Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
Bill Snyder said it best: "I am who I am." A simple but poignant encapsulation of what college football coaches do, and how they do it. Which raises the question: who is Mack Brown?
Even though I'm an avid reader, I've never really been attracted to biographies. Too often, I find that biographies merely turn into hagiographies. As a reader, I find nothing more frustrating than a slanted perspective that willfully obfuscates or even completely whitewashes the truth. Lately, I've been burrowing myself into historical books over major events, or simply switching to fiction. To me, stories are typically about more than one person, and I don't want to miss the forest for an extended analysis of one gigantic and impressive tree. All that said, in the context of college football, the opposite approach might be preferable.
Due to being cooped up by Hurricane Sandy the past few days, I've plowed through a voluminous series of articles over college football. More specifically, I've read through hundreds of articles outlining the narratives of individual players, programs, conferences, and BCS possibilities. All in all, there is no shortage of interesting stories from this season.
However, above all else, I've been fascinated by the recent series of articles over Bill Snyder, his family, and his program. More than anything, I've been astounded by how similarly these articles cut to the core of his personality and his leadership style. Let me show you what I'm talking about.
From Dan Wetzel:
Everyone wants to know how Snyder does it. How he does what no one else has ever done. How he gets K-State to climb this high.
"You talk about the 16 goals," he said. "I believe our players embrace those values, and that's true to what they are. They are the same values that you teach your son or your daughter. It's not rocket science. It's just things I believe personally, and I think our players do, that allow people to become successful whether its life, business, community."
From Jeffrey Martin:
"The best I can say is what I said to our youngsters from the very outset: If you care about improvement, if you work hard and be committed to what we're doing, if you'll care about your football team, if you'll show discipline - all of the things you'll want your child, when that time comes, to possess, that you'll want to teach your children, then we'll have no issues whatsoever," Snyder said.
From Sam Mellinger:
"It's all the same," Kevin Lockett says. "People want to know how he's different, what he's doing now compared to what he did with us, and I'm telling you: It's exactly the same. I hear the same things from my son that I heard from Coach when I was there. It's unbelievable."
If there is one critical common denominator between the original Manhattan Miracle and version 2.0, it is attitude. Snyder never talks much about results, only about "getting a little better every day," because if you're sweeping up a landfill, you have to take it one pile at a time.
In particular, my favorite line from the Bill Snyder articles is also perhaps the simplest. From Gene Wojciechowski:
"I am who I am," said Snyder, as if that explains it all.
Actually... maybe it does.
That last response from Snyder really jumped out at me. In fact, it's the entire basis for this article. As simple as it is, it rings true for all of us, and strikes me as particularly potent and powerful in the context of college football -- and especially the head coaches who lead and define their teams. We tend to look at college football from such a wide lens, but at the end of the day a lot of what matters boils down to such a simple concept... when it comes to most college football coaches and their programs -- what they do well, what they don't do well, how they go about doing it -- they simply are who they are.
As easy as it is to see with Bill Snyder, it's no less easy with Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Bob Stoops, Steve Spurrier, Lane Kiffin, Mark Richt, Frank Beamer, Bo Pelini, and Gary Patterson. It also applied to recently retired, fired, or disgraced coaches such as Bobby Petrino, Jim Tressel, and Joe Paterno. Similarly, it looks like it will apply to newer coaches such as Will Muschamp, Chip Kelly, and Dana Holgorsen.
And, yes, the phrase applies, perhaps definitively, to Mack Brown.
To be clear, my goal for this article isn't to passionately declare whether or not Mack Brown should remain the head football coach of the University of Texas. This topic has been beaten to death in multiple threads on multiple sites, with no clear end in sight. Ultimately, when it comes to the future of Mack Brown, others have--and will--discuss the topic with much more clarity and insight than I could ever provide. As a writer, I know my own limitations, especially within the context of the other contributors to this site.
Instead, my goal for this article is much simpler. I simply want to refocus the discussion with respect to Mack Brown. Specifically, I want to revisit the lengthy "College Football: Constant Eyes of Texas" expose from Pat Forde from back in 2010. While I've read countless stories about Mack Brown, I don't think any article has ever distilled who he is--and what he represents--more than this famous Forde piece. In particular, while a lot of the commentary over the state of the program has shifted since the departures of Greg Davis, Will Muschamp, Mac McWhorter, and other members of the staff, I think it is highly instructive to look back at Mack's quotes from while they were still here.
As a point of reference, Forde's article extensively covers the program during the week of the 2010 Rice game, which Texas won 34-17. While I highly encourage everyone to immediately read (or re-read) the entire piece, I wanted to highlight a few particular quotes. For better or worse, I think certain segments from Forde's story really drill down into the overall mindset of Mack Brown. And, similar to the previously excerpted quotes from Bill Snyder, I think these excerpts help encapsulate the main themes surrounding the man, the coach, and his program.
