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Greg Davis: Not the Goat?

But I'm older now, more mature. As I watched and listened to Mack Brown more and more, shades of gray started to appear in my hitherto unabashed and venomous dislike for Greg Davis. Little cracks in the foundation, bespeaking a fundamental architectural flaw. An actual internal dialogue about the issue. I don't remember how it started even.

Maybe it was the almost thoughtless and single-minded hatred of many Texas fans. A room full of Texas fans after a loss sounds like a room full of parrots squawking cacophonously their only known phrase: Fire Greg Davis. Except the language is as colorful as Ozzie Guillen after a couple drinks. Yeah, imagine that. In better moments, they pen thoughtful missives considering carefully the merits and demerits of the fine coordinator. But all that is almost conventional wisdom among the Texas fan base. Check the poll on the fanpost. Eighty percent of the voters wanted to Fire Greg Davis. An online petition to Fire Greg Davis has 912 signatures. PB officially turned in his "cut him some slack" card after the loss to Ohio State at home in 2006. Despite all the vitriol and my own disappointments with the offense, Chip Brown's recent article continued my internal dialogue:

Progressive me: Hey, maybe it isn't Greg Davis' fault. Maybe Mack Brown is to blame as well.

Conservative me: Shut up, moron! Fire Greg Davis! Fire Greg Davis! Fire Greg Davis!


(this continues interminably)

PM (aside): Sheesh, I knew I shouldn't have gotten him started...(out loud) Pipe down you crazy fool, let's just discuss this calmly.

CM: You're the crazy fool if you don't want to fire Greg Davis. It's all his fault! Awful bubble screens. Aaaaahhhhh, awful, awful, I can barely say those words! I'm melting, I'm melting!

PM: Okay, okay, just listen to me here for a second. Mack Brown is a conservative coach. Loves execution. Remember Greg Davis at Georgia? Little more wide-open offense.

CM (dancing around spastically with hands over ears): Blah, blah, blah. I can't hear you. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

PM: Why can't you just listen to what I have to say?

CM: Cuz you're a moron. Why would I listen to a moron?

PM (deep sigh): I give up.

By now, dear reader, I'm sure you're asking yourself some questions. Why do you speak this blasphemy of Greg Davis competence? What could Chip Brown possibly have said that would make you believe that? Well, without further ado, you shall have your answers, rendered in a less snarky or generally derogatory Fire Joe Morgan format (Chip Brown's words are in bold):

For going on 11 years at Texas, offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been viewed in the same light as allergies, stalled 401Ks and flat tires. He's the evil force Mack Brown has been blindly loyal to while Davis bungled the Chris Simms-Major Applewhite Era, ordered too many east-west passes for a deep threat like Roy Williams and continues to press on with the shotgun-option when he has a throwing quarterback like Colt McCoy.

Ha! Pretty much summarizes conventional wisdom about Greg Davis. But I'm with you on this one, Chippy. So is Conversative Me. I'll move on here in a second after I calm him down. It takes him some time to settle down after he starts ranting about GD...Okay, let's roll.

Before you spit out your coffee just thinking about it all, consider that Davis doesn't make a move on offense without consulting, channeling or taking orders from Mack Brown. That's why the offense this season will be fascinating to watch.

Er, too late for Conservative Me on that first point. Coffee all over the place now. And yup, I'm interested in this football season, particularly in the offensive identity and how it develops. Or doesn't. Give me more.

The joke has always been Texas won't try anything new until after losing to Oklahoma. Brown says he's serious about incorporating trick plays "consistently" this year. The reason people believe him is UT's rout of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. It included a touchdown pass to a defensive tackle playing fullback, a reverse pass from a receiver and deploying both McCoy and John Chiles at quarterback.

Okay, so now I'm agitated thinking about crapping the bed offensively against OU most years. But yes, the Holiday Bowl is a point from which to build. I wouldn't call the first or third examples "trick" plays necessarily, that's just being creative and utilizing your talent. The Patriots have used defensive players near the goal line for years and I feel like those plays always energize the whole defense.

