It is August, people. The temperature is 103, the players have reported to fall camp and the serious business of The Season is upon us.
Mack Brown held opening ceremonies on Sunday with his annual check-in day press conference. Below I begin the dive into the highlights, with commentary - one of my favorite series to write each year.
Intangibles and Attitude... but not Coach Speak
It just means that (college football) is back. It’s time to start over. All of our guys got in today on time. We’re really, really excited about their attitude. You go back and look at our offseason, there was a tremendous amount of carryover between the bowl game and spring practice with the off-season, and then it carried into spring practice. We probably had our most physical spring practice and were able to stay healthy. Last summer, we did not have as good of a summer as we needed. There were too many distractions, and we feel like it’s a great show of leadership and carryover that we didn’t have any problems off the field this summer. We’re proud of the leadership of this group, and we think that on and off the field that is coming out, and the kids are proud of it too,
This could easily pass as standard preseason spittle from the head coach, but the reason I'm so damn excited about this fall is because I'm one of those who believes there exists a very real wave of positive momentum in Austin, and I read Mack's comments above as a genuine reflection of this approach I so firmly support.
Rather than rehash all that again, though, let's take Mack's comment as an opportunity to note the things we'll need to see this fall to confirm the optimism isn't wishcasting:
1. Commitment to accountability. You know why I love Rick Barnes? The same reason his players do: he's both their best friend and their harshest critic. Mack Brown can similarly demand excellence while being a father figure to his players. If Mack's taking a step forward, we should see an unapologetic, unrelenting insistence that his charges perform both in fall camp and throughout the season.
We've seen a lot of stories about how Mack Brown needs to "stay mad" for Texas to succeed. Though there's truth in the idea, it's an oversimplification: Mack needn't choose between 'mad' and 'soft.' There's a middle ground upon which he can inspire and lead his players while also pushing them to the edge.
It ain't easy, but that's what the best do best.
2. Be unafraid to fail. Fine is the line between 'playing to win' and 'reckless,' but from my vantage point it's imperative that Mack be aggressive in his approach to the 2008 season. Though circumstances dictate the proper approach at any given moment, I'll be scrutinizing the coaching staff especially closely if Texas finds itself out of contention for the national and/or Big 12 title. To put it another way: I'll be rooting like a madman for glory, but failing that, I'll be intensely interested in seeing Texas use this season to develop the right players for the right reason.
3. Seek answers to hard questions. We're all familiar with the couple who put off as long as possible confronting the toughest issues that challenge their relationship. In the long run, the strategy fails spectacularly more often than not and, looking back, everyone agrees that it would have been better to confront those pressing challenges from the beginning. At worst, they discover much sooner there's an irreconcilable problem.
So must it go for Mack Brown and his staff this season. Texas enters the season facing huge questions with regards to the running backs, how to use John Chiles, the stable of young receivers looking to break through, and so on and so forth. It's up to the coaching staff to find answers to those questions. In the past, the tendency has been to tip-toe around them; this year I want to see a different approach.
Put another way: If we're having this conversation again in August 2009, the skeptics will have been proven right.
Next: Mack talks about John Chiles.