As players reported for fall practice yesterday, Mack Brown held his first press conference of the fall season. I don't have time to offer commentary on it - too much work to finish this week before the move - but I encourage you to read the transcript in its entirety. All I'll say is that the tone and the message are exactly what I wanted to hear.
Note: You can watch the press conference video at KEYE TV online.
Opening statement: This is a very exciting day for us; very seldom do you get to start a season as defending National Champs. We're the only team, out of 119, to do that today. Being rated second in the country, where we were last year at this time, shows the respect that the college football coaches have for this program. We've been rated now, in the Top Five for most of the past few years. So the accomplishment that we've made now is to get Texas football back to where it was a player in the national scene in the preseason, and more importantly, at the end of the year. So it's exciting.
Our goal for the first month will be to reestablish our chemistry and our leadership. Whoever said, "It takes a village," it's so true, it's about more than one person, and our team played better as a team than it ever had before. We have to reestablish that chemistry and leadership that we finished with and that's going to be a hard thing to do. It's something that we won't know how it's going to unfold in the spring or even in two-a-days, so that will be our number one goal.
Secondly, we have to reestablish our identity in all three phases of the game. Offensively, we have to look at how we're going to get the explosive plays that we did last year. We won't get as many as we did out of the quarterback position as we did last year, obviously. That's one of the great things that Vince could do - bring the ball down and turn a negative play into a positive one with his feet. So, we've got to figure out how to get explosives. We've got to develop a plan that is complicated enough to beat great defensive teams, but simple enough for our young quarterbacks to handle. And defensively, we've got to play better than we did last year. We think we can play better than we did last year. We can come up with more turnovers than we did last year. We can put more pressure on the quarterback than we did last year; we need to stop the run better. In the kicking game, we feel we need to score more points. Field position is always important, but because of our youth in some offensive spots, we will need to work harder to gain field position and score with our kicking game.
Thirdly, we were concerned about conditioning because the combination of conditioning and depth has really helped us over the past two years - in finishing the game strongly and winning those games in the third and fourth quarters when we were behind. We feel like the players are in great shape again, from listening to the summer work. We also feel that gaining depth, at least two-deep and possibly three-deep in some positions has been crucial for us and it continues to help team morale and it helps your recruiting.
Lastly, I do want to compliment the NCAA for allowing freshman to come to summer school. The freshman class had a 3.0 GPA this summer. They are so much more ready to report today than they would have been two or three years ago. We had a lot less homesickness last year than in previous years. It also gives the freshman a better opportunity to be safe during two-a-days because they've been able to work out with the other players over the summer. It also gives them a better chance to play. So, I applaud that decision because it's helped college football to cut out some two-a-days, making it safer, making it better for the student athlete. But it has also helped the freshmen, even though it takes them away from home a little sooner, it helps them deal with a very difficult day like today. And all of our players did report by 2:00 (p.m.), so they're all ready to go.
On other positions that he is going to have any questions about other than quarterback: When you loose a productive player like David Thomas, we're going to have to look hard at the tight-end position. When you loose guys like Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin, we need to find at least one, two or three players now - because you like to play six guys, at least, in the secondary. We also had tremendous depth in the offensive line, so when you're losing guys like Mike Garcia, who played a lot, and Will Allen and Jonathan Scott. So, we had seven guys playing on a rotating basis on the offensive line. I think those are the three spots that we're concerned about right now.
On beginning to look for team leadership: Selvin (Young) seems to have taken a strong leadership position. He watched Vince, his roommate, last year and he was the guy this summer that the guys said was taking a vocal role and was in great shape, making all the workouts. Hopefully he'll do that, but we found a couple of years ago that we can determine who's going to do that; the players would determine that. It doesn't have to be a senior, Vince was a junior, and even half way through his sophomore year, he started growing into that leadership role. Some of it will need to come from Colt (McCoy) and Jevan (Snead). Those guys only lost two games a piece in high school. I think and we were very fortunate to be blessed with both of their presence this spring. We hope that will continue.
On what he hopes the quarterbacks have improved on this summer: I would think presence in the huddle and with the team and the confidence in their leadership role. They were better than we had anticipated this spring, but that is where they will need to continue to grow. It is hard to see that progress until you get into a ballgame. You see it some in practice, but we've found that you really will find out who your quarterbacks are and who your team really is when they get into trouble in a game and have to come from behind to win.
