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Holiday Bowl: Texas vs Cal Discussion, Part 1

As we gear up for Texas' return to the Holiday Bowl, I had a chance to chat with some of our friends on the other sidelines, exchanging emails with TwistNHook from the outstanding California Golden Blogs. Here in Part 1 we talk broadly about the state of our two programs. In Part 2 we'll dive into the players and game itself.

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: It wasn't so long ago that we were waging war over a spot in the illustrious Rose Bowl. This feels more like a squabble over who reserved the early bird slot in the shuffle board league.

This whole "rebuilding" thing isn't easy for Texas fans. Not after the last decade under Mack Brown. Fans seem torn between their understanding that we had a long way to go after bottoming out last year (5-7, no bowl game) and their sense that if we're doing things right there really shouldn't be any bottoming out at Texas. But here we are, losers in consecutive seasons to Baylor, heading to the Holiday Bowl, the destination Texas fans associate with underachievement.

Texas football is in a pretty odd place right now, almost in between two eras, with a bunch of terrific young assistants and a head coach who until sh*t hit the fan last year was eyeing his grand exit around now. I'm curious: where is Cal football right now in the big picture? It seems like Jeff Tedford has been struggling to reach the same level he achieved earlier in his tenure at Cal. Are fans anxious? Is there any consensus as to why Tedford's program has seemed to flatline over the last five or so years?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs: Well, it is always difficult to find consensus, but in the last few years, Cal fans have been disappointed by the Quarterback play. Since 2007, it seems like we haven't had consistently good QB play.

And we've had some teams in some situations where even mediocre QB play could have had huge results. Last year we BARELY loss to National Championship runner up at home with perhaps the worst QB Cal has fielded in the Tedford era.

This year, it has been a lot of the same as QB Zach Maynard has flashes signs of brilliance, but been frustratingly inconsistent throughout the year. As to where the program is, fans feel a lot of optimism. Recruiting has taken a jump up in the last year or two as the new High Performance Center has become a reality. Cal played this season at AT & T Park in San Francisco (home of your 2010 World Series Champs) as major upgrades were made to Memorial Stadium, Cal's home since 1920.

The hope is that as these recruits get out of the redshirt freshmen stage and start to contribute, along with the awesomeness of new Memorial, the team will take that step to elite status. We haven't been to the Rose Bowl in 52 years! Let's hope it's not another 52.

Is Texas really going to fire Mack Brown??????

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: It's been 52 years since Cal was in the Rose Bowl? Wow, I didn't realize that. No wonder you guys were so furious that Texas got the berth in 2004. On the bright side, as a diehard Giants fan I know that it took 56 years in San Francisco to win that first world championship, so maybe you're just a little premature. The 2015 Rose Bowl is all Cal.

It's interesting to hear that fans are optimistic. It sounds like it has a lot to do with Cal really investing in the football program. Upgrading facilities, which in turn helps recruiting, etc. You know, that's what Mack Brown did when he came to Austin, and done right it can catalyze a virtuous cycle.

Needless to say, there isn't any chance Mack Brown is going to be fired. The big question is when he'll retire, because he was coasting in towards the finish line when the wheels came off last season. He decided he wanted to dig back in and try to get Texas back to the top, but there's a lingering feeling that doing so is his final project. So there's uncertainty: what if it takes him a while? What if he doesn't have the energy and commitment to get it done? I think Mack Brown really wants to avoid being a coach who stays too long, but he also wants to go out on top.

So who knows, but Texas fans were at least comforted by the job he did overhauling his coaching staff. We sent some old horses out to pasture and hired arguably the best young staff of assistants in the country. Texas is killing it on the recruiting trail right now, and the only real question mark right now is the quarterback position. Kind of a big one, but we'll get to that in Part 2.

Right now I want to ask you about Cal fans' perception of all this conference realignment stuff? Are y'all card-carrying members of the "Everything is Texas' fault" hate club? An awful lot of us Texas fans really, really wanted to join the Pac 12, many of the schools of which we consider ourselves to be very closely aligned with. The University of Texas is a whole lot more like Cal than Alabama. How do Cal fans feel about UT? How many were actually hoping for Texas to join the conference?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs: First, I've always been interesting in Mack Brown's role as head coach. I've heard him referred to as the CEO. Like he doesn't really have much of a hands on role, but more manages his division heads. Is that true?

Secondly, I think that Berkland and Austin have a lot in common. Note that I base this mostly off of episodes of Friday Night Lights and a vague understanding of what SXSW is. I hear it is nothing like the rest of Texas. I hear that it is very progressive and there is a lot of amazing music/comedy. I'd love to actually get out there someday.

I think that Cal fans were generally positive about the Pac-16 in June 2010, but ONLY if Texas was involved. It didn't make a lot of sense to get some BigXII bottom feeders. But having Texas (and Oklahoma) involved meant a lot of money in TV deals etc etc. I think for Cal fans, the thought is that the Pac-12 and the Pac-16 were essentially the same thing in June, 2010. Either way, it is a fairly drastic change.

However, with the more recent round of discussions this past summer, I think people had dimmer views on expansion. Yes, getting Texas would be big. But we had seen the (alleged, but easily believed) power play by Texas the year before and I think it soured people on Texas. We had already gotten all of our Pac-12 T-Shirts, Pac-12 drink coasters, and Pac-12 bowler hats printed out. Having to redo the whole thing to bring on a Texas team that seemed hell bent on sacrificing nothing for the greater good of its conference didn't seem as promising.

But maybe I'm off the mark. What do I know? I guess my question back to you is are all of the soul-less automatons willing to destroy everything in your path at the altar of the almighty burnt orange that many say you are???????????? Or are you only willing to destroy most things????? INQUIRING MINDS!

