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A Song of Orange and White: Will Muschamp and Gary Patterson

Analyzing the UT Coaching Situation through the prism of A Song of Ice and Fire: Part II

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George Frey

Well, less than one week after the introduction to this series, the internet coaching search has officially begun.

Clearly, the crushing loss to Oklahoma State has serious ramifications for Mack Brown. But, outside of signifying the potential end of his career at Texas, this loss was also highly instructive over the fleeting nature of power and security. Heading into this critical home game, Texas was riding a six-game winning streak and controlled its own destiny in the Big 12. Seemingly against all odds, Mack Brown was only three games away from saving his career at Texas and ensuring the extra year he so desperately wanted.

By halftime, it was all over. So close, yet so far...

This fleeting nature of power is not unique to college football. Instead, it remains a universal truth and is one of the key themes within A Song of Ice and Fire. Throughout the series, several characters who appear to be on the cusp of victory fall just short. Alternatively, several characters who appear to be on the verge of losing everything somehow find a way to come out on top. Essentially, in the books, some characters are safe and secure...until they aren't.

This same principle applies to the two coaches discussed in this post: Will Muschamp and Gary Patterson. At the beginning of this year, they both would have been near the top of any UT wish list. Yet, after disastrous campaigns for both of their programs, their overall desirability is now being questioned by many fans. In this post, we will analyze both men through the prism of A Song of Ice and Fire.

If you want to avoid all spoilers from the books, please don’t read any further...

Brandon Stark | Will Muschamp

"You have a wildness in you, child.  ‘The wolf blood,' my father used to call it.  Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch."  --Ned Stark

Above all else, Brandon Stark is remembered for his death.

It is literally the first thing mentioned about Brandon Stark in A Game of Thrones: "Brandon had been twenty when he died, strangled by the order of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen." Later sections in the books explain how Brandon actually strangled himself while desperately trying to save his father. These sections are some of the most gut-wrenching and excruciating in the entire series.

Ultimately, the grisly nature of Brandon's death tends to overshadow the other aspects of his character. Which is unfortunate. Instead of simply focusing on how Brandon Stark died, one can learn so much more by examining both how he lived and why he died. For, even though the details of Brandon's life are admittedly scant, the things we do know are highly illuminating.

For example, as much as any character in the entire series, Brandon Stark was impeccably groomed for command. By all accounts, Brandon was a tremendous fighter, a fact which George RR Martin later confirmed. Additionally, in A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark said his older brother was born to rule. And he was. At the time of his death, Brandon had the training, the skills, the charisma, and the looming opportunity to become a legendary leader within Westeros.

However, there's a reason Brandon was called "The Wild Wolf." He had a violent temper. Or, as Ned explained above, he had "the wolf blood." Now, as shown by Catelyn's request before his duel with Littlefinger, Brandon wasn't above granting mercy. He simply refused to compromise or back down from any affronts to the honor of himself or his family. It is this quality that ultimately led to his death. It is also this quality that makes him such a polarizing character among readers.

Just look at the comments from these threads, which spotlight the disparate characterizations of Brandon's legacy. Was he "the perfect mixture of Robert and Ned"? Was he a "really idiotic and reckless" character who "let his emotions dictate his actions"? Was he someone who "may have had a more thoughtful and careful side when he could deal with crises proactively instead of reacting impetuously," but "never got the chance"?

Was he all of these things? Was he none of them?

From our perspective, in analyzing Brandon Stark, the final judgment of his character is primarily a matter of the reader's projection. Critically, and unlike most other characters, we never get a point-of-view chapter from Brandon Stark. We'll never know his actual thoughts and feelings when he decided to seek out Rhaegar Targaryen. We'll never know how he would have reacted during Robert's Rebellion. And we'll never know how we would have handled the responsibilities of being the Lord of Winterfell. He simply never got the chance, and readers are left to unilaterally project how he would have performed.

By and large, it is these same type of projections that define Will Muschamp's departure from Texas.

Like Brandon Stark, Muschamp had impeccable credentials and was seemingly born to lead. He was a standout player at Georgia and then began a methodical rise up the coaching ladder. When he came to Texas, Muschamp was called an A+ hire by Peter Bean, who spotlighted two of his primary strengths: his schematic chops (including halftime adjustments) and his fiery leadership style. He was The Wild Wolf "Coach Boom," and he was perfect. He was so perfect that he was formally named "Head Coach in Waiting" less than year later. And then, before he actually assumed the throne, he was gone.

Again, like Brandon Stark, reactions over Muschamp's legacy were mixed. Even though many Texas fans acknowledged Muschamp's departure as a crippling blow, some decried him as being overrated, while others took the middle position of framing Muschamp as a solid coordinator on a dysfunctional staff. Overall, in discussing Muschamp's departure from Texas, there was no firm consensus over exactly how he would have performed as Mack's successor. Ultimately, like Brandon Stark, the projections of Muschamp's lost future at Texas were largely left to individual projections based on his talent, potential, and temper.