On planning to play both quarterbacks: What we are planning to do is whatever we have to in order to win. Greg (Davis) and I learned a lot through the time with Chris (Simms) and Major (Applewhite), and one of the things we did learn is that it became about them instead of the team. That was really unhealthy, and that is why I will talk to the team tonight about how it isn't just about one player, at all. I thought Troy Aikman's comments were great today when he said, "I threw it when they told me to, I ran it when they told me to, I was the total team player and didn't ask to be here (at the Hall of Fame), but because I was to total team player, I ended up being here with the biggest individual award." Chance (Mock) and Vince (Young) did not get bigger than the team. We want to make sure that the quarterback position is productive. Those guys don't have to go in trying to win every game; they've got enough experienced players around them to help them win. But we don't want it to be about them. We want it to be about the team, and that will be our main focus.
On if talk of repeating is a distraction: Pete Carroll said a really smart thing at our game that caught my attention. It was that they quit focusing on their 34 game win streak, they quit focusing on three-peat, and did whatever they needed to do to get better as a team. That made so much sense. It took some pressure off the team, so instead of talking about repeating and defending - which we would like to do, that's obvious - we know we can and the fans know we can - instead of putting that kind of pressure on us, the reason we won last year is that we were a really good team, because we improved and we got better. So, starting tonight, we will stop talking about repeating and start talking about the things we can do to get in the best condition we can and having our coaches and players working on the best plan that we can to help us win. We don't want to focus on the pressure that is out there, but really going back and having fun a trying to develop into the best team we can.
On if he thinks after winning the National Championship that Texas should be ranked No. 1: I think last year that USC should have been, but they had everyone back. If Vince had returned, we would have been number one, in my estimation. Since he was such a dynamic player I can see why the coaches put us second. Ohio State's offense is back, intact, and when you have (QB) Troy Smith and you've got the supporting cast that they have, I can fully understand why we were two and they were number one.
On if there was 100 percent participation during the summer workouts: I don't know because I can't ask. I can talk to the players about it but I cannot ask coaches Jeff Madden or Kenny Boyd because I'm not supposed to. They're not supposed to take role and the players will work at three different times during the day, so I'm not sure if anyone but Jeff or Kenny would know, but we will find out pretty quickly. When you see who's in shape and who's not. In this heat, the concern we have is how dangerous it might be if the player didn't work out all summer and then tries to get out there and work, so that will be our concern. Kenny will know when and if to pull someone because they are getting too hot because they have not been working out very much in the summer.
On using "The Bubble" for practices: We don't know yet, and looking at the weather, it looks like we are going to have some 100-plus (degree) days coming up. That is where I think were so smart to have one-a-days instead of the two practices a day immediately. We'll be starting, here, at 6:45 a.m., so I think we'll be okay. But, the bubble was really a valuable tool for us last year as we started wearing into two a days. I really feel like we - I - have worn some teams out here more than we should have by pushing them, thinking we were getting them into shape.
On if the toughness and winning mentality that Vince Young brought rubbed off on other players or if it have to be innate?: Troy (Aikman) said yesterday that (former Dallas Cowboys head coach) Jimmy Johnson came in expecting to win and then going for it and I think that does rub off. That's the way that Vince was, that Ricky Williams was. The great ones know they are going to be successful. Coach Royal always said, "If you've got 'it,' you'll make it, if you don't have 'it,' you won't, and if you don't know what 'it' is, then you don't have a chance." So, I guess there is some of 'it' there before you start in the first place. We're trying to figure out who has 'it' and who doesn't and I think - and I don't want to overplay this point - but the fact that a player can have 'it' and still be able to fit into a team's chemistry is a very hard thing to do.
Integrating those freshmen that are so highly recruited into the team tonight is a difficult thing to do. A lot of them will walk in here and start and we have a lot of really good players that have spent three and four and five years here preparing. It's not like it was five and six years ago. Players just can walk in here and take over, so we'll have to figure out how to manage team morale and get more players on the field and work with our depth more than we did five and six years ago. It's a good problem, but it is a different situation that we've had.
