Texas Longhorns: mack brown
Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.
When a new coach is hired, especially at a place like The University of Texas, it usually creates excitement with prospects and high school coaches on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that buzz isn’t there. With the addition of ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge on Thursday, Texas A&M further tightened its grip on the top talent in the Lone Star State.
On the other hand, the Longhorns, whose 2015 class is ranked No. 11 in ESPN's rankings, are struggling within their home state. Texas has yet to gain a commit from a top-10 in-state player. To make matters worse, Strong’s staff is losing commits to conference rivals and SEC powers in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oklahoma.
“In the state of Texas, A&M has taken over,” Cedar Hill (Texas) High School coach Joey McGuire said. “Through what coach [Kevin] Sumlin has done and then what Johnny Manziel did to help put that school in such a great position, it's helped them move to whole different level. They're the hot thing going right now. It's hard to beat, even for a program like Texas.”
As any Texas fan will tell you, there’s nothing worse than losing to the hated Aggies. The recruiting beatdown could continue as A&M is in good position with cornerback Kendall Sheffield, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end James Lockhart and cornerback Kris Boyd -- all ESPN 300 prospects strongly considering playing in College Station.
A Big 12 assistant who recruits in the Lone Star State said he could see that Texas would have problems on the recruiting trail the minute Strong announced his staff. The assistant praised Strong for luring Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State and believes his addition will help the Longhorns find some hidden gems along the offensive line. But after that, the assistant said it was hardly the all-star cast many thought Strong could assemble, given the school’s resources.
“I thought [Strong] needed to bring in guys that can stand toe-to-toe against A&M, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and all the other top teams that recruit in Texas,” the coach said. “He needed guys that had deep ties with the high school coaches in Texas. Instead, he got a lot of coaches that can win recruiting battles against Cincinnati, UCF and teams like that. This is the Big 12, not the AAC.”
In defense of the Longhorns, Strong did retain Bruce Chambers, who is entering his 17th season in Austin and has connections with high school football in the state. He also hired Les Koenning, a 1981 Texas graduate who is entering his 34th year of coaching after previous stops at Mississippi State, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Replacing Mack Brown wasn’t going to be easy. Replacing the relationships he so tirelessly built with Texas high school coaches will take some time.
All of this has made Strong’s job of recruiting local talent more difficult than most assumed it would be when he was first hired six months ago. But all is not lost. There has been no shortage of effort from the Longhorns’ staff, and Strong can sway some recruits with a simple formula this fall: winning.
“If Charlie Strong comes out and wins, there might be another flip,” McGuire said. “If they can come out and surprise some people this year and win games, then they’re going to be the hot team with recruits. Winning and losing is going to make a big part of those schools' recruiting classes.”
The former All-America wide receiver at Texas had an easy time transitioning into life after football following his three-year stint in the pros. Shipley has a burgeoning TV career as the host for "Bucks of Tecomate" and "Tecomate Whitetail Nation" on Outdoor Channel and is chasing his love of fishing, hunting and all things outdoors.
Shipley is also trying out acting in his spare time. He's portraying former Texas great Cotton Speyrer in "My All American," a movie about Freddie Steinmark and UT's 1969 national title team which is filming in Austin. ESPN.com recently caught up with him to talk about his new ventures, his brother and his former coach.
Shipley: Oh man, I was laughing the other day because they gave me my own trailer. I think they have to. That deal is going to be really fun. Growing up here, you hear all these stories about the national championship teams in '69 and '70 and Freddie Steinmark and all these guys. To have it made into a movie is pretty special. I'm happy to be a part of it and playing Cotton.
How do you like seeing the old-time uniforms and haircuts?
Shipley: What I'm having to get used to is no facial hair. I've been bearded for a while now, so I still haven't gotten used to that. But the uniforms, it feels a lot like junior high when you have the big pads. The biggest difference is being in pads for 12 hours a day. In the NCAA and NFL, they can only keep you on the field so long. That's been a little different.
How is working with Aaron Eckhart? Think he's doing a good job portraying Darrell Royal?
Shipley: Actually, I've talked to Aaron a ton. The other day, I probably visited with him for an hour and a half. He's taking the role very seriously and it's obviously big shoes to fill. I took him to the stadium and showed him around, showed him the building and the old pictures of these guys in the movie, all the memorabilia. I think he's going to do a great job.
How did you get your break with Outdoor Channel?
Shipley: It's a pretty incredible deal. David Morris, who's a hunting legend, was co-hosting the shows with Jeff Foxworthy for a long time. I've basically taken Jeff Foxworthy's spot. It's awesome and it's a full-time job.
Josh Hamilton was supposed to come down on a hunt with these guys and his whole family got sick and had to cancel. They called me and I came down. I was in Amarillo and I drove all the way down to Laredo, about 11 hours, with my wife and did the hunt. That went great and David pulled me aside and said he was looking for somebody to take the load off of him and eventually become the face of "Tecomate." He said, 'If you think you might be ready to be done playing football ...' and I didn't even let him finish. 'I'm ready. Sign me up.' Really, I guess I should thank Josh Hamilton.
