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How the Texas program has grown since last year’s rant by Bo Davis

One of the low points of Steve Sarkisian’s 5-7 season contributed to significant roster turnover during the offseason and some important cultural growth.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 UTSA at Texas Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On a team bus following the 30-7 defeat of the Texas Longhorns by the Iowa State Cyclones, Texas defensive line coach Bo Davis became an indelible part of the school’s football history with a profanity-laced tirade, making himself a cult hero among the fanbase in the process when a video of the rant recorded by a player became public.

“You think this **** is funny? Some of you ******* need to get in the transfer portal,” Davis said. “I got my *** kicked. This **** is real, and I’m sick and ******* tired of it.”

In the midst of a four-game losing streak at the time, the rant from Davis hardly resulted in an immediate turnaround — Texas went on to lose to Kansas in overtime at home and West Virginia on the road before finally ending the season with a win over Kansas State in Austin.

But the changes that Davis augured did come about as nearly 20 players entered the NCAA transfer portal between the end of the 2021 season and the start of the 2022 season, resulting in massive turnover featuring 28 enrollees in the 2022 recruiting class and seven more additions from the portal that now makes up over 40 percent of the scholarship roster.

“The kids knew not everybody in that locker room was all-in last year,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian told ESPN in August. “I think they could feel it, and they wanted to weed out some of the warts, some of the bad apples. I think they got a sense of reality about some of the things we were talking about and trying to instill last offseason. I don’t know how much they gave credence to it, and then those same things reared their ugly head in-season.”

Blowout wins over four opponents amid two close losses, including to then-No. 1 Alabama, isn’t enough to say that the Longhorns have definitively turned the corner in establishing a winning culture, but it is worth looking back on where Texas was 11 months ago and where the program is now based on the takeaways from that rant.

“The team struggles with tough coaching”

The blowup from Davis following the blowout by the Cyclones came days after wide receiver Joshua Moore left the program in the immediate wake of an altercation with Sarkisian during practice that left the first-year head coach publicly noting his belief in a tough, demanding coaching style.

At that time, tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, a consensus five-star prospect in the 2022 recruiting class ranked as the No. 13 overall, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, was playing on special teams while struggling to evolve as a run blocker at a new position, a process that included plenty of hard coaching from Banks well into spring practice.

“The first five days of spring ball this year, we were encouraged, but he wasn’t there yet,” Banks said at the start of preseason camp. “And we were still upset a little bit about his lack of physicality, quite frankly. He took that challenge and exceeded our expectations. The next 10 practices, I don’t think he dropped the ball, and he was moving defenders and holding his own in the C area (outside the tackles), which is what we need.”

But Sanders embraced the hard coaching and the physicality necessary to serve as a dual-threat tight end and has emerged as not only one of the nation’s best players at his position, but also put him on a record-setting pace.

The coachability of starting quarterback Quinn Ewers has surely made a difference as well — while Ewers arrived after a semester at Ohio State as the former No. 1 player in the country, he’s been receptive to feedback and capable of quickly translating those inputs into improvements in his game.

“Then when there are mistakes, some of which you guys don’t see, but we’re coaching him hard on that — maybe there’s an error here, misread there, poor decision — he’s very coachable in game,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “It’s not like he doesn’t understand what happened or it’s not like he’s defiant and doesn’t want to do it right. He’s very clear-minded, he’s very coachable, and he tries to do it right the next time. As a coach, that’s that’s about all you can ask for.”

It also goes to the top, to the team’s best player in running back Bijan Robinson, who was challenged over the summer to become a better pass blocker by new position coach Tashard Choice and became committed to the importance of improving in that area.

“The team lacks player leadership”

One of the first reactions to the Davis rant was from former standout Quan Cosby, whose hustle block on Lendy Holmes in the Red River Showdown will forever live as an iconic moment in that rivalry game.

When Sarkisian was asked about player leadership last year, running back Roshon Johnson was the only player he mentioned.

Now, multiple other players have grown into that role, including one of the most necessary in Bijan Robinson.

“These past few years, I’ve been very observant of the team. Kinda watched it, tried to lead by example. But I think the team needs to hear me and they need to hear my voice — they need to hear more than me just playing on the field and giving them the encouragement,” Robinson said at Big 12 Media Days.

So has Sanders.

“One thing that I think goes a little unnoticed for a guy who’s a true sophomore in his second year, he’s a really good leader,” Sarkisian said. “This guy has got the right makeup of a great player and that he has the leadership qualities necessary to be that kind of guy and he stands up, he’s not afraid, and the more guys like that we can get, the better for us.”

Even offensive tackle Kelvin Banks, a true freshman who arrived during the summer, is remarkably advanced in that area for his age.

“He’s a leader,” wide receiver Jordan Whittington said of Banks during preseason camp. “Really vocal, really high football IQ… I had a play that didn’t go my way and he ran to me and said, ‘It’s okay.’”

The growth became most apparent following the Texas Tech game when a meeting of the leadership council was followed by a players-only meeting that Tuesday, focused on attention to detail.

“I think the main thing was just reflecting on our mistakes made and putting our best foot forward from there,” Johnson said. “I mean, we saw the mistakes we made following the loss and we knew it was just easy corrections to make, it was just a matter of being disciplined and being detailed in our approach and I wanted to make sure that was a point of emphasis going forward.”

Texas responded with consecutive blowout wins, including the historic 49-0 shutout of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

“The team doesn’t see itself as enough of a family”

The most significant problem with the video leaking wasn’t the fact it was recorded in the first place — it was the fact that it became public.

In any team setting, moments like that happening between family members need to stay between family members. And the Davis video leaving those confines wasn’t the last time Texas had a similar issue when defensive lineman Moro Ojomo became a little bit too candid with the media during a spring availability, although Ojomo certainly didn’t miss when he talked about the importance of player leadership.

“A player-led team, a really good player-led team, those issues, and if you have issues with anything, get taken care of in the locker room, get taken care of in the meeting room,” Sarkisian said in response. “If you’re really a family, you don’t go out and talk about family business. You take care of things internally.”

With the benefit of further team-building exercises during the offseason, Texas has shown improvement, handling adversity better in the close losses to Alabama and Texas Tech, and Robinson’s teammates rallying around him after his fumble on the first play of overtime.

“I appreciate this team a lot because obviously on my last play of the game, I fumbled, but the whole team was always right next to me and just close to me and just saying, ‘We got you, you gotta keep your head up’ and it really encouraged me because my faith takes me so high and I try not to really get down on myself but the teammates and the coaches really helped me out in that situation. So I just know, that’s the kind of team we have and I know that we just really love each other and we just want to just continue to get better,” Robinson said the following Monday.

“There’s more attrition coming”

Before the rant by Davis, Moore was among three players to enter the portal in the month before the Iowa State loss, and a large exodus followed over the ensuing months, resulting in the 2022 roster featuring the aforementioned 40-percent turnover after 19 players entered the portal and several others opted against taking their COVID year.

With six games remaining, including at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State, and at home against TCU, Texas is hardly done defining its season, but the program has shown key growth in those deficient areas that produced the rant by Davis in the first place, especially in the response to the players-only meeting.

And if there’s any question of player buy-in, just look at how the wide receivers consistently block on screen passes, even freshman Brenen Thompson in the fading minutes of a blowout.