Mack Brown's Involvement With Defense Bad Sign For Manny Diaz

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

Known as a CEO first and an offensive coach somewhere in distant second, the Longhorns head coach has become more involved with the defense over the last several weeks.

Freewheeling Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz may be having the shackles put on him right now by head coach Mack Brown if talks during the media availabilities this week were any indication.

Brown didn't sound happy Monday when asked about the freshman linebackers playing on the 64-yard run by Kansas last week:

I don't like inexperienced players inside the 20 on either end. And that is something that we have talked about a lot. That was a key point in the ballgame. We not only lost points but we gave up the possibility of points offensively. Those [linebackers] were getting out that [next] play and it was a play late when I saw it. That won't happen again.

While Brown has a legitimate point, there were other bigger problems with that play, like the fact that Diaz twisted the defensive end and tackle on the left side of the Texas line while appearing to stunt the linebackers. The result was that the Longhorns lost the gap that James Sims ran through on his way to 64 yards, as defensive end Alex Okafor wasn't able to get inside quickly enough to make a play.

To add to the issues, linebacker Demarco Cobbs showed off his patented two-hand touch, sorta-try-to-strip-the-ball tackling technique. It didn't work. Then Adrian Phillips took a bad angle and was left in the dust. Also classic.

If Brown wants to worry about the personnel out there, that's certainly his prerogative and the question was directly about the personnel, so it's understandable that's what was brought up with the play.

But on the list of things that went wrong, the simple presence of Jinkens and Santos on the field wasn't at the top of the list, as neither one took themselves out of position or missed a tackle, which was the case with the twisting linemen, Cobbs, and the shockingly bad Adrian Phillips. That would really place Jinkens and Santos last out of four problems.

Diaz actually seemed to understand that, but admitted his mistake anyway, having little choice after being called out like that by his head coach:

The long run we had, I was trying to rotate my guys. I shouldn't have had those guys in there, when the other team is on that part of the field, because when the other team is backed up like that, it's a chance to get points.

They had played well the week before, and I'm trying to push the other ones I have. But they were part of the issue that allowed the run to get going. They weren't the main issue in the run becoming explosive. But, yes, we missed an opportunity there, because that play really changed the momentum in the game.

Still, no admission from Diaz that the real problem was the end-tackle twist.

The biggest point of disconnect is both Brown and Diaz talking about the linebackers improving in the last two weeks while Diaz continued to run those twists and stunts in the first half against Kansas. Even worse was the decision to run a Psycho formation with standing linemen on the first Jayhawk touchdown run on what was an obvious rushing down, especially for the run-heavy Jayhawks.

In the second half, Texas clearly toned it down, choosing instead to play a base defense. Brown pointedly, perhaps, called it the best defensive performance of the season. Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro called it a high school defense because of the simplicity of it.

So, what exactly happened in the second half?

Kenny Vaccaro talked about setting the edges better and it's hard to set the edges well when the defensive tackle is looping out and trying to get leverage to the outside, so stopping the twisting allowed the Longhorns to better control their assigned gaps by staying in them instead of trying to twist into them.

There are some unsubstantiated rumors out there that Brown stripped Diaz of his playcalling duties in the second half. The report seems a little far-fetched given the extent to which that would undermine the already diminishing credibility of Diaz with the coaching staff and the players.

It is however possible that Brown and Diaz had a discussion at halftime and Diaz was told in no uncertain terms that he needed to stop playing his favored games along the line and simply line up and stop Kansas. Because it's Kansas.

It worked, and the question is as much why it took so long as how it happened in the first place. The twists have been a problem for weeks, even as Edmond and Thompson have done a better the last two weeks of not letting themselves be blocked.

With Mack leaning over the shoulder of Diaz in the defensive meeting room and perhaps even having input on playcalling, the guess is that Diaz will have to continue reining back on his preferred tactics in order to play some gap-sound defense.

Both defensive ends coach Oscar Giles and especially defensive tackles coach Bo Davis, the latter having worked under Nick Saban, have good reputations as teachers and Davis has the perspective to know that Saban wouldn't be making the same decisions, so it's easy to see Diaz feeling pretty alone among the defensive coaches right now.

As he probably should.

Ultimately, what will matter more than how and why the changes in the second half came about is whether or not that spark of improvement can grow into a full-fledged conflagration of...consistency.

An odd way to describe consistency, no doubt, but the standards are pretty low right now -- just play fundamentally sound in the front seven so more players are in position to miss tackles until someone actually gets it right, because that's really what it is. Stop 'em by sheer number of opportunities.

Diaz was asked if he is being undermined by Brown's involvement:

That is not happening. This is more Mack understanding our issues and the easiest ways to come across and fix them. If there were quote-unquote issues, you would see those things on the field.

Diaz must mean open confrontations on the field, which is hardly Mack's style unless he gets in a no-cut-blocks-on-quick-passes rampage like he did against Mac McWhorter in 2010, because there are issues on the field. Serious issues.

And beyond tackling, which appears to be a personnel problem since physical practices haven't solved the problem, the issues are the strategies ineffectively being used by Diaz.

From his follow-up statement, it seems that Diaz was talking about divisions among the players and a lack of effort:

The one thing for a team that doesn't do everything right, you see a team that's united and fights for 60 minutes on the field. We have things we have to get better at, but the one thing we have no issue on is the togetherness of this team, the resiliency of this team, all the things that do make you proud as a coach.

Wanna talk about issues with a team that has plenty of them? High specificity of the issues at hand may be helpful to ensure the proper context is provided.

But what is the tone of Brown's involvement?

The word is 'supportive,' in terms of understanding we are all for the kids and all for Texas and we are all for just getting the job done. Mack is a guy that coaches without a lot of ego. I'm a guy that coaches without a lot of ego. I don't think anybody really cares anything other than just finding a way to get it done.

Getting it done against Kansas mostly required not doing the things that didn't work, a solution so simple the delay in choosing to employ it makes little sense. If it was so easy, why didn't the coaches try it weeks ago?

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