Brown's reasons for saying 2008 will include trick plays have been all over the place. At one point he said it was about entertaining hard-to-entertain Texas fans. But the bottom line is: this is Davis' time to shine from an imagination standpoint. With offense ahead of defense in college football right now, Brown seems to want to make sure Texas keeps up.

Mack Brown's reasons are rather strange. Chip Brown addresses them later, so I will as well. I think Mean Mack wants to keep up because he has an edge to him, but I think Nice Mack will tell you about how many years in a row Texas has won 10 games.

Brown purposely doesn't have Davis do much recruiting in the off-season, so Davis can study other offenses and see what Texas needs to add. This year, Davis looked at Oregon's offense from last season with quarterback Dennis Dixon to gather fodder for how to use McCoy and Chiles on the field at the same time in what is being called the "Q Package." Davis studied USC's two-back and motion sets as well as picked the brain of Houston Texans' coach Gary Kubiak - a longtime friend of Davis from their days together at Texas A&M. (Davis was Kubiak's QB coach with the Aggies from 1979-82.)

I think it's a great idea that Davis can focus on adding wrinkles to the offense during the summer. I might have looked at West Virginia again because I like their triple option spread look (the zone read we stole from them worked well, obviously), but Oregon is probably a similar situation because they run the spread option shotgun like Texas does. I have a pending contribution from Addicted to Quack about what Davis might have seen from Oregon. Art from Trojanfootballanalysis gave me some good stuff about USC. I imagine Davis talked with Kubiak about zone blocking schemes, since that is his specialty. Beyond that, I'm not sure what insight Kubiak would have.

"There are givers and takers in this business, and Greg Davis is a giver," Kubiak said Wednesday. "He gives everything he has to players and to the assistant and head coaches he works with. He's not looking for a lot of credit. He loves his job. It's a passion. He loves what he's doing, loves to sit around and talk football. His resume speaks for itself. He's a great teacher, and the production he's had at Texas has just been tremendous."

Ahem. I'm just going to move right on past the "giver and taker" comment. Other than that, this is a throwaway comment. He likes talking about football? Awesome. A high percentage of red-blooded males in America love talking about football, so I don't think that's a qualification for Texas offensive coordinator. Hell, I'll sit and talk football with you all day. Especially if some beers are involved. Doesn't mean I should be the Texas offensive coordinator. Kubiak is right about the last part, though. Davis-led Texas teams have produced offensively.

Davis' research in the off-season is aimed at generating more explosive plays (runs of at least 12 yards and passes of at least 16 yards).

"We're constantly talking about explosive plays," Davis said. "We have worked really hard in the off-season and in camp. We're trying to make (trick plays) a normal part of what we do, so the kids look at them as just another play we've called 1,000 times.

"Against bend-but-don't break defenses it's harder to come by explosive plays, and that's when we have to get creative in manufacturing some of those explosive plays."

FAU spent a lot of time trying to bend but not break and they weren't very successful in stopping the offense, but they did limit explosive plays. If the Texas offense can exploit the seam and underneath routes against that type of defense, it will be successful against most teams. The question is whether they can be successful without explosive plays against good teams. We shall see. As an aside, billyzane is starting a great, aptly named project for the season: The Explosive Play Project. Looking forward to that.

Many Texas fans would probably rather roll pennies than think about the words "Davis," "imagination" or "creative" in the same sentence. They remember 2006, when all Texas needed was a victory over Texas A&M - at home - to clinch the Big 12 South, and the offense could roll up only seven points in a 12-7 loss.

The pain! The pain! Nearly two years old, the open wound of that loss will fester into all eternity. Of course, it didn't help that our quarterback had no idea where he was. Before the game or after. I think the coaching staff just pointed him in the right direction and reminded him that the Longhorns were wearing orange.

But before indicting Davis for every offensive complaint the last 10 years, one must consider Brown's history as well. Brown grew up in football as an offensive coordinator under coaches obsessed with running the football. Donnie Duncan at Iowa State. Barry Switzer at Oklahoma. Brown has never wanted Davis to stray too far from a power running game and a simple one at that.