All this said, Will Muschamp differs from Brandon Stark in one critical aspect -- he actually fulfilled his destiny. In fact, his departure from Texas allowed Muschamp to become the Lord of Winterfell Head Coach at Florida. Essentially, before all is said and done, Will Muschamp will write his own legacy, rather than having it left to individual projections.

Admittedly, this may be getting unnecessarily abstract. Perhaps the best analysis of these two men simply relates to examining the fates of their successors.

When Brandon Stark died trying to save his father, Ned Stark more than capably assumed his family's responsibilities.  He raised his banners, helped turn the tide of Robert's Rebellion, and eventually returned home to peacefully rule at Winterfell for over a decade. Overall, when compared to his successor, it's hard to argue that Brandon Stark could have performed any better.

Does that sound like what happened at Texas?

Brynden Tully ("The Blackfish") | Gary Patterson

"My first rule of war, Cat--never give the enemy his wish." -- Brynden Tully

In the introduction to this series, we spoke of searching for "the real lion, not the beast on a scrap of silk."  In fact, that premise remains the keystone of this entire series. And, as a key part of this discussion over finding a real lion, we actually need to talk about two other animals: a Horned Frog and a Blackfish.

As compared to other characters and coaches, Gary Patterson and Brynden Tully are often placed in difficult situations.  For example, while coaching at TCU, Gary Patterson has routinely faced opponents with advantages in talent, resources, and facilities. On a larger scale, the Blackfish eventually found himself placed in the seemingly impossible situation of holding Riverrun in the aftermath of the Red Wedding.

However, both Patterson and the Blackfish -- largely due to their own prowess -- have found ways to thrive. During his time at TCU, Patterson has knocked off opponents like Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Oregon State, and BYU. And not by accident. Perhaps more than anything else, Patterson's teams are known for playing tough, smart, fast, and aggressive defense. But it isn't just his defensive wizardry that makes Patterson so appealing.

In an e-mail exchange over this series, one of the authors wrote "Last year, Patterson took a team of freshmen and sophomores from Texas high schools that UT didn't want and made them competitive in the Big 12. In fact, on a team with 28 freshmen getting playing time, Patterson beat Texas at DKR and played OU within a touchdown. No excuses. No BS. Just a lot of hard work, intelligence, and refusing to bow down to anybody."

It is this last sentence that pretty much personifies the Blackfish.

While his actions at Riverrun have been criticized by some readers, it was the Blackfish's famous showdown with Jaime Lannister in A Feast for Crows that cemented him as a hero for many readers. In this meeting, the Blackfish refused to budge from his position, dominated the conversation, and remained thoroughly unimpressed with the Kingslayer. In summarizing this encounter, one commenter said:

"Jaime . . . points out the apparent hopelessness of the Stark cause and the pointlessness of still holding a castle in Robb's name to Blackfish, and Blackfish's response is essentially ‘F you and your terms, Bring It On.'  In that moment, he echoes Rambo, Rocky, [and] Tony Montana. That's why people like him."

While no one would necessarily compare Gary Patterson to Rambo, Rocky, or Tony Montana, he has shown a similar penchant for putting up a fight. In his last 7 seasons at TCU, Patterson has lost 22 games. Of those 22 losses, 15 of them have come by 10 points or less. Basically, if you want to defeat either Gary Patterson or the Blackfish, you better be prepared to fight to the end.

All that said, both men have seen better days.

As everyone knows, the Blackfish was eventually forced to swim away from Riverrun under a portcullis, leaving his overall fate uncertain. Strangely enough, despite all his previous success, Patterson's fate in the Big 12 also feels uncertain. In TCU's second season in the conference, the Horned Frogs have stumbled and will not make a bowl game. Additionally, the rise of other regional programs has provided further complications for TCU.

Last month, Wescott Eberts wrote that TCU's current recruiting class  ranked 9th in the Big 12, only ahead of Kansas. Now, Patterson's job is completely secure, and it is hard to imagine him swimming away from Fort Worth under a portcullis, but TCU's transition to the Big 12 has been rougher than expected.

Due to these extrinsic factors, both Gary Patterson and the Blackfish will face an uphill battle to get back to their prior status. They have not changed, but their circumstances have. But maybe that is the entire point. Just look back to the opening quote of this section: "My first rule of war, Cat -- never give the enemy his wish." This quote is illuminating, and potentially spotlights the futures of both men.

Essentially, it is possible the future legacies of Gary Patterson and the Blackfish will not be defined by whether or not they fulfill their own wishes. Instead, their futures could be defined by their fight to ensure their opponent's wishes remain unfulfilled. They may not have the current resources to get exactly what they want, but they still have the talent and skills to make life miserable for everyone else.

And while that may not lead to either man being remembered as a lion, it ensures they won't be remembered as a scrap of silk, either.