I'd imagine that kind of work takes you all over the country, right?
Shipley: Yeah, for my hosting next year we have hunts on the docket for Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin and then I'll have some in Texas. It's all over the place.
Is there pressure when the cameras are following you on a hunt and you need results?
Shipley: There is, yeah. One hunt this year, it was down to the wire, the last afternoon of my hunt. With our schedule there's no extra days, you've got to get it done. I shot my deer from 300-something yards the last day and it was the only one I saw that was potentially for the show. So yeah, it's pressure. It's a lot like playing a football game. You've got the cameras on you and you've got to make something happen.
You knew your playing days would end eventually. Is it crazy to you that this is what you ended up doing? Or was this your plan all along?
Shipley: This is crazier to me than playing in the NFL. This was my dream job. A lot of people laugh about that. My uncles were giving me a hard time, saying, 'What are you trying to do, do all of our dream jobs?' I wanted to do something in the outdoor industry, I knew that, but to get a hosting job on one of the highest-watched show in outdoor television has been a huge blessing. It kind of just happened.
You spent some time this spring fishing with Mack Brown. How'd that go?
Shipley: It was fun. He wanted me to show him Lake Austin because he spends a lot of time out there and he knew I'd caught some really good fish out there. I took him out there and showed him some of my fishing holes, and we're going to do that again sometime.
Did he seem like he's enjoying the time off and the chance to relax?
Shipley: He told me before he does anything else, he wants to spend a good amount of time playing golf and fishing. I know him and Miss Sally have gone on some trips. I think it's been great for him to have some time to decompress. We all know that job at Texas is super stressful and a high-demand job. I'm sure he's liked having some time to be a normal person again.
Your brother, Jaxon Shipley, is entering his senior year. What are you expecting this fall?
Shipley: A lot of people don't know this, but he had a pretty significant surgery right before last season started and missed all of two-a-days. They went in and cut the attachments for his groin muscle on both sides and reattached them. They were torn and frayed everywhere. I don't know how he was even back to being able to play. That was four weeks before two-a-days.
He just didn't feel great last year, and I was impressed he played the way he did for going through that. I think watching him in the spring game, he looks like he's way ahead. I think he's going to have a great year.
If 103 sounds like a big number, just imagine how many recruits each and every one of those coaches would've affected. And not just the 2014 prospects who were forced to scramble before signing day -- these coaching changes have long-term implications for the Class of 2015 and beyond.
The ESPN 300 standout from Cedar Hill, Texas, is the state's No. 1 wide receiver prospect. When he announces his decision on June 20, most expect he'll be choosing from Texas A&M, Baylor and Ole Miss.
What most don't know is just how close he came to committing to Texas last year.
Ever since attending Texas' 36-20 win over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry in October, Lodge was sold. He and his parents visited Texas again in November, for at least their third time since the spring. Lodge had every intention of leaving that weekend visit as a Longhorn.
"It was actually about to happen," Lodge said last month. "I was going to commit."
Darrell Wyatt had everything to do with that. Texas' now-former co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach had a remarkably strong bond with Lodge and was one of the first to offer him a scholarship. Wyatt's advantage was unmistakable: He had coached Lodge's personal trainer, David Robinson, while an assistant at Oklahoma. Robinson, the co-owner of Quick Twitch Training in Dallas, swore by Wyatt's expertise.
"Everything D-Rob is telling me, that's what he said they were teaching at Texas," Lodge said. "I was already ahead of the guys who were there and the guys who were coming in. I knew I was going to come in there and play for sure."
Lodge says his parents were on board with him making that November commitment. But for some reason, which even Lodge can't explain today, right when he was on the cusp of making the pledge, his gut said no.
"I was about to do it, about to pull the trigger, and something was telling me in my head, 'Don't do it. Just wait,'" he said. "So I told them never mind."
A month later, Brown announced his resignation. Lodge was glad he'd held off, but he was especially troubled to learn Wyatt was not going to be retained by new coach Charlie Strong. That was the game-changer.
"He was like a dad to me," Lodge said. "I was kind of heartbroken. I used to talk to Wyatt three times a week. [Texas] would've had me."
Texas' new coaches visited Cedar Hill several times this spring in the hopes of re-sparking his interest. Is there any chance they can still sway him to follow through on his old plans of becoming a Longhorn?
"Not at all. Not at all," he said. "For me, that door is just not open. I think they know they really lost me with the whole staff change."
But there's one more door that has yet to open. Wyatt remains unemployed. Lodge has no idea why.
While he says he would hate to decommit from his June 20 choice later on, Lodge is not afraid to admit it: Wyatt is still the one person who can change his mind.
"I wonder where Coach Wyatt is going to go," Lodge said. "If he goes to one of the schools that I'm looking at, or if he picks up another job, then I'm probably already 90 percent with him.
"I can't wait to see where he goes. If he goes to one of these big programs, I'm probably with him. I really wanted to be coached by him for the next four years. Wherever he ends up ... it's going to be crazy."
