For a guy whose employment status supposedly swings in the balance this season, there is a remarkable peace that surrounds Texas football coach Mack Brown.
As disgruntled fans and alumni gnash their teeth over the Longhorns’ 22-16 combined mark over the past three seasons, Brown spent Sunday weighing in with a collection of comments that sounded nothing like a coach whose team will head into Monday’s start of drills picked to finish as a Big 12 also-ran for a fourth consecutive season.
“I think we’ve got it fixed,” said Brown, whose team managed only a fourth-place nod in the preseason media poll despite having more returning starters (19) than any league team.
“It,” of course, would be the Longhorns’ three-year hiatus from BCS bowl appearances or late-season relevance in the conference standings. That is a trend Brown would be wise to curb in 2013 and one Texas coaches addressed during a recent retreat to prepare for the season.
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The consensus? Expect double-digit wins. Now.
“We have improved,” Brown said, summing up the sentiment of his assistants. “We’d like to do better and, at the same time, they think we’re going to. What they’re saying right now is not ‘coachspeak.’ They really feel good about where we’re headed. Now, we’ve got to shut up and do it.”
For Texas, that has been the tricky part the past three seasons: doing it. Brown, ever the wordsmith, always has been able to talk a good game. But there is a different twist to Brown’s actions this fall, starting with his decision to open three practices to fans (Thursday through Saturday) and three other sessions to media members during camp.
That is unprecedented access, by recent Texas standards. Even if players merely perform jumping jacks in shorts during those workouts, the gesture smacks of a confident coach rather than one who feels the wolves circling at his door.
Why the fresh approach?
“Our team is at a different point now,” Brown said. “We’re an older football team.”
Because of that, Brown said he has his best handle on the Longhorns’ level of leadership than in any season since 2009 when Colt McCoy played quarterback and the team reached the BCS National Championship Game. He’s satisfied that quarterback David Ash, linebacker Jordan Hicks, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and other veteran leaders can redirect the focus of younger teammates when they are tempted to lose their composure in difficult situations.
“You can see when things have happened over the last two years, it makes you want to step up and fix the problems that you’ve had. We think we have more of an ability to fix them right now than we did any of the last three years,” Brown said. “That’s why I’m more confident this team will be the best one that we’ve had in the last three years.”
Good enough to win the Big 12? Brown makes no guarantees.
But there is more confidence in his voice, more calm in his demeanor, than at the start of any fall camp since 2009. There is more spring in his step, and it has nothing to do with the fact Brown dropped 25 pounds in the off-season.
He won’t say it publicly, but you have to believe Brown relishes the fact that his team finished fourth in the Big 12 media poll. It’s clear he believes the Longhorns are better than that, and he won’t hesitate to remind players how little respect they received from local pundits behind closed doors. Not that they need a reminder.
After the Longhorns received their fourth-place projection in the Big 12 race, receiver Mike Davis posted on his Twitter account: “I’m glad everybody still sleeping on us. Watch when we win every game … Everybody going to jump on that Longhorn bandwagon!!!”
Although none of Texas’ players met with the media Sunday, Davis weighed in with another Tweet: “I promise this will be a year to remember!!!” Teammates echoed similar sentiments at last month’s Big 12 media days in Dallas. Brown followed suit Sunday.
But none of that really matters unless the Longhorns heed Brown’s Sunday suggestion: After three seasons of wandering in the wilderness, it is time to “shut up and do it.”