The posts seemed unrelated: one discussing the broken fan culture and the other detailing OT prospects for 2015 and beyond, but they got me to thinking. How did we get to this point? It wasn't so long ago that we penciled in 10 wins as soon as the schedule came out and a BCS birth was a expectation not a goal. How did the mighty Longhorns slip so far that we're struggling to get top recruits on campus?
I started thinking back. Where did we do wrong? Where did the train leave the tracks? I was looking for that one moment when everything went wrong, but what I soon realized is that there wasn't one, but three. Three major moments in recent history where we came to a fork in the road and took the prong. Now I'm obsessing about what might have been.
So, using the superpower known as Hindsight, I invite you to take a trip to our recent past as we discover how our beloved Horns went from the Top Ten to starting over.
Mistake 1: Staying In the Big XII
Why it seemed like the right thing: In the aftermath of the 2009 National Championship run there seemed no reason to jump. Texas and Oklahoma had combined to play for four of the previous six national titles, while the PAC 10 was USC and not much else. I scoffed when Nebraska bolted for the Big 10. Let them take their field goal per quarter offense to the Big 10. No loss. I laughed when Colorado, obviously fearing outside interference (wonder where they got that idea?) jumped early. Good luck battling Washington State to stay out of the cellar. The Big XII seemed solidly set behind the SEC. Who needed change?
Where it went wrong: Less than a year after the PAC 16 bit folded amid Texas, OU and Aggie reaffirming their commitment to the Big XII (and dividing Nebraska and Colorado's exit fees among themselves), A&M bolted for the SEC, eventually taking Mizzou with them. The conference could have survived the loss of Nebraska or A&M, but losing both hurt more than any true Orangeblood would dare admit.
How it might have worked out: It was there for the taking. With the SEC expanding but unable to add certain, high profile schools in the South thanks to a league rule, Texas and OU could have formed their own superconference, one that would have rivaled the SEC. I don't know if any serious discussions were ever held, but imagine the possibilities of having Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville on the schedule. Instead, the decision was made that having both Kansas schools AND Iowa State on the schedule every year was a much better option. Who needed conference championship games, national interest and prestigious opponents? What the football world REALLY wanted was round robin scheduling. Yeah.
Mistake 2: The Longhorn Network
Why it seemed right: Who could dispute it? We had prestige, success, transcendent players and a legend in the making coach. We already owned recruiting in Texas, and the LHN would only be one more weapon in the arsenal. Right? Well, $300 million is pretty hard to turn down too.
Where it all went wrong: Right or wrong, the LHN became the best weapon in the arsenal AGAINST UT. Nebraska, A&M and the national media all used the LHN to paint Texas as the bad guy in the ongoing realignment drama. Longhorns Inc. only cared about money, their greed drove a wedge in the conference, etc. It was the primary reason A&M gave when they finally gathered the courage to break ranks and go to the SEC.
Making things worse, LHN has directly hurt us. The inability of The World Wide Leader to successfully land LHN carriage deals became a black eye and a running joke. (LHN: The only network that thanks their viewers every night. By name.) Most Texas fans couldn't enjoy the buildup to a new season because we couldn't see the season opener. It hasn't even helped in recruiting. Turns out, since EVERYBODY plays on national TV now, having your own network isn't that big of a deal.
How it might have worked out: It wouldn't. It was a bad idea everywhere except at the bank, and almost everybody knew it.
Mistake 3: Not firing Mack Brown after 2010
Why it seemed right: How can you fire a guy one season after taking you to the brink of the National Championship, especially after a decade of 10 win seasons? Talk about your ultimate "What have you done for me lately" play. Add to that the fact that there were so many other tangible excuses for the 2010 debacle, namely: Greg Davis, Garrett Gilbert, special teams, loss of transcendent players, hang over. The guy had earned the right to fix what went wrong. I thought so. Great coaches don't grow on trees, you know.
Where it went wrong: Unfortunately, only a few observers could see the bigger problems under the surface. Mack had lost it. Fear of losing had overcome the desire to win. Mack's fears and insecurities undermined his own team. His recruiting prowess had eroded due to laziness and complacency. Sure, we improved by three wins in 2011 and another one in 2012, but all wasn't okay. The Pounding In Provo in week 2 sealed the deal but by then it was too late.
How it might have worked out: I don't know who we might have coaxed to the 40 Acres in the off*season of 2010, and there's little evidence to make me believe DeLo$$ Dodds would have made the right call, but a new culture was needed, and waiting merely delayed the inevitable.
What now: I believe Coach Strong is the right man for the job, at least for now. We need toughness and discipline, that's the only way to root out complacency. But is Charlie another Fred Akers, doomed to fail because he follows a legend? Is he another John Mackovic, a bridge between the bygone era and a better one ahead? Or have we found another Mack, circa 1997, still hungry and ready to make his own legend? Only time will tell, but I guarantee you this, it's going to be an interesting ride. And with all the powers of Hindsight, we can look back in a few years and see how it so clearly could have gone another way.