For the first time since before World War II, a Longhorn wasn’t selected in the draft. It became national news, and it’s news that no program wants to have attached to it, let alone one of the nation’s most established programs. When Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine was selected by the Houston Texans as the 256th pick -- the last pick of the seven-round draft -- it opened the floodgates for barbs thrown by Texas antagonists.
What the draft ineffectiveness failed to do, however, was steer recruits -- committed and uncommitted -- away from the program’s future. If anything, it’s drawn some closer to the vision of new coach Charlie Strong and his staff.
“Some people are taking it all over the top,” uncommitted ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “Those weren’t Charlie’s people; he didn’t develop any of those kids. Why would people want to change their minds off going to a great school like Texas because of something they couldn’t control?”
“Will the draft affect your thoughts on Texas?”
“Can you trust the Longhorns to groom you into a pro-ready athlete after college?”
“Do you want to be a part of the laughingstock of college football?”
ESPN 300 cornerback Kendall Sheffield has had to answer some of these questions this week. The top-ranked player in Texas, Sheffield said he still has the Longhorns high on a list of several schools, a list that includes Texas A&M, Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon and USC.
Sheffield admitted to being shocked that the Longhorns didn’t have a draft pick, but to look at the program with a side eye -- particularly with a new coach in charge -- is something that never crossed his mind.
“I don’t know if it plays a role in recruiting. I mean, they’ve still got to rebuild,” Sheffield said. “I know they’re going to still get some big recruits in. For me, I’m going to find the school that’s the best fit for me and the place I feel has the best position coach. The draft won’t have nothing to do with it.”
Jefferson, believed to have Texas high on his list along with Texas A&M, Baylor, Alabama and others, reminded people that while the Longhorns went without a drafted player, Strong's former team at Louisville had three first-round picks in safety Calvin Pryor (No. 18 overall to the Jets), defensive end Marcus Smith (No. 26, Eagles) and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32, Vikings).
“He knows what he’s doing,” Jefferson said of Strong.
During the Mack Brown era, 58 Longhorns were drafted. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was a first-round pick by the Saints last year. Receiver/return specialist Marquise Goodwin (Bills) and defensive end Alex Okafor (Cardinals) were selected in the third and fourth rounds in 2013.
This year’s crop of undrafted talent included defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and receiver Mike Davis. Jeffcoat was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Ted Hendricks Award recipient, recognizing the nation's top defensive end. Davis caught 200 passes in his college career and is one of only four players in school history with 200 or more receptions.
Jeffcoat and Davis, as well as other Longhorns, signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents, which is another reason why recruits aren’t worried about the draft results. ESPN 300 offensive lineman Patrick Vahe -- who committed to Texas during the Brown era and chose to stay committed under Strong -- believes the draft is in full control of a player and not the coach.
Texas’ ability to produce NFL offensive linemen has been sliding in recent years. The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive lineman drafted since tackle Tony Hills in 2008. To assist in further developing linemen, Strong hired former Oklahoma State coach Joe Wickline, who coached NFL linemen Russell Okung, Corey Hilliard and Charlie Johnson at the college level. Okung is fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.
Vahe said he’ll worry about being a pro athlete when that time comes. Right now, he’s focused on being the best college athlete possible, and the 2014 draft isn’t weighing on his decision.
“I think I can learn a lot from [Wickline].” Vahe said. “We talked about his game plan, and I’m putting a lot of trust with him. The rest of it … I think people are just taking it over the top.”
Todd Dodge, head coach at Austin Westlake High School, former head coach at North Texas and a former quarterback for the Longhorns, said a draft should never have an effect on a recruit’s decision.
Dodge played at Texas from 1982-85. In that span, he saw several teammates drafted, including first-round cornerbacks Mossy Cade and Jerry Gray. The 1984 draft class featured 17 Longhorns.
Not having a draftee was an eye-opener, Dodge said, but it shouldn’t be a discussion piece in relation to Texas’ recruiting -- particularly with the changing of the guard at head coach.
“If Coach Strong and his staff are on the road making their rounds and people are using common sense, they’ll judge them by what they see,” Dodge said. “Texas has always been in the hunt for great players in the state of Texas. If there’s any doubt, you can always point to the players drafted from Louisville. Coach Strong has a track record that’s proven.”
As for the jokes from rival schools, Vahe understands that they come will with the territory, whether the program goes winless or earns a BCS championship. He also understands that the way to silence some of the jokes is by producing in practices and games and later during NFL combines and workouts. He believes a change for the better is near for the program.
“People love to talk, but it’s nothing big, really,” Vahe said. “I know [Strong] just got there, and they’re all going to start a new era. Hopefully I’ll be one of those who helps start the new era.”
As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
2. Art Briles, Baylor
3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
5. Gary Patterson, TCU
6. Charlie Strong, Texas
7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
10. Charlie Weis, Kansas
- Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
- I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
- In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
- Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
- As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
- Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
- This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.
The former Texas coach is developing into a bit of a star in the social networking world thanks to his newfound fondness for hosting late-night Q&As with his more than 59,000 followers.
On his @UT_MackBrown account, Brown has surpassed 2,300 tweets. Now that he no longer has to follow recruits, the 101 people he follows consist of former players, coaches, friends and football reporters.
