
1. Don't confuse the outcome with the process. Winning the Holiday Bowl would be great. 10 wins looks nice in the media guide. Finishing on a good note is fun for the fans, players, and coaches. But the outcome of this football game is wholly irrelevant next to the fundamental change in approach that this season indicates is required. If the disappointment of the loss to A&M has lit a fire under your ass, Mack - don't let a Holiday Bowl win extinguish it. Embrace the urgency and carry it over to next year. All jobs open. The best talent plays. We win as a team, lose as a team. If you're a senior and you get outplayed, you do your job and support the young guy from the sideline. The process is what's important, Mack. Not the outcome.
2. Breed leadership. Without question, some leaders are born. But many, many others are bred. In a leadership vacuum, the top man of a program has to create an atmosphere that brings out the leadership qualities in people. Demanding accountability, coaching with tough love, and insisting on a meritocracy inspire people to do their best. Most importantly, not only do most elite athletes want that environment, most thrive in it. Treat them like you won't settle for anything short of their best and they will give you their best. If you acccept anything less... that's what you'll get.
3. Internalize what you learn about managing the players. All these lessons about getting the most out of your players? Very important for getting the best product possible on the field. But take these lessons a step further and apply them to yourself, Mack. If your assistant coaches aren't giving you winning gameplans, get new ones. If they're not helping you in the areas where you're weak, find better complementary parts.
It's not realistic to expect the head coach to be good at everything, and in fact, most who try to be wind up failing. Divesting responsibility is a good thing. But it requires knowing your strengths, knowing your weaknesses, and surrounding yourself with the right people for the right tasks. Just as you ask your players these tough questions - ask them about your own staff. Even if you think they're great football coaches who should always have a place on someone's staff, ask if they're the right people for your staff, right now.
Fundamental change doesn't often come about until there's been a serious setback. As you enter the twilight phase of your career, Mack, ask yourself if you have it in you to evolve one more time. Just as you evolved in 2004-05 to get the most out of the Vince Young era, ask yourself what you need to do to win at that level again. Ask hard questions. Make hard decisions. Do things you aren't comfortable with. Surround yourself with people who complement your weaknesses.
Your legacy at Texas is going to be a great one, whatever you do the rest of your time here. The status quo is, has been, and will be good. But as your career - that which you've devoted your life to - enters its final phase, challenge yourself as much as you've challenged these young kids over the years. You ask your players to aim high and shoot for the moon. Ask the same of yourself.