When John Bianco (Texas Football's Assistant AD for Media Relations) contacted me to ask if I would be interested in a sit down interview with Texas' four best known coaches, I of course accepted immediately. In fact his timing couldn't have been better, as I'd been planning to do a mock piece of just such a get-together anyway. Maybe Bianco sensed that mock piece was coming and preemptively struck--I have no idea--but what follows is not that imagined conversation. Got it?
Peter Bean, Burnt Orange Nation.com: First of all, let me just thank y'all for coming together to sit down with a blogger like myself. I've long thought you guys should be reaching out to us anyway, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect an interview like this to actually come to fruition.
Will Muschamp: [menacingly] You couldn't possibly do worse than the beat writers.
Mack Brown: [patting Will calmingly on the back] Well Peter, you know, Will's new here and he hasn't seen all the hard work Kirk and Suzanne and all those other fine writers have done over the years as a part of the Texas football community, and, you know, we as a staff sometimes make light of the so-called mainstream media members, but Peter [leans in a little], we're honestly just grateful that Saturday night in Lubbock is gonna be such a high-profile showcase for these kids. [eyes twinkling] This is about them, and their parents, and about the great coaches in high schools throughout this state, who will be watching their sons and former players entertain the nation. Saturday night is a great night for everyone involved with football in the state of Texas. Everyone's worked so hard for this and we just couldn't be more proud.
PB: [to Muschamp] Does he have a string attached to his back that you can just pull to get these answers?
Mack: [waving off his DC] How old are you, PB?
PB: Almost 29, sir.
Mack: Tell you what. Maybe after you've been around a little longer you'll realize that 95% of folks won't read or listen past what I just said to open this interview. You get me?
Mack: [with a wink] And then you'll understand why I'm in this chair and you're in yours.
PB: [humbled] Right. Okay... [chuckles] I'm with you.
Mack: Now you wanna talk about how to beat Tech?
PB: I do.
Mack: Alright then. [leans back in chair, comfortably] Whenever you're ready.
PB: [a little flustered] Okay. Um, so... [shuffling through pages of prepared questions] Okay, you know what? [tosses notebook to the floor] Screw it. Let's really do this. First question to you, Will: Maybe the thing I like most about what I've seen from you so far is that the myriad tactical decisions you make in a given game seem to be supporting elements of a coherent, preconceived Strategy--capital S. So what is that Strategy against Texas Tech on Saturday night?
Muschamp: [immediately and very noticeably intense] You're Mike Leach. Your entire career has built towards this game, this moment. You've won the pre-game coin toss and your first big decision is upon you. What do you do? [three, four seconds of silence] PUT THAT PEN DOWN, PETER BEAN. WHAT DO YOU DO?!?
PB: [shocked nearly to death] You... You... [wholly out of sorts] I don't know. You...
Muschamp: [raging mad] BIANCO! [still staring furiously at PB] BIANCO! GET IN HERE!
John Bianco: [timidly] What do you need, sir?
Muschamp: [between a bark and a spit] Is there a headset lying around here?!
Bianco: Sure. Yes. Right over here. [retrieves and hands spare headset to Muschamp before scurrying out of the office as quickly as possible]
Muschamp: [slowly dons headset while his eyes grow frighteningly wide] Let's try this again, shall we?
PB: [horrified by the realization that, "Oh my God... he's going to treat me like one of his players."] Sir yes sir.
Muschamp: [scowling] Now quit being a motherf***ng writer and be a goddamn winner. You are Mike Motherf***ng Leach and it's the biggest game of your motherf***ng career. You've won the toss. What. Do. You. Do?
PB: [still terrified] Well... I guess I'd have to decide whether, on the one hand, I thought that--
PB: [hopefully] I like to think True, yes.
Muschamp: No! There's no "I think"--just TRUE. You got here. You earned it. This is yours! It's yours, PB. And after you leave this room--gone as quickly as you arrived--you don't want to carry with you even one iota of regret. You want to walk out of this office knowing you were ready for anything, took on what was in front of you, and made the damn most of it. [perceptibly softening] Now are you with me?
PB: [nodding assertively, almost ashamed he had to be led to the trough to drink] Yeah. You're right. You're absolutely freaking right.