Brown has stuck to his tradition of posting an inspirational quote each morning, referencing such thinkers as Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Zig Ziglar and Vince Lombardi. It serves as his thought of the day. And on a daily basis, Brown’s Twitter posts are about what you’d expect from an ex-coach who’s still living in Austin and loving Texas athletics.
He congratulated former players Jackson Jeffcoat and James Kirkendoll for receiving their T-Rings, Henry Melton for joining the Cowboys and Sam Acho for getting married.
He’s still following Longhorns sports closely and offering his support to the men’s basketball, women’s basketball and track teams these days. He’ll still retweet the Longhorn Network account from time to time.
Considering the public figure Brown became during his 16-year tenure in burnt orange, it’s no surprise he’s putting in an effort to keep up. He does seem to be enjoying this medium and the networking it offers.
And lately, on the nights he decides to take questions, Brown is open to chatting with anybody about anything. And he can really get on a roll.
On March 11, for example, Brown answered more than 60 questions in a span of about 70 minutes. Considering he does his tweeting from his iPhone, that’s quite the commitment.
His most prolific chat, to date, appears to be the one from March 3. He posted more than 165 tweets over the course of four hours, all in response to questions or comments he received.
That chat came the day after his close friend Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar. Brown’s live-tweeting of the Academy Awards drew lots of attention, too.
Congrats to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club. Good start. Jim Carey is really funny & I love Harrison Ford— Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown) March 3, 2014
In case you’ve been missing out on these Q&As -- and that’s understandable, because you never know when one will get going -- here’s a glimpse of what we’ve learned about Brown during his ask-me-anything chats.
- Brown does not hunt, nor does he drink coffee or alcohol. He loves to golf but acknowledges “it’s a tough deal.” He would not reveal his golf handicap. He does own six pairs of boots, size 10 ½.
- The most common advice he offers to those who want to go into coaching: “Follow your dream.” Brown said the coaches he looked up to were Darrell Royal, Bobby Bowden, John McKay, Joe Paterno, Bo Schembechler and Paul Dietzel. He’s also a fan of Bill Snyder.
- If Brown hadn’t gone into coaching, he says he would’ve become a lawyer. He says he’s never considered running for state office.
- His favorite meal is chili. He does prefer beans in his chili, which some Texans frown upon. His favorite Cajun food is crawfish, and his favorite candy is chocolate.
- His favorite movie is the 1969 classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” His favorite McConaughey movie is “A Time to Kill.” Brown did watch the first season of “True Detective,” but he does not watch soap operas.
- His favorite band is the Longhorn Band. His favorite Beatle is Paul McCartney.
- He believes Kevin Durant would’ve made a great wide receiver in college had he played football. It's hard to disagree with that.
- When asked if he would comment on Johnny Manziel, Brown said: “i only talk UT guys.” But he did offer that he thinks Tony Romo is a “great competitor” and that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota was tough to game plan against.
- If Brown were stranded on an island with three people, here’s who he’d want to spend his time with: Joe Jamail, the Longhorn booster who is his lawyer and best friend; Red McCombs, the billionaire Texas booster; and former President George W. Bush.
And that’s just the fun stuff. He’ll entertain questions about games he coached, offer nuggets about the big moments from his Texas career and all sorts of other football-related knowledge. Or, if you just want to be retweeted by Mack Brown, he can usually help you out with that too.
Brown is no doubt doing plenty of other things with his newfound spare time, but connecting with his fanbase is becoming one of his more popular endeavors. He’s simply out to offer up advice, praise and some honesty.
Why’s he doing this? Because Brown, as he recently reminded his many followers, is just trying to stay true to himself.
"Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself & the right people will love the real you." Unknown-Be yourself. You can't be anyone else— Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown) March 15, 2014
Best loss: 40-21 at BYU on Sept. 7 in a game that opened eyes, not only in Austin, Texas, but nationwide.
What happened: The Longhorns defense watched as BYU rushed for 550 yards and averaged 7.64 yards per carry. Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill had 17 carries for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Texas, which started the season with talk of being in the national title picture, looked overwhelmed, outmatched and ill-prepared in the loss. And David Ash left the game with a concussion, the start of his head injury issues that cut his season short.
Look up worst-case scenario and this Longhorns loss is a prime example.
Why it was helpful: First off it woke up Mack Brown to the realization that a change at the defensive coordinator spot was needed sooner rather than later. Getting beat is one thing, but losing while the defense is lethargic, sloppy and lacking a competitive fire is quite another. Brown fired Manny Diaz the next day and hired Greg Robinson to take over the defense. The Longhorns defense was a different unit under Robinson, who simplified things while allowing UT’s athletes on defense to be playmakers instead of thinkers.
Most importantly, this loss instilled an “us against the world” mentality into the Texas locker room. Carrying the label "Texas football player" meant one thing when they boarded the plane to Provo, Utah, and quite another thing when they landed back in Austin. From that point forward, the Longhorns circled the wagons and focused on accomplishing the goal of winning a Big 12 title. That goal was still within reach on the season’s final day thanks to a 7-1 start to Big 12 play before their season-ending loss to Baylor. The complete turnaround was sparked by this loss.
