In an expansive press conference that lasted nearly an hour on Wednesday, Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown spent a fair amount of time talking about changes in how the players interact with the each other, how the coaches interact with each other, and how the coaches interact with the players.
It's the time of the year when coaches start making decisions about who will play and when they will play, which requires communication between the coaches and then effective communication with the players.
The risks are actually relatively high -- Brown said the most disappointing thing that happened to him at Vanderbilt in college was not getting to play when he was told he would:
One of the worst things that happened to me at Vanderbilt, I was told I was going to go in on this certain series and I never went in. Coach said he forgot. Not a good thing for a kid to feel like the coach forgot. So you have to be really, really careful what I say to you all and what I say to the kids.
High stakes with this stuff.
A number of meetings went down on Wednesday as the coaches sought to define some of those roles prior to gameweek preparations for Wyoming:
It's better for us to tell them what we've got, so we sat down with every player today. We had a long meeting, and they'll be discussing it some with players while we're in here, but to tell them exactly what we feel their role is, what we feel their future is Texas is, and to tell them exactly what we think about them from a positive standpoint and concerns that they need to fix. And all of that is going on as we speak because they're in a team meeting and player meetings while we're in here today. But again, some of this could change. Plans can change.
Brown was specifically referring to the quarterback situation, in particular the Holiday Bowl, when there was talk about both quarterbacks playing, which didn't end up happening.
To even get to that point of informing the players of their decisions, however, the coaches themselves have to communicate with each other well:
What you do is you plant seeds and you allow people to talk about it, but you don't make decisions. And then you make a decision, you may not even tell the players because it changes, and that's what you have to do. Same with the running backs. We've had wild formation discussions. We've had how we rotate the backs discussions, and I think some of that depends on how you're playing. If there's a guy in the game that's going wild and taking over, you let him stay in. If one is not running well or not something a productive day, he may not get as many carries.
In parts of fall camp, it actually sounds like less is more in terms of communication of rotations and playing time, as those change and increasing expectations only to have an alteration of course can be damaging to the emotional psyche of young players. Yeah, mental toughness, but for 18-year-olds fresh out of high school? It's on the coaches to know how to manage those situations well and understand the maturity level of the players.
Brown believes it's something that this coaching staff does well:
Also, I think, again, the coaches have done maybe the best job I've ever seen of explaining everybody's role to them and letting them understand exactly what we need out of you. Here's what we need out of you two backs. We need four yards every time you touch it, and we need you to break some plays, and we need you to protect the ball, and we need you to be able to block on third down. That's all we need. We don't need anything else. If we bring you out, we want good body language, we want a good attitude. We are going to decide when you play and when you don't play, and we've done that with every position.
Body language and attitude. Both areas in which the 2010 team was flat-out terrible.
Call it the benefits of better top-down communication or simply getting some of the bad seeds out of the program, but the whole team is getting along better than that 2010 team, which was remarkably fractured:
Yes, the freshman class and the confidence of the older guys. We had a little night last night where the freshmen have to sing, and they were awful. It was awful. They'd better make a living in football because they're not going to make it in singing. But afterwards we said,"Seniors, get up and sing the Eyes of Texas." And it seems like it's a small thing, but Luke Poehlmann said, "Freshmen, come up here with us. Y'all get up here, you've got to help us win." That wouldn't have happened two years ago. We kind of had a team that was split and the older ones and younger ones weren't getting along, and there was just a disconnect there somewhere. And it's back, and this team is focused. We've been really hard with this team, we've been really direct with this team, we've been really disciplined with this team, and we're not letting anything slip and I like it. I like what I see. I feel much better about where we are right now than leaving spring practice.
In the past, part of the issue was that the players weren't policing each other adequately, something that's now changing. It's probably not the best example of such work, but Brown's description of sophomore cornerback Quandre Diggs big-timing a young teammate is funny, at the least:
Quandre plays older than he is and acts older than he is. He's sitting there this morning at about 7:00 at a special teams meeting he said, "Hey, freshman, move, that's my seat." I said, "What, are you acting like you're older?" He said, "I've been around you since I was six years old, so I've been here a long time." And that's really true. Those guys have all played well and are standing up. We've got more leadership than we had. I'm not talking about them being stars, I'm talking about them doing the things we've asked them to do and leading in their positions. Last year we were trying to find a leader in each room, and now we've got more than that. And when you get leaders on your team, they actually tell the young ones, "No, don't do that. Pick it up, you're loafing."
Or, in this case, "Get out of my seat." Hey, whatever works.
The leadership from receivers Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis in regards to their freshman counterparts, along with the work of Case McCoy, sounds more constructive:
I think summer. I think Jaxon Shipley and Mike really did a good job of teaching them this summer, and I think that's where Case had a great summer leading, and the kids really believe in him.
Throw in the better communication between coaches, which gets transferred better to players, and it starts to become more apparent how things are finally coming together for the Longhorns once again.