If Urban Meyer is the Mark Cuban of college football coaches, constantly risking his fortune by inventing new plays out of the spread seemingly every week, Brown has been Smith Barney. Conservative. All about execution.

I'm not going to lambast Mack Brown for caring so much about execution. The problem is that when the defense knows what you are running and have as much talent as you, executing isn't enough. This is a case where Mack Brown could be seriously outdated. The game has changed. No one runs the Wishbone any more, although it would be interesting to see it dusted off. Emory Bellard, the progenitor of the Wishbone, believes it would still work. It's not conservative to put your best players on the field and take advantage of their versatility. Brown, at times, has failed to do both.

His philosophy has been "be simple, look complicated." But even his own former players say the offense has tended to be just plain simple. And that's been good enough because in Brown's 10 years at Texas, the Longhorns have averaged six games per year against teams that finish with a losing record. When half the teams you play are cupcakes, better talent and execution should win big. But against Oklahoma, Texas has averaged just 18.5 points per game the last eight years - a span that has seen OU win five Big 12 titles. That's half of Texas' 37-points-per-game scoring average under Davis the last 10 years.

Hmm. I didn't even realize that the Texas offense ever looked that complicated. When your former players call your offense vanilla, they would probably know. The point about Oklahoma reinforces the notion that Texas never tries anything before the OU game and in this case the statistics are damning. Mack Brown only has one conference title in his time at Texas, four fewer than Oklahoma. Sometimes the results say everything you need to know.

Brown and Davis have worked together for going on 16 years. They were together for three years at Tulane (1985-87), two at North Carolina (1996-97) and 11 at Texas (1998-present).

When Brown initially made a call to Davis at Georgia in 1995 to rejoin him at North Carolina, Davis said no. Davis had been running a four-receiver offense with quarterbacks Eric Zeier and Mike Bobo. He told Brown he wasn't going to leave his wide-open attack to simply run the football under Brown. Brown, however, promised Davis he could do whatever he wanted, so Davis joined him in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels went 10-2 and 10-1 the next two seasons - both Top 10 finishes - after Brown went 7-5 in 1995 as coach and offensive play caller for the Tar Heels.

This is one of the most interesting parts of the article. The perception of Davis is that he's kind of Mack Brown's flunky, someone who only sticks around because he's Mack's buddy and Mack is too nice to fire his friends. Just because Davis was running a four wide set at Georgia doesn't mean that he was particularly creative with it, so I'm not sure if this totally supports the Greg Davis as creative innovator suffocated by Mack Brown theory, but I'm willing to accept the premise to a certain extent.

"I wasn't sure that was a philosophy change Mack was ready for," Davis said. "But he was, and he's been true to his word. Overall, we want to be able to run the ball, but we want to be able to throw it and beat you that way also.

I'm too lazy to do this myself right now, but it would be interesting to go back and see how much Mack Brown's philosophy actually changed. I think the Chris Simms years support that hypothesis, but looking at the run/pass balance before Greg Davis got to North Caroline might be instructive. After watching games like Ohio State in 2006 in which the coaches employed vanilla game plans, I don't believe in a change in Mack Brown's philosophy.

"We don't want to get in a situation where we're playing in bad weather or unbelievable wind and the running game is an afterthought. We also want to run the ball because of where we're at, we're going to have the ability to bring in good offensive linemen and good backs. That's always a big part of not only the offensive philosophy but the recruiting philosophy."

The second sentence goes a way to disprove the whole premise of the article. If you believe that Davis is being truly candid, which is unlikely. Not a good job decision to throw your boss under the bus. And it's not like every team with a job opening is knocking on the door asking for Greg Davis to coach them. I understand the point about bad weather, but it's not like the Longhorns play in the Midwest. I can't think of many bad weather games in the last several years. Nebraska was cold in 2006, but the big plays in that game were through the passing game. Davis's playcalling in the second half against UTEP disproves his point, considering the running game was certainly an afterthought coming out of halftime, excuses notwithstanding.

If anyone has wanted to push the envelope offensively, it's Davis, who drew up game plans for converted slot back Hines Ward to play quarterback at Georgia in 1995. Ward stepped in when the team's top two quarterbacks went down with injuries. Ward ended up setting a school bowl game record by completing 31-of-59 passes for 413 yards in the Peach Bowl that year.