Revealing stat: 15.24. Hill averaged 15.24 yards per carry against the Longhorns’ defense, the third-highest yards per carry average by an FBS quarterback in a game this season behind UCLA’s Brett Hundley (16.1 against Virginia Tech) and Auburn’s Nick Marshall (15.29 against Tennessee).
Quote of note: “Our game plan and goal and objective was to stop the quarterback and tailback. We did neither. The decision to change defensive coordinators was based on our lack of ability to stop the run, period.” -- Texas coach Mack Brown one day after firing Diaz and hiring Robinson.
It started with promise, with Mack Brown confident the Longhorns could win the Big 12. Then Texas started 1-2, fired a coordinator, won six conference games in a row, upset Oklahoma, suffered a barrage of significant injuries and lost three of its final four, including its regular-season finale at Baylor with the Big 12 title on the line.
A week later, Brown resigned and a 16-year era at Texas came to an end with one final rocky 8-5 season. Here’s one more look back at the Longhorns’ 2013 campaign:
Offensive MVP: RB Malcolm Brown. While WR Mike Davis was named the team’s offensive player of the year, we’re going with Brown because he emerged as the workhorse of this Texas offense when Johnathan Gray went down with a torn Achilles. Brown started the year slow but finished with 904 rushing yards and surpassed 100 five times, including in critical victories over Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Defensive MVP: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. The senior played up to his big-time potential, earning consensus All-America honors, the Ted Hendricks Award and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Jeffcoat led the Big 12 in sacks with 13 and led the Longhorns in the locker room.
Best moment: In a result that few saw coming, Texas went to the Cotton Bowl and beat up on Oklahoma. The Longhorns attacked on both sides of the ball and won easily, 36-20, over the then-No. 12 Sooners. It was sweet revenge for a Texas senior class that had never beaten OU, and Texas got the Golden Hat for the first time since 2009.
Worst moment: A stunning 40-21 road loss to BYU on Sept. 7. The Longhorns gave up a school-record 550 rushing yards and completely fell apart in Provo in a game that cost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz his job. That loss and coaching change led to another defeat, at home against Ole Miss, which left Texas 1-2 to start the season.
Best win: The Oklahoma Sooners have been searching for a victory that would signal their return to the nation’s elite. They finally got such a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Oklahoma smoked the two-time defending national champs from Alabama, 45-31. With tons of young talent returning, notably quarterback Trevor Knight and linebacker Eric Striker, the Alabama victory could propel Oklahoma toward a national title run in 2014.
Worst loss: Baylor had a chance to put the finishing touches on a fabulous season. Instead, the Bears lost to UCF, one of the biggest underdogs in BCS history, 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl as the conference champion Bears ended their season on a sour note. It was still a great season for Baylor, yet one that didn’t end so great.
Best offensive performance: Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett were all terrific, but nobody had the bowl game Knight did. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He did have one interception, but even that pass bounced off his receiver’s hands. Those would be great numbers against anybody, and Knight didn’t produce them against just anybody. He produced them against Alabama.
Best special teams performance: Texas Tech dominated most of the National University Holiday Bowl. But the game became tense early in the third quarter when Arizona State scored on a 44-yard run to cut Tech’s lead to 27-20. Those tense moments lasted for just moments. That’s because Reginald Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders back up by two scores. Arizona State never threatened again as the Red Raiders cruised to a 37-23 upset victory.
Best play: With just a minute to play, Alabama got the ball back at its 18-yard line with a chance for game-tying touchdown drive. Instead, on the first snap, Striker came barreling around the edge and crashed into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped to the ground, and defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped it up and rumbled eight yards for a game-clinching touchdown. It was Oklahoma’s seventh sack of McCarron.
Worst play: The Big 12 had a similar play go the other way. Down 34-31, Oklahoma State drove into Missouri territory with a chance of – at worst – lining up for a game-tying field goal. Instead, the Cowboys called a pass on third-and-7, and before quarterback Clint Chelf could unload the ball, he was sacked from behind by SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam, who knocked the ball loose. Missouri’s Shane Ray gobbled up the fumble and raced 73 yards for the touchdown, as the Tigers won the game 41-31.
Best catch: On second-and-goal from the Michigan 8, Kansas State wideout Tyler Lockett was lined up across from Michigan cornerback Raymon Taylor. Lockett drove right into Taylor, then looked back to quarterback Jake Waters. The ball came sailing low, but Lockett went down to get his hands under the ball before it touched the ground, giving him his third touchdown catch of the game and putting K-State ahead 21-6.
Worst play-calling: The Cowboys were just 9 of 22 on third down against Missouri, and curious play-calling from offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich seemed to be a big reason why. Twice on third-and-3, Yurcich called running plays up the middle, which Missouri’s powerful defensive line stuffed to snuff promising Oklahoma State drives. Yurcich called another running play up the middle on third-and-1 at the end of the quarter, which the Tigers obliterated again. With the Cowboys defense dominating Missouri through the third quarter, Oklahoma State missed an opportunity to take command of the game. Third-down play-calling was a big reason why.