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: Well, let's see... On the one hand, there is this.


On the other hand... oh, who am I kidding, there's no other hand to that. The amount of money the UT athletics department has learned to generate over the past decade is impressive. And also pretty revolting. Everyone knows about the Longhorn Network. Did you know that you can also power your home with the Longhorns? Because yes, we now have Texas Longhorns Energy for the diehard fan.

The degree of corporatization is in many ways pretty disturbing. I was pleased that the Longhorn Network deal included a provision to funnel a modest portion of the revenue over to the academic side of the university, but honestly, there should be more of that. Yes, I suppose we haven't yet gilded the toilets in the football locker room in 24-Karat gold, but we're not that far off. If more of the money generated by the athletics department went to the university, I'd feel a lot better about all the hyper-monetization.

Anyway... with all that said, Texas isn't building the Death Star. We play by the rules, we're a premier academic research institution, and we disdain the way things are done in SEC country. And you're right: Austin is an amazingly active city filled with the nicest, most open people you'll ever meet. It's always been a young people's town, and it still is.

As for Mack Brown, the CEO label gets tossed around, and that's somewhat accurate, if you don't take the analogy too far. The idea that he's sitting up in his office, keeping tabs on things through a window looking down on the field, though -- that's not right. He delegates, as all coaches, do, but he's hands on and involved with the team and his staff. It's just that he does so much more than that, too -- and he's been on the frontier of an astounding amount of the growth and development of college football. He was the first to launch a comprehensive website like every coach/team now has. He led the way in changing how recruiting is now done, launching camps and clinics for high school coaches and kids. And on and on. The man has his weaknesses as a coach, but he's been remarkably productive and forward-thinking in terms of building, growing, and strengthening a program (and the brand around it).

What about Tedford and Cal? Is yours the passively interested fan base that it's sometimes caricatured to be -- more granola than gridiron?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs: The Cal fanbase is one that is intensely passionate, but not always as populated as I'd like. Cal really de-emphasized athletics in the wild and wooly 60s and it basically took until Tedford arrived for football to regain dominance. For decades, Cal football essentially sucked.

So, we didn't get the opportunity to build a strong fanbase. Now, people will always support a winner. And when Cal was almost going to Rose Bowls in the middle of the decade, attendance shot through the roof. There will still be packed houses at Memorial, but in the last few years, it has tailed off somewhat.

This year, at AT & T Park was an unmitigated disaster. Except for the USC game, none of the games were sold out (and that USC game had a lot to do with USC fans buying a lot of seats). Now, note that AT & T is about 25-30K fewer seats than Memorial. And note that it is college football in a gorgeous setting in the downtown areas of one of the best cities in America. Every game should have been packed to the gills. But Cal struggled to pack the place (partially due to OUTRAGEOUS ticket prices, but still).

Now, we see that college football is a HUGE money maker that can help support an athletic department and even academics (a massive thing in these times of budget cuts). Yet, decades worth of fanbase building was essentially wasted. Coach Tedford has drastically changed the atmosphere. Plus, we're just about to open some of the best facilities in the nation and a revamped stadium. So, I think that that will help with the fanbase.

I'm not naive enough to think that money has never had any role in college football. There are pay scandals going back as far as the 50s (if not much further). But it seems as if the role of money in college athletics is stronger than ever. This is especially true because of TV rights. Due to DVR and online viewing, many non-live shows are receiving worse rates for ad sales, because people can skip over commercials. Thus, the value for live sports is HUGE. Teams/conferences are getting massive TV contracts. I fear to know what a SEC contract would be on the open market.

I don't begrudge Texas trying to make a buck. It is America, afterall. But they are exacerbating what is already a worsening situation. When USC fans sees Texas looking out solely for numero uno, they ask "Why should we hitch our wagon to this Pac-12?" It doesn't seem like a sustainable model for one blueblood to strike out on its own, because all the other bluebloods will want their own networks, their own energy stations, they own diesel refineries.

Tell me, PB, where does the hyper monetization stop with Texas and college football? It is great to make money and help support other programs etc etc etc, but at a point it strikes at the very heart of college football.

PB, Burnt Orange Nation: You know, for better or worse the days of college football as pure sport are long gone, and it has to do with forces much larger than Texas. College football is big business, and it has been for a long time now. In the end, I don't know how much you can fault Texas for maximizing profits in this environment; that's the name of the game these days.

And since there's no turning this back, I think the thing I care about is ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules. Texas fans certainly care deeply whether we are -- our fan base would absolutely crucify Mack Brown for doing a lot of the stuff that's fairly commonplace elsewhere. I'd also like to see, as I mentioned, more of the athletics department money go to support the instituion's academic mission. Texas fans are deeply proud of their university, and it has to do with a whole lot more than football. So long as we don't lose sight of that, I can live with some distasteful commercialization of the brand.

Or do you disagree that there's no turning back to a less commercial era of college football?

TwistNHook, California Golden Blogs: I'm not so naive to think that in 1983 or 1967 or even probably 1955, money wasn't a huge factor in college sports.

My point is that Texas has taken it further than every other team in the nation with the exception of ND and a few independents of minimal note. Texas has tried to maximize its profits in a way that is directly negative towards its conference. I believe that all members of the conference should work together in unison to make the conference as a whole stronger. A "Rising tides lifts all boats" scenario.

But Texas is out for itself. And that's why the BigXII is crumbling. That's why nobody trusts or respects Texas these days. And when its every man for himself, everything falls apart.

Let's maximize profits together. Not do a power grab that makes USC think "Hmmm, why not us, too?"