From PB's aborted (but not abortive) review of Greg Davis's pre -Texas career, it seems that his use of Hines Ward was the highlight. PB stops well short of calling it an unmitigated success, instead calling it "inconclusive at best, uninspiring at worst." I would tend to characterize the success of Hines Ward as evidence of Davis's skills at coaching quarterbacks, which may be his greatest strength, rather than evidence of excellent playcalling.

That was reiterated by former UT quarterback Major Applewhite, who helped pull off one of Brown's three signature wins at Texas - at Nebraska in 1998 (at Ohio State in 2005 and USC are the others).

"Greg has plenty of creativity," Applewhite said. "As a coordinator, having been one, you can get as crazy as you want to get. But when you've got great players, you've got to toe the line on that. If you've got great players, you can beat most of the teams if you execute.

"But we're going to add wrinkles as we need to feature our players, as Coach Davis has done. But at the same time, we do a good job recruiting, and we need to trust our scheme and what we do and execute and not just be a team with a bunch of gadget and trick plays. I think we can line up and beat people, but we also have those wrinkles to add some multiplicity to what we do."

Speaking of toeing the line, Major, it sounds like you're toeing the company line. Expected, certainly, and there is truth in what he is saying. It's not that fans want 10 "gadget" plays every game, just more wrinkles. Like Jordan Shipley's fake block and go against UTEP. That was beautiful. It's not a gadget play, it's a wrinkle, just like what needs to be done with the Q package. If you don't execute your trick plays, they don't work and there's no point in running them. Like Colt's missed block on the Shipley pass against FAU.

Brown has final say over each play called by Davis.

"Greg and I discuss every game plan," Brown said. "I hear every play, and one of the things I can do because he's tough and not sensitive at all - if I don't like something he's doing I can tell him and he'll listen. He's got an opinion about it, and if he doesn't like it he'll tell me. But if it needs to be changed, he'll change it."

Aww, Greggy Bear's got a tough skin. That's so cute. Not surprising though, since he's needed one to survive at Texas for so long. I would kill to sit in on these meetings and hear what happens. Oh, to be a fly on that wall. Maybe some intrepid BON'ers can perpetrate a little espionage on that front. I don't know anything about it though, my hands are clean.

With Brown and Davis talking about expanding the offense, is 2008 the year fans walk out of Royal-Memorial Stadium saying, "Did you see that?" Brown's rationale in the spring, when he announced his intent to use more trick plays, seemed to be all about entertaining the fans. Remember?

I'm not holding my breath on this one, since I don't have a death wish or anything. I would recommend following suit. The first two games only had the one "trick" play, the end around pass with Shipley. Which is understandable playing two teams you don't need to show much against. On to the rationale...

"Greg (Davis), our offensive staff is a very fundamental staff - look complicated and be simple," Brown said. "Greg does a great job of getting the best players the ball. At the same time, people are more visual than ever before. We have more electronic gadgets than ever before. All the kids and fans, if they want to, can get on a video game and have all their trick plays. And fans like all that stuff.

"We're in the education business during the week and we're in show business on the weekend. We need to win. We need to be physical. We need to be tough. We need to have fun, and we need to look good. That's part of entertaining people.

"Texas fans are hard to entertain sometimes, so we need to keep their attention. And kids love trick plays. If you put it in the week of the game, it usually stinks. If you put it in in the spring and work on it, and use them 15 times during the season, and you've run them - and it's better for your defense. We got fooled too many times with a good defense two years ago.

"So we think it's fun. We think it's productive for the offense. It's productive for the defense, if it's part of our package instead of 'let's put in a trick play.' We're going to run them consistently."

First paragraph-Wait, so Texas fans are tired of losing to OU and it's because some of them like playing Madden and NCAA Football? I'm not buying this Mack, this makes you sound about as old and out of date as your insistence on the running game.