Best bounce-back performance: The Texas Tech defense had capitulated during a five-game losing streak, giving up 38, 52, 49, 63 and 41 points. But finally healthy again, Tech bucked up in the National University Holiday Bowl, holding Arizona State to 18 points below its season average.
Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” – coach Bob Stoops, after Oklahoma defeated the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide.
Worst official’s call: With the AT&T Cotton Bowl knotted at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma State cornerback Tyler Patmon appeared to have delivered the play of the game. He stepped in front of Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham to intercept James Franklin’s pass and returned it 37 yards into the end zone. Officials, however, flagged Patmon with pass interference – a ticky-tack call at best on Patmon, who on replays appeared to be going for the ball. With new life, Missouri capitalized to drive for a field goal, and the Tigers eventually won the game.
Best fan showing: The Longhorns didn’t have the kind of season they had hoped for. But in Mack Brown’s final game, burnt orange filled the Alamodome, turning the Valero Alamo Bowl into a sellout. The bowl game didn’t go the way the Longhorns had hoped, either -- a 30-7 loss to Oregon. But Texas fans sent out their coach in a classy way.
AUSTIN, Texas -- On the eve of his first full day as coach at Texas, Charlie Strong picked up the phone and did a smart thing. He called Mack Brown.
Strong made sure Brown knew the former Texas coach would always be part of the Longhorns program and is always welcome. Brown offered his praise and support. And he respectfully and firmly drew the line.
And with that, the baton was passed. The coach carrying it now showed us Monday he’s ready to run with a relentless fervor. Texas players would be wise to follow -- and good luck keeping up.
At his introductory news conference Monday, Strong made it easy to understand why he was tabbed to take over a Longhorns program fresh off its fourth straight season of not-good-enough. He’s here to bring back the edge.
Strong respects the tradition of Texas football. It’s the culture that needs changing.
“The mentality is always going to be a physical and mental toughness,” he said. “You have to build your program on toughness. That’s what all the successful programs do. It’s all about toughness.”
Strong’s move to Texas has been labeled a strange “fit” by national pundits, essentially because a man who values privacy and cares more about coaching football than being The Football Coach is signing up to live in one of the sport’s most oversized fishbowls. How is he going to feel comfortable?
Comfortable is a word he used just once Monday in his 45-minute news conference, in reference to ensuring Texas players get accommodated to a life led by new coaches. Comfortable is a word those players won’t hear much after their initial meeting with Strong.
The players are in for an offseason of uncomfortable, in the best way possible.
Tough and toughness are words Strong used 11 times. He admits he still knows very little about the players he’s inheriting, and they won’t return to campus for another week. But they better know what they’re in for.
This is a man with a plan and a rigorous standard. This is the guy who’s going to give Texas football the kick in the pants it needs if it wants to be great again.
“It's about the attitude,” Strong said. “The attitude they develop will be the attitude that's going to change this program. They have to develop the right attitude.”
That attitude won’t be optional. The Longhorns who care about winning championships will separate themselves. The ones who aren’t serious will be exposed.
It’s that “fit” that matters if Texas will succeed in its first year under Strong: Getting players to buy in to Strong’s brand of football and finding more who share his hunger.
As he proudly put it Monday: “We will work like it’s fourth-and-inches.”
Finding a passionate coach who’s excited to rebuild a juggernaut wasn't a difficult job for athletic director Steve Patterson and president Bill Powers, and members of the search committee admitted Monday there were several coaches who checked most of the boxes of the criteria they sought.
Strong was the one, they say, who has it all.
“We wanted somebody who was bright and an ethical leader, somebody who was physically and mentally tough, somebody who could really recruit and evaluate talent,” Patterson said. “Then once that talent is here, somebody who is a great coach and teacher who can really help our young football players grow both on the field and off.”
Strong says he believes the right foundation is in place at Texas, though you know he’ll take time to inspect it. What he’ll find is potentially great talent that has, on the whole, underperformed and lacked consistency in Brown’s final seasons.
In Dec. 2009, Strong held his first team meeting at Louisville after landing the head job. That meeting became infamous.
Strong reportedly tore into his new team. Their standard both on the field and in the classroom wasn't high enough. He demanded trust. He laid down the law.
The result? He got their attention and earned their respect. He built up a program in his likeness, full of toughness and grit. He’s ready to build another at Texas.
“The bricks are there,” Strong said. “I just need to put another brick on top of it.”
And if he's really as good as they say, in time, these Longhorns will run through a brick wall for him.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas needed a head coach who wins and wins big. Athletic director Steve Patterson had admitted that from the start of his three-week search to replace Mack Brown.
Patterson has found a coach in Charlie Strong who has done just that.
The next head coach of the Longhorns comes to Austin armed with more than three decades of experience and perhaps just what this program has been missing. Agreeing to leave Louisville wasn’t easy for Strong, hence this long and arduous weekend, but he couldn't turn down the opportunity that Texas offers.
