AUSTIN, Texas – Mack Brown didn’t grab a Sharpie and circle Aug. 5, 2013, on his calendar.
He didn’t believe all his problems would be gone by this date, that he would step onto Texas’ practice fields Monday evening and behold a team well-suited to compete for a national championship.
But he had to know the pains and progress of the past two seasons were preparing him and his Longhorns for this date. After responding from the disastrous losing season in 2010 by going 17-9 and winning as many Big 12 games as they lost, the Longhorns coach can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.
How quickly and painlessly they’ll reach that light is still anyone’s guess, but Brown likes the makeup of the team he’ll resume coaching when fall practices start Monday.
“I am more confident this team will be the best we’ve had in the last two years or three years,” Brown said Sunday. “We’ve improved each year and we’ve tried to win every game. But we also knew we were going to take some hits by playing young guys. Now we’ve got an older team, and it should be fun to watch them play.”
He believes being settled at quarterback with third-year starter David Ash is an advantage, if not a must.
He believes a program chock-full of freshmen and sophomores playing early the past two years has produced a program chock-full of experienced players.
He believes this Longhorns team will have tangible player leadership, the kind Brown has struggled to find in recent years.
He said last season’s leaders -- seniors Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro -- didn’t become vocal in the locker room until midseason. He likes that the burden now falls on Ash, Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks and seniors in the secondary and on the line.
“All of them have got their jaw set to make sure we fix it this year,” Brown said. “I just feel like the attitude of the entire team is that we hit this thing now and we’re older and you’ve got to have discipline from within. It seems like they’ve done that this summer. They’ve had a very accountable summer.”
These are all good components, and Brown could have predicted they’d eventually come together two years ago. But he doesn’t agree with the notion that 2013 being The Year has been the grand plan.
“It sounds like we just said, ‘Ah, let’s not be good for two years but plan on the third one.’ That’s not the case at all,” Brown said. “We tried to win the 5-7 year, right after a national championship game. Who would’ve ever thought of that? But it is what it is.”
He knows now not to assume these pieces will come together all by themselves.
A 2012 defense that was statistically Texas’ worst looked stout in preseason practices. Brown says now that his offense couldn’t pick up first downs on that unit last August. Then the season hit and the confidence went missing.
He hopes experience is the antidote to that kind of inconsistency. The four weeks of practice ahead will give Brown and his staff a better sense of whether 2013 really could be the next big year. But there are no guarantees.
That’s where coaching comes in, and where the challenge falls on Brown.
“This year, it’s been a fun challenge for me. I like fixing things,” Brown said. “I don’t like messing them up. And obviously, I was involved in messing it up for whatever reasons. We can all spend hours going back and looking at what was done and what should’ve been done. The only reason I do that is looking at ways to fix it, more than anything else.
“I think we’ve got it fixed. We’re not there yet. But we’re back to where we’re going to look like a good team walking out of the tunnel.”
Will that Texas team be able to stop the run? Will its transition to an uptempo offense pay off? Will this team start playing as good as it looks?
Brown has been talking about these questions for months. His players will start answering them in the next four weeks.
“Now we’ve got to shut up and do it,” Brown said. “I can sit here and say all I want, and I’ve heard it. We have improved. Anybody who knows anything about football would say we’ve got a better chance going into this season than we did two years ago or last year.”