With Mack Brown consistently insisting that he will not even think about replacing Gene Chizik until after Texas' Alamo Bowl tussle with Iowa, fans and internet sites like this one have poured countless hours into speculating who the next defensive coordinator at Texas will be. Thus far, most of the speculation has been centered around sexy names: John Tenuta. Randy Shannon. Joe Kines. Brian Van Gordor. Merlin.
Is Merlin available to fix the secondary?
But according to recent reports, Texas' search may just begin and end right in house with current co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Duane Akina. All indications are that Mack is treating the defense's preparation for and performance against Iowa as a kind of "interview" for Akina. To the extent that the players respond well leading up to and performing in the game, Akina may just be your leading candidate.
How might we handicap Akina's chances at landing the gig? Oddly enough, how the team fares against Iowa may actually be what decides this. And here's why:
Assume, first, that Texas' defense tanks against Iowa. If the team finishes the season on a three game slide, including a bowl loss to 6-6 Iowa, the fan base will be even more restless than they are now. Hiring from within would be an unpopular move, by default, and submit Mack Brown and the staff to a host of public relations problems I can guarantee you they'd just as soon avoid. If Texas has a bad defensive game against Iowa - I'll go ahead and guarantee it right now: Akina won't get the gig.
But let's think about the flipside for a moment, too. What if Texas' defense plays inspired defense, shutting down Iowa in the bowl game? The picture now becomes much more complex. For one thing, Duane Akina is - by all accounts - wildly popular with the players. Passing him over, especially after a strong performance in the Alamo Bowl, might not sit well with the players. For another, in the current coaching carousel climate, landing a big time defensive coordinator from another program might not be as easy as it sounds. With all the potential downsides from an expensive move that's not guaranteed to work and could wind up alienating the players, there's a lot of logic in Brown handing Akina the keys full time.
Akina, after all, does have a pretty sound record as a coach. He's had ups and downs - as all coaches have - but the players love him and he's put together some very fine secondaries at Texas in his tenure here. He was also a part of the Desert Swarm defense at Arizona, so the man isn't exactly unqualified for the position. Throw in the fact that he's proven his worth as a recruiter, and Texas could do a lot worse.
That would just leave one question: what to do with the linebackers? Akina's a secondary coach, and Chizik was our linebacker coach. Who fills Chizik's void? Bringing in an interesting linebacker coach to replace Chizik and work under Akina might just prove to be easier than bringing in a new defensive coordinator and passing over Akina.
So what should we expect? The way things have gone lately, I fully expect the defense to play tantalizing enough in the Alamo Bowl to keep this debate raging. Good, but not great. And we'll be right back where we started.