Strong came to Louisville as a defensive mastermind after helping lead Florida to two national championships in eight seasons. He coached 13 All-American defenders, six first-round draft picks and multiple top-five scoring defenses.
Yet for all those years of success, Strong was repeatedly passed over for head-coaching jobs. At age 49, he finally got his chance to be a head man after 27 years in the business.
"I just wanted somebody so hungry he would crawl here,” Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said when he hired Strong, “and there's no doubt he would crawl here.”
Strong was just as hungry to reward Jurich’s faith, and he certainly did that. Louisville won two conference titles and three bowls in his four seasons at the helm, went a combined 23-3 in his last two years and upset No. 3 Florida in last year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Strong, now 53, nearly moved on to Tennessee a year ago. Jurich persuaded him to stay. Now he’s ready for the big stage and his biggest job yet.
A respected recruiter, Strong has wisely hitched his wagon to recruiting Florida, especially Miami, where he found Teddy Bridgewater and more than a dozen other current Cardinals. Two-thirds of his 2013 roster came from in-state and Florida talent.
His recruiting chops will be put to the test in Texas, a state where he has few ties. He spent one year coaching in this state -- as a Texas A&M grad assistant in 1985 -- and had no Texans on this season’s Louisville roster.
Establishing a new pipeline in Florida would be a significant breakthrough for this program, but Texas also needs a coach who can keep up with Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M and regain control of the Lone Star State.
That’s just one of many tall challenges facing Strong and his staff, but in his four years at Louisville he proved adept in an area Texas has struggled with in recent years: player development.
Strong won 12 games this season with a starting lineup featuring 13 former three-star recruits and eight two-stars. Bridgewater, who has emerged as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, was one of just two four-star starters.
Marcus Smith signed as a three-star wanting to play quarterback and became an All-American defensive end. Six more of the former three-stars and a trio of two-stars earned all-conference honors last month.
And by all accounts, the Cardinals players revered Strong. He’s known as a tough, fiery disciplinarian with high standards, and that might be just what this program needs now.
Still, this hire is guaranteed to come with second-guessing. It’s Texas. A big job comes with bigger scrutiny.
No matter how the Texas fan base feels about Strong, it wants to know why the Longhorns didn’t wait for Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, or why Baylor coach Art Briles never interviewed. Those were a few of the perceived Plan A candidates, and some pundits will argue that Texas didn’t make a splashy megahire. But Patterson won’t care what gets said this week. He has served as athletic director for 40 days and knew he was staking his reputation at Texas to whomever he selected.
We don’t know whom Strong will bring with him to Austin or who will comprise his first staff. We don’t know what offense he’ll run. But we do know he’ll inherit plenty of talent, endless resources and far greater expectations.
For better or worse, Strong has more in common with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops than Mack Brown. If Patterson was concerned about finding a coach with a reputation for being excessively media-savvy, as Brown was throughout his tenure, the AD would’ve gone in a different direction.
Instead, it seems safe to say that Patterson cared much more about the other side of a “fit”: a proven, tested and respected success. A coach who’s a winner and a program changer.
That’s what Texas needed above all else, and winning is the best thing Strong can do to assure a divided fan base that he’s the right choice.
But we do know the criteria that matter to Patterson and Texas president Bill Powers. At Brown’s resignation news conference last month, Patterson laid out some of what he's seeking.
“I think you have to be good with the press, you have to be able to recruit, you have to be able to understand what a big-time college football program is about,” Patterson said. “You're going to be under a lot of scrutiny. You've got to win and you've got to win big.
“You have to graduate your student-athletes, you have to take real classes. You've got to mentor them, you've got to recruit the right kind of folks. You're not going to necessarily have all of those requirements at some other schools out there.”
And so, we started crunching the numbers and comparing resumes. No matter whether you think Texas is down to 10, five or two candidates, the public speculation over who’s interested and available has created a long, long list of potential candidates worth considering.
We’ve trimmed that list down to 25 big names. Some of these coaches have already said publicly they’re not interested. But chances are good that, by Jan. 15, one of these 25 will be the next coach of the Texas Longhorns.
Comparing the candidates
A few trends to consider among these coaches, just to give a better sense of how loaded the field might be for Patterson and his committee:
- Of these 25 coaches Texas could consider, 21 have BCS conference head coaching experience, 19 have won at least one division or conference title, and 16 have led programs to BCS bowl games.
- The coaches on this list have an average of nearly 20 years of college coaching experience, and 21 of them have a 10-win season on their head coaching resume.
- Only seven of these coaches have experience coaching in Texas at any level: Art Briles, Gary Patterson, Les Miles, Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, Charlie Strong and Mike Gundy. Briles (Rule), Gus Malzahn (Irving) and Mark Dantonio (El Paso) were born in the state.
- Need an elite recruiter? You’ll find plenty on this list. Of these coaches, 13 currently have top-25 recruiting classes, according to ESPN, and based on past recruiting data, as many as 14 have a track record of averaging top-25 classes.
- Grades and integrity matter to Powers, and 16 of these 25 coaches have APR grades surpassing 950. The national average is 949. At least 18 of the 25 have a clean resume from an “integrity” standpoint. Realistically, though, that’s a subjective matter that should be left to the vetting of the search firm and committee.
