Mack Brown has called the 2011 season a fresh start for him as a coach. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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As perhaps the most noted "CEO" in college football, it's not always easy to see the fingerprints of Mack Brown on his football program. Sure, there are the negatives, like a tendency to recruit running backs who end up at defensive tackle (see: Melton, Henry and Whaley, Chris), but with a coach who isn't heavily involved with the day-to-day X's and O's of strategy, identifying his impact beyond the ultimate outcome of wins and losses becomes an increasingly muddied process.
Brown is a guy you want making the macro decisions for your football program, the stuff that happens mostly behind the scenes for the casual fan. Glad-handling with boosters, dealing with recruits, it's often been said that Brown is the consummate politician. And he's done a superlative job re-igniting the Longhorn juggernaut, mobilizing the Texas machine. Maximizing the tremendous resources of a resource-rich university just waiting to back a winning football team again.
This season, one of Brown's greatest impacts on his team came when he made the coaching changes that defined a program at the crossroads following a 5-7 season, a season that finally revealed the cracks that had begun to show in small ways through previous years, especially the two post-championship seasons of 2006 and 2007.
In hiring young, hungry coaches, Brown helped remove the complacency that lead to 5-7 and the coaches that contributed to poor evaluations across most of the offense. He helped energize his team with the addition of Bennie Wylie and install some actual accountability in a program severely lacking it for some time. Call it a fresh start.
In 2010, Brown impacted his team mostly through the admitted hangover that plagued him after the disastrous national championship game that saw Colt McCoy end his career on a botched speed option. The resulting despondency permeated the entire program for the next 11 months, through an offseason that clearly saw the players take for granted the work needed to continue the success of the Colt McCoy era and into the season starting with a lackluster win over Rice and culminating in five straight conference losses to end the season.
As much as hiring those new coaches, Brown's personality is evident in the fact that this team unquestionably cares more than the 2010 version. Despite his sometimes misplaced loyalty, the contrast in play from 2010 to 2011 illustrates the need for trust between the coaches, between the coaches and players, and between the players themselves.
Brown infamously didn't feel the trust going in any of those multiple directions following the program's first-ever loss in football to Iowa State, but has recovered it with his new, young, hand-chosen staff to the extent that he'll allow his offensive coordinator to rotate two quarterbacks from play to play, completely against the orthodoxy of a coach stepped in tradition and "three yards and a cloud of dust."
The trust is there now and it's having a major impact on the program and Brown's rhetoric to the media and with the players. During his first press conference after completely re-vamping his coaching staff, Brown tested the boundaries of the number of times and ways he could talk about energy and being re-energized:
It's fun for me to watch them work because they're all energetic. They've all got new ideas, and it's nearly like a chemist putting this together. And they're fun. I walked in there last night after the meeting and I pitched out something to them and Bryan takes a pencil out and he and Major are writing it down saying, "You know, I think that will work. That's good. I can't wait until tomorrow." They're really having fun and working at it.
Fun! Energy! Chemistry!
When we first got back I had about a 30-minute meeting by myself and just the players. No staff members, no coaches - nobody else. I basically went back over everything I’ve done the last two months. I went back over their surveys. I went back over what I thought was important for us to restart. I told them that we would have a new offense. We’d have a new defense. We’d have some changes in special teams, and they all had a clean slate and that I was reenergized with what I had seen with the staff in the hiring process.
Reenergized by what Bennie Wylie has brought to us, and they would see that in the coming week, which they have. Also, really reenergized by going out and recruiting and seeing the parents and the high school coaches and the kids, and the fact that all the kids hung in there with us. I also told them that I’d never been more excited, and that I was starting over. That’s very important for them to know. Thirteen years ago I didn’t know what I was doing, and now I’ve got 13 years of experience with new energy and a restart.
For the record, Brown said "re-energized" three times in that comment and threw in a bonus "new energy" and a "restart" for good measure. Sounds like the Texas head coach could be a New Age self-help guru, no?
I have been reenergized by the process. Hearing the positives from the players just as I come back and the excitement about the new start, the excitement about change in the offense, change in the defense and changeup in special teams and moving forward, has really been fun for me to see because it’s really about the players. It’s not about anybody else. When you don’t have as good a year as you wanted - let people who won, let people who made the bowls - they’re the ones that need to be talking. Not the ones that didn’t do well. I also talked to the players about we’re not going to continue to talk about 2005 when we won the national championship. We’re not going to talk about 2008 when we were third or 2009 when we were second. So we’re sure not going to talk about 2010. We are moving forward and moving forward like it’s our first day.
That would be another "re-energized" and three(!) uses of "moving forward." Notice some patterns in his rhetoric here?
When Brown went to find an offensive coordinator, he did so with the stipulation that the new play-caller would have to share responsibilities and the title with Major Applewhite, an arrangement that helped scare off Wisconsin's Paul Chryst, who was considered for the job before Brown settled on Boise State's Bryan Harsin.
Fortunately for all parties concerned, the combination of Applewhite and Harsin has been like a match made in heaven:
Major and Bryan are working really, really well together as co-coordinators. They seem like the same guy working forward. You never know how that’s going to work when you hire and that was part of the process is that Major was going to be involved in our coordinator’s position the entire time. So I had to make sure that whoever I brought in to work with him - because we wanted some new offensive ideas - that it would be able to work and the chemistry between those two has just been amazing.
Aww, Harsinwhite, y'all are just so cute together. Sympatico.
Whether it's Brown's energy that has helped infuse the staff or whether Brown has in large part fed off the youth of his new assistants, his sideline demeanor demonstrates a level of engagement unusual for Brown, especially in comparison to last season. Besides his often-caricatured clapping, Brown isn't always a fiery coach on the sidelines, but is noticeably more demonstrative with his players following his new beginning.
Brown's fresh approach to the season has and to his coaching career in general has made a clear difference on the field, even in the blowout loss to Oklahoma last weekend. In 2010, the team would have given up some time late in the second quarter and provided little resistance in the second half on the way to the Sooners hanging 70 or more points on the scoreboard. Instead, the young team continued to battle and only gave up one defensive touchdown in the second 30 minutes.
And that was Brown's rejuvenated outlook paying dividends as he galvanizes his young players into resilient steel.