See if you can notice a pattern in these quotes from Mack Brown:
"Boy, I'm scared. I'm worried about this team. I'm worried about it. "We've got some entitlement in this room. Got to get that fixed. Got some selfishness in this room. Got to get that fixed. This isn't Texas football. What concerns me, we've got guys in this room who have won too easy. ... You're ranked the fifth-best team in the country, and we just played OK. We have not earned that ranking."
"I own the restaurant. There are a lot of cooks, waiters and waitresses in this restaurant. They worry about their problems. I worry about all the problems."
This is Mack Brown's favorite day of a game week. The work on the game plan is largely done. The staff meetings by this stage are what Brown calls "worry meetings" -- there is no serious strategy left to be mapped out.
"Do we think you're going to play well? Yes," Brown said. "Why? Because we've seen you play well every day in practice. Do we know you're going to play well? No. That's why we're anxious.
"Really excited to have won the opener," he tells reporters. "There will be an upset today as we look around the country, and it scares you to death."
"Fellas, good first half," he says. "I didn't see the emotion I wanted to see, on the field or on the bench. You're not having enough fun. Let's have more fun. Let's put emotion into this thing."
"Let's work with each kid to make sure we're playing with energy, passion and toughness," he says to the entire room. "We didn't have any bench enthusiasm, and I'm so tired of that. Everything this week will be about energy, desire, purpose." Brown asks Wynn to get towels to the bench players to wave in an effort to generate more sideline juice.
Brown shifts into critique mode. "I didn't see as much fun as I thought I would," he says. "We've got a little arrogance about this bunch right now."
He congratulates several freshmen on getting their first playing experience, asking each of them, "Did you have fun?"
In the unit meetings, Brown sits in the back, mostly listening as his coordinators go through video to make sure the players are mentally attuned to formations and keys. "I need to have a presence," he says. "I'm there more to be seen than anything else. I walk in, listen, say something so they know I'm here, and that's it."
While the Horns begin their drills, Brown positions himself at midfield so he can observe the offense to his left and defense to his right. At his side are two booster friends from Dallas, Baker Montgomery and Bill Duvall -- Brown says Duvall hasn't missed a Thursday practice in the 13 years the coach has been at Texas. Brown chats occasionally with Montgomery and Duvall, but his eyes don't leave the field. If he sees something that needs correcting, he interjects. "Coaches need to understand I'm paying attention," Brown says. "And players need to know I'm watching."
In the offensive staff room, coordinator Greg Davis sits at the head of the table with clicker and laser pointer at the ready. Receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and running backs coach Major Applewhite sit to his right. Line coach Mac McWhorter and tight ends coach Bruce Chambers sit to his left. All of them chime in with their observations and opinions. Brown occupies a seat in the corner. "My job is to simply say 'Why don't we do this?'" Brown says. "I'm the bad guy. They roll their eyes when I leave.
How about this one?
All through August, Brown chided tacklers who took running backs to the ground. He chastised them for invading "the cylinder" of protective space around quarterbacks.
While I don't want to excerpt any more from the Forde piece -- seriously, make sure to (re-)read it -- there are other patterns or themes that emerge, several of which echo the issues and talking points surrounding the current football team. In fairness, Forde's piece also highlights the reasons why Mack Brown is held in such high regard. As a fan of Texas Football, there is so much in the article that outlines why we have been blessed to have Mack Brown as our football coach. But again, that's a conversation for another post. I want to look at Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns through the lens of Bill Snyder's statement: "I am who I am."
Although the coaching staff would experience a dramatic overhaul after 2010, this program is still inseparably tied to Mack Brown and his principles. It raises the question: just how much would Pat Forde's in depth feature on Mack Brown have differed if he followed the 2012 team during the week of the Wyoming game? How different would the quotes from Mack Brown be in 2012? Would they be different at all?
Or would he still represent, as a friend of mine recently wrote, "the guy who is scared to lose instead of confident to win. The guy who stands and observes practice and has nothing of substance to say in coaching meetings. The guy who wants make sure the guys have fun regardless of what's happening on the field, seemingly without realizing that the fun will take care of itself if you're dominating teams you're supposed to dominate and playing in relevant games throughout the year."
I don't have the access (or Longhorn Network), so I can't tell you the answer for sure, but take a minute to think about it. Because while most Texas fans reasonably concluded that with the near-total staff overhaul Texas had eradicated all vestiges of 2010, the quotes from above make you wonder if anything really changed.
But however things play out, I'll still watch and support this football team. I won't be able to help it.
I am who I am.