It’s a strong group and Patterson has plenty of appealing options. But data on paper isn’t everything. This information helps build reputations and will land some candidates interviews.
What you can’t put on paper might be the most important factor: Fit.
Former Big 12 interim commissioner and Big East commissioner Chuck Neinas has run an executive search firm since 1997 and aided in the hires of Brown, Bob Stoops, Mark Richt, Miles and countless other head coaches. He’s a strong believer in the importance of finding comfortable fits between coach and institution.
“I’ve never been in an interview process where they bring in the board and say, ‘How do you diagram blocking a zone blitz?' " Neinas said. “They’re looking for leadership. You just work it out, spend time and see what interaction there is and hopefully be able to judge how everyone is going to work together.”
What makes a successful hire
To get more background, we also analyzed the 25 best college coaching hires of the past five years. What did these successful coaches have in common?
Four trends stood out. The majority of these coaches shared the following traits:
- A total of 21 of 25 had more than 10 years of college experience as head coaches or assistants.
- Surprisingly, 18 of the 25 had never held a BCS conference head coaching job prior to being hired.
- Of the 25, 16 were in their 40s, and 16 had backgrounds as offensive coaches.
- Only 16 of the 25 had been head coaches in the past, but 13 of those 16 already had won at least one division or conference title.
For nine of these schools, hiring a coordinator instead of a head coach paid off big. Five of those coordinators were in-house and promoted, and the strong majority of those were on offense. Five of the 25 best hires were of coaches who had taken off the previous season.
Texas isn’t looking to hire a coordinator to replace Brown. Patterson rightfully wants someone who’s already won big. It’s worth noting that only four of these coaches (Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly, Rich Rodriguez and the rehired Bill Snyder) already had led programs to BCS bowl games.
But here’s what matters: Five new hires in the past five years have led their programs to the BCS title games.
Finding a coach who meets most of Patterson’s criteria won’t be difficult. Finding one who can lead the Longhorns back to national-title contention is the reason Texas is searching in the first place.
- Mack Brown's time at Texas ended in cheers, but there was nothing to celebrate, writes Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning-News.
- Texas athletic director Steve Patterson plans to hire a new coach by Jan. 15, reports Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News.
- "When he had his moment, he made the most of it," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said of quarterback Davis Webb's performance in the Red Raiders' National University Holiday Bowl win. Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal has the story.
- Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro declared for the NFL draft after a strong Holiday Bowl performance, reports Krista Pirtle of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
- An Iowa State commitment has re-affirmed his pledge to Paul Rhoads' program, reports Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register.
- Does Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy have interest in the Texas job? It seems like he could, writes The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson.
- Baylor has a battle-tested group in the secondary heading into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune.
- There will be a lot of chips involved during the Fiesta Bowl and not necessarily the edible kind, writes Brice Cherry of the Waco Tribune.
- Oklahoma will have to have success running the ball to beat Alabama, writes John Shinn of the Norman Transcript.
- This season wasn't easy for OSU quarterback Clint Chelf, who lost his job before sparking the Cowboys' run to the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Patience paid off writes John Klein of the Tulsa World.
1. This is why Brown had to leave: It was a bummer that Brown’s last game had to go this way. But the truth is, too many games like this the past four years are why Brown had to resign in the first place. The Longhorns played hard and played tough. But Oregon’s elite talent simply outclassed Texas’ elite emotion. There was nothing stunning about Monday’s result. Frankly, Oregon could have won this game by a larger margin had it not continually self-destructed in the red zone. This is who Texas has been since the 2009 national championship game. And it’s why the time for a change had come.
2. Texas’ QB woes have got to be solved: The first order of business for Brown’s replacement will be finding an answer at quarterback. That won’t be easy. The Longhorns are in woeful shape in the position, underscored by Monday’s showing. Senior Case McCoy threw for more interception yards to the other team for the second straight game than he did yards to Texas receivers. McCoy was pulled for true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who didn’t fare any better with one completion in six attempts. Poor quarterback play is the biggest factor in Texas’ demise the past four years. And the cupboard isn’t exactly full in 2014, either. David Ash’s football future remains in question after all his concussion issues. Swoopes is athletic with a big arm, but he has to show a lot more to prove he’s the long-term answer. Who knows, maybe the answer is Jerrod Heard, the No. 6 dual-threat QB recruit in the country, who will be in Austin next fall. Either way, that will be something Texas’ new coach will have to address. And until it is addressed, the Longhorns will have a difficult time returning to the lofty perches of the Vince Young and Colt McCoy days.
3. The eyes of Texas now all turn to the coaching search: Now that Brown’s final game has come and gone, the attention on Texas’ coaching search will ramp up another notch. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said Monday he wants to have a coach in place within two weeks. Which direction will Patterson go? The Longhorns have reportedly vetted Louisville’s Charlie Strong, Baylor’s Art Briles, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Any one of those four coaches would be capable of success in Austin. But this is an important hire for the Longhorns. And one that not only will define Patterson’s tenure, but chart the course of Texas football for the next decade.