Second paragraph-Yeah, it is tough at Texas. It's a disaster to lose, especially at home. Or to the Aggies two years in a row. Or to OU repeatedly. It adds up. Conventional wisdom develops that is pretty negative towards your ability to do your job, Mack. But yeah, you have it right with your last two sentences, Mack, that is exactly what needs to happen. So you understand, but now you don't have an excuse for not coming through.

Third paragraph-I agree completely, Mack. This is clearly what Texas fans want to hear. And I think it can energize the players, particularly potential recruits. By diversifying the offense to take advantage of talent, you attract talent to the school. The problem is that it hasn't always happened (see Peterson, Adrian).

Brown in the past has been defensive when asked about the creativity of Texas' offense. And why not? Fans may not have walked out of Royal-Memorial Stadium with any single play in their memory bank. But Texas has averaged 37 points per game over the last 10 seasons, including an NCAA record 652 points (50.2 ppg) in 2005.

Texas has never averaged less than 33.8 points per game in a season under Davis. So why the change now? And forget that stuff about entertaining the fans.

It's hard to argue with the success of the offense and the program under Mack Brown. He has elevated it to it's rightful status. We are the Joneses, and all that. But with that comes an incredible sense of entitlement to fans, and they don't like those bad losses. Arkansas at home in 2002. A&M. K-State two years in a row. OU. That's the reason to change.

"There's more people with great talent around," Brown said. "We don't think you're going to win with a bunch of trick plays because if you're not playing well, the trick plays don't work.

"On the days you're playing well and you probably would have won anyway, the trick plays work. On the day you stink, we call four of them, we never get to the line of scrimmage and y'all say we didn't call any. Well, we did, they just didn't get executed or they stunk."

The talent comment comes off as whiny, Mack. Doesn't suit you. Texas has lost to teams with less talent. That's on the coaches. You can argue for a talent diaspora in college football, but that's a problem for the Poor Aggies to worry about. Not Texas. We're Texas, despite UTEP's calling us the University of Texas at Austin. Nice try, but no one needs some uppity Miners, although your stadium is cute.

Brown thinks using more trick plays on offense in practice will help prepare UT's defense for all the creativity being used by opponents moving the ball these days.

"Everybody else is using them so much. A couple years ago, we felt like it really hurt us on defense," Brown said. "My job is to make sure the offense is doing enough, having enough diversity that we will play against - like keeping an option in the offense, running some power, running some trick plays - so our defense can work against things they are going to see in games what they see every day on the practice field. Our defense needs to stay multiple enough that our offense is going to see all the things they are going to see down the road without a scout team."

I agree on the first point in princple. But having watched the bad losses, I have to quibble. The problem wasn't the trick plays, it was the fact that the linebackers who "bleed for the program" were terrible. The secondary had to make all the plays in the running game, leading to susceptibility to play action passes and end around passes like the one used by K-State in 2006 (it also turned out that Yamon Figurs had legit 4.3 speed). That's on the Three Unmentionables. And yeah, the defense needs to see the multiplicity of offense, but the bigger issue is the offense being multiple for the sake of the offense being multiple.

Brown reined Davis in after the 2001 and 2002 seasons because he felt Davis had thrown the ball too much with Simms and gotten away from smash-mouth football. Texas was being labeled soft. Offensive line coach Tim Nunez, the receivers coach at Tulane from 1988-91 when Davis was head coach there, was let go. Mac McWhorter, who worked with Davis at Georgia, replaced him.

Davis might have thrown the ball too much with Simms, but Simms also had that kinda sorta bad trait of throwing interceptions at inopportune times. Texas was soft. They walked into the Cotton Bowl for a few years beat before they even took the field. And yeah, a receivers coach who had no business coaching the offensive line was attempting to coach the offensive line. And failing miserably. Mac McWhorter is an infinitely better o-line coach than Tim Nunez. If Tim Nunez doesn't wake up with nightmares about helplessly trying to teach large men how to block, he doesn't have a conscience.

Brown doesn't really fiddle with the defense. But he fiddles with the offense - a lot. In 2004, it was Brown's idea to have a very conservative offensive game plan against Oklahoma because Vince Young was still growing in the passing game. Brown thought it was important to tell the players on offense before that game the plan was to be vanilla. It resulted in the school's first shutout (12-0) in 282 games, ending the longest scoring streak in the country.