Muschamp: [returns to original chair, putting headset back on] Okay then. What are you doing with this coin toss, Coach Leach?
PB: [now reacting--thinking on his feet--instead of plotting deliberately] Give me the football. We're gonna score on Texas right now.
Muschamp: [simultaneously stomps and slaps hands together] Damn straight you are! And now... Now, my boy, you're in my zone. So don't stop: You've won the toss and want the football. Why? Why, Coach Leach? Get in his head. Tell me what he wants.
PB: He badly wants to win the first quarter. He wants to get to halftime with a lead. He knows that his team's best chance to TKO Texas requires his quarterback to be comfortable. The quicker he can de-amplify Harrell and get him into a "football game" instead of "the biggest game ever," the better he'll be.
Muschamp: Yes. Yes. Yes. Leach will want to establish a rhythm. Remove his players from the insanosphere and get them into a game that feels like one of their first eight.
PB: Which means that you, Muschamp, have every incentive to be actively and aggressively disruptive.
Muschamp: [thriving on his pupil's awakening] More. More. Finish the thought.
PB: Which means... the longer that Graham Harrell is acutely aware he's playing in the Biggest Game Of His Life, the Biggest Game Of His Coach's Life, the Biggest Game in Texas Tech Program History... the better.
Muschamp: [removes headset, smiling with satisfaction] And there it is... The name of the big picture game on Saturday night.
PB: [takes deep breath] Jesus. Did that just happen?
Muschamp: [raises eyebrows]
PB: Okay, right. I'm still in your world. Still... wow. Alright, so if that's the capital-S Strategy motivating your game plan, what tactics do you deploy to achieve it?
Muschamp: You tell me: If (1) my point of emphasis is on keeping Harrell out of the comfort zone as long as humanly possible, and (2) I prudently accept that we don't have a defense capable of shutting down everything, then (3) where and how do I spread my risk?
PB: I would say given our personnel and strengths--
Muschamp: ["don't make me get angry again" stare]
PB: [quickly shifting gears] Um... where Mike Leach is least likely to exploit it?
Muschamp: Bingo. Now connect all the dots: Where is that?
PB: Running the football.
Muschamp: Running the football. My first move is to throw nickels and dimes at Graham Harrell like he's begging for change at a bus stop, while trying my damndest to facilitate an impolite face-to-face introduction between him and Sergio Kindle.
PB: So you put all your chips behind disrupting Harrell and gamble on, what? Leach not running the ball at all?
Muschamp: Not running the ball enough. But not just that. It's also a calculated gamble that my guys can be focused on the tactics of disrupting the Air Raid and play the rush well enough to prevent Tech from (A) breaking a big scoring run or (B) running well enough, consistently enough, that Leach forces my hand.
PB: The payoff, then, being... that you could focus on what you want to do?
Muschamp: [lustfully] Yes: Freedom, my friend. Freedom to f**k with Graham Harrell's comfort zone.
PB: And what if your defense does let Tech run well enough that Leach sticks with it?
Muschamp: I believe in my eleven guys. But if they do, then I adjust.
PB: Fine, but... [unsure whether to ask] Well, what if we're just wrong about Mike Leach and what he's going to do to open the game? I mean, he's a damn smart coach... And he has been running the ball more this season. What if you're wrong that he'll over-invest in his passing offense?
Muschamp: Then he wins round one.
PB: And Tech's offense becomes that much harder to slow down.
Muschamp: Very possibly, yes. But try to remember something, PB: there's often a victory in making a coach and team do what they're least comfortable doing.
PB: Right... You can always counter-adjust if he proves committed to the rush and your initial scheming isn't slowing it down.
Muschamp: Exactly. Maybe, just maybe, Mike Leach doesn't reach for his favorite shiny toy as I expect. But listen close, blog buddy--I've got one more bit of wisdom for you to remember... In football, Icarus is king.
PB: [thinks for several moments] I will touch the sun...
Muschamp: [nodding] Or die trying.
In Part 2, PB turns to Greg Davis and Major Applewhite. For a less... esoteric... take on defending Tech, enjoy Scipio's thoughts here.