On the pressure of being ranked No. 2 after the departure of so many starting players: I think we're in the perfect position. We've got sixteen or so starters back and we've got a lot of depth. I'm not sure of the numbers, but the guys told me that they did have great participation this summer when I saw them at the Big 12 meetings. I do feel there will be less complacency than there would have been with Vince. There might have been that tendency to say, "It's going to be easy again," and that's not the attitude of the team or the coaches. I haven't felt that the players have any pressure on them at all just because of the ranking. I think it's exciting and it's fun. We've tried to use the National Championship as a motivator to move forward instead of ducking it or hiding from it. Michael Griffin said we're going to put all the rings up and go back to work. That goes without saying. I don't wear my ring. That's one that will go up on a self now, but that's one of the things about college football - you start over. We start over this year ahead of where we were last year in some ways because of our respect, but we're in the same position we've been in the last eight years because there are some unknowns and there will be some players that have to step up for us to be who we need to be. I do think we are lucky to have a national game against the number one team in the country early because it will force us to work harder and focus and be better than we would be if we had an easy out-of-conference schedule.
On whether the team is better prepared now because of winning the national title last year: First, the fact that every one of our coaches came back this year helps out a lot. Our coaches gave me practice schedules through two-a-days in early July. If we had changed four or five coaches, we would have been planning tonight on how to start practice. They already have a game plan for every game. It's obviously something that will change some depending on who's healthy and who's not and where we go, but we are so far ahead of where we have been - changing defensive coaches for the past two years. That's helps us. This will be the first time I think our defensive players have had staff continuity in three years. We thought there were some good changes and guys that brought a lot of energy, but that is a hard thing to change. I do believe that when a guy comes in, he has to bring his numbers, because if he is going to call them, he's got to call them.
Secondly, Edith Royal said that when the season starts, you just jump on a roller coaster and grab and hang on. You have to be really careful in this business and at this school, I believe after being here for eight years, that you don't get too high and you don't get too low because it does change. We're going to have to win at least four really close games where we're going to be in trouble, to have a chance to win all of them - maybe even more than that, but at least that. Just about every year you're going to have to win four, and the way that we respond when we're behind is more important than probably anything else that we do. Last year, we were only in four close games, the rest of them were blowouts and what you did is manage personnel and try to not run up the score or get anybody hurt. But those other four, we were in trouble with. Ohio State we were in trouble with, Oklahoma State we were in trouble, A&M we were in trouble, and obviously the last one, we were in trouble. There may be another one, but those we were in trouble for sure, but we responded well. So why we've kept our confidence and good body language and good chemistry better than we did the first six years, I don't know. That's something you try to capture and you want to keep it - you're looking hard at how and why and when. I think it is an intangible that you've got to try to keep, but it isn't something that you say, "We'll do these five things and be able to keep it." I also feel like it is important for us to have fun. You do need to, and it may sound facetious, but if you can't enjoy the moment and each other and enjoy the kids and the games, and you put so much pressure on yourself, that I think that the team and the rest of the coaches feel that pressure. I've really tried to take that off of myself the last two years and I think that has helped us perform better.
On if he thought they were in trouble against USC: I thought we were, but nobody else did. It was funny, in watching the replay of the game where the reporter on the sideline said that the air had been taken out of the Texas team and they were discouraged and depressed. On the sideline we never felt that way. I was worried about the two kids, when Michael (Griffin) and Tarell (Brown) got hurt and were not moving, it scared you to death. Until you see somebody move - some legs moving - then you know it's going to be okay. If something's broken, they can fix it, if something is torn, they can fix it. The devastating injuries are the ones where the game becomes unimportant after that point. But we scored in something like six plays and got back in it. So then it got to be about whether we could stop them or not.
You go back to Oklahoma State, here, two years ago, and then Kansas. You ask why at Oklahoma State we were down 35-7 and didn't feel like we were in bad trouble, I don't know. It was like that night, something changed at halftime. The fact that Vince hit Bo Scaife on a last second dive for the end zone, and I think - I'd have to go back and look - but I think our fans gave us a standing ovation - that was unreal. And then to get into bad trouble at Kansas and win - I don't know if it was Texas Tech that turned it or not with the confidence. Or even after Missouri where we played so poorly and still won. It's been a long time since these kids have lost and they're not going to give it up easy.