That game in 2004 was awful. Foggy, drizzly. Uninspired. Disheartening. What does it tell to your players when you play not to lose? That you don't trust them. What does that do for their confidence before the game? Nothing good. I'm sure the players loved his honesty when he told them the game plan was going to be worthless. To Mack's credit, the receivers were all freshman and there were some big dropped passes, but the game plan intentionally placed a premium on those plays and it's not surprising the players didn't convert. The coaches told them such plays would be rare and unexpected.

"In some cases, Greg is such a team guy, we've tried to set up offensive game plans when we thought our defense would carry things and it made our offense look bad because the defense still stunk and the offense didn't score much," Brown added. "But Greg is a very faithful man, a great family man and the only other thing he cares about is football at the University of Texas."

So this is Mack Brown taking responsibility for the uninspired game plan? I can buy this, but Mack is such a politician he could be covering for his beleagured pal.

How much things are really going to change offensively this year remains to be seen. Just the other day Brown talked about not wanting the Q Package to be a distraction. Davis says the Q Package absolutely will work, noting it produced "three very productive plays" in last Saturday's scrimmage.

So far, through the first two games nothing has really changed. Still vanilla game plans. Little to no Q package. Obviously, the real tests come later, but it's frustrating to wait. And Texas fans aren't known for their patience.

Davis deserves credit for changing Texas' offense in 2003 at mid-season from a pro passing attack to the shotgun option and turning Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas into downfield blockers for Young. It resulted in a national title two years later. Davis is the driving force on the Q Package.

Indeed, Davis does deserve some credit for the switch--along with Hines Ward, it's probably the crowning achievement of his coaching career. But does it really take a genius to see that Vince Young isn't a pro-style quarterback? That you need to copy other spread offenses that have running quarterbacks? These are rhetorical questions, by the way. It's a writing technique.

While Texas has averaged a schedule that includes six teams with a losing record the last 10 years, the 2008 schedule includes nine teams that reached a bowl game last season. Davis seems to realize Texas' offense might need some new looks against this year's competition.

Yup, gonna be a challenge. Davis would be blind not to realize he needs to do one of the best coaching jobs of his career. A lot of his legacy, along with that of Mack Brown, rides on the next two seasons.

How much latitude will Brown give Davis?

The season will give some insights into this question, but the distance from the program won't help. A connected reporter like Chip Brown has the best chance of answering his subjective question.

How much trickery will fans see in the big games this season against the likes of Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas A&M?

Doesn't even need to be trickery. Just wrinkles. Get them thinking one thing and do something else. Not that difficult, really. But there needs to be a lot of that, definitely. Instead of excuses about why John Chiles didn't play at all.

"It's a collaboration," Davis said. "We've been together a long time. Because I don't recruit a whole bunch in the off-season, it allows me to watch a bunch of tape from other people. We know the importance of explosive plays and those are ways for us to create explosive plays instead of just allowing it to occur in the flow of your offense."

First point, redundant. Second point, typical Mack Brown-isms.

So for Davis, it's a chance to let his imagination run wild - as long as Brown is serious about letting him.

Yeah, that is the question...Oh, the throwaway lines mean we're wrapping up here. Thanks, Chippy for defying conventional wisdom. Helluvan idea.


So what does all this mean? Can Texas fans absolve Greg Davis of all his supposed sins based on this article? I don't think so, primarily because without being able to sit in on the game planning meetings, it's difficult to tell where Mack Brown's influence ends and Greg Davis's influence begins. I'm not sure if there will ever be a conclusive answer to this question. I think the premise that Mack Brown is more conservative than Greg Davis has some merit, but who is to blame for all the vanilla game plans? Is that on Mack Brown? I think the bottom line here is that Texas fans have to hope that Brown has been restricting what Davis can do in the past, and this season will be the year that the offense opens up. No signs of that so far this season, as the game plans haven't shown anything, particularly in regards to the Q package. I think Texas fans need to believe the offense will open up because it's likely that neither Mack Brown nor Greg Davis are going anywhere any time soon.