A handful of national college football writers extended their weekend foray into the Lone Star State to join local scribes Monday in another round of Longhorn Limbo.
Specifically, inquiring minds wanted to know how far the bar can continue being lowered at Texas (1-2) before coach Mack Brown is removed from his $5.3 million job, either voluntarily or forcibly. Brown dug in his heels during Monday’s news conference and made it clear he has no intention of providing additional evidence to solve that riddle.
“You stop the rumors by winning,” said Brown, whose job status has come into question in the wake of a two-game losing streak marked by the dismissal of former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “There have been rumors here for 16 years, by the hour. What I know is the negative people will be negative. The kids are hearing all negatives. Their families are hearing all negatives.
“So I’ve got to stand up … and be positive. I like a fight. I’ve got a lot of pride. I don’t want a team that doesn’t play hard and I don’t want a team that’s not coached well. I’m going to bust it to get this thing fixed. So I’m not laying down.”
Brown was equal parts feisty, folksy and philosophical as he explained his plan to get the Longhorns’ season back on track following lopsided losses to Brigham Young and Ole Miss in which Texas was gouged for a combined 822 rushing yards.
The setbacks knocked the Longhorns out of the Top 25 but elevated Brown, who has a 23-19 record in his past 42 games at Texas, to No. 1 on Monday’s list of embattled college coaches, replacing Southern California’s Lane Kiffin for this week’s top spot.
Texas opens Big 12 play Saturday in Austin against Kansas State (7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8), a defending league co-champion and an opponent the Longhorns have not defeated in a decade. Texas has lost its past five meetings to the Wildcats (2-1) and K-State’s arrival comes on the heels of a week when Texas officials have denied a report about the imminent retirement of athletic director DeLoss Dodds, 74, and issued multiple votes of confidence in regard to Brown, who has a record of 11-15 in Big 12 play the past three seasons.
As things stand, the majority of Texas’ most influential boosters remain solidly behind Brown, who won a national championship in the 2005 season and lost a BCS title game to cap a 13-1 campaign in 2009. But there is frustration within the fan base and Brown envisions quieting the masses by winning a Big 12 title.
After Saturday’s 44-23 loss to Ole Miss, he said the Big 12 title was “all we’ve got left” in terms of lofty preseason goals. Brown reiterated that objective Monday.
“It looks to me like the Big 12’s wide open. So why shouldn’t we have a chance?” said Brown, who hopes to have starting quarterback David Ash (concussion) back at Tuesday’s practice and back in Saturday’s lineup. “Right now, the only thing that’s important is to beat Kansas State.”
Texas will need an improved Ash and a revitalized defense, now under the direction of Greg Robinson, if it hopes to remain in the Big 12 race for the next month, let alone the full campaign. With two of the Longhorns’ first three conference games against last year’s co-champs, Kansas State and No. 14 Oklahoma (3-0), Texas could be saddled with two league losses by the time it leaves the Cotton Bowl following an Oct. 12 meeting against the Sooners.
If that occurs, the boos that greeted Brown from Texas fans at the Ole Miss game could become too deafening for administrators to continue to ignore. But that is next month’s issue.
For Texas, the immediate concern is for players to buy into Robinson’s defensive tweaks, which Brown made with the Big 12 title chase in mind. He said players should play more physical and have “more advantages” at their disposal each day as Robinson stresses all-out-effort on every snap.
“He’s very demanding. And he’s always had that mindset,” Brown said. “He was the only guy we could have brought in with a chance to get this thing fixed.”
Despite the September struggles, which has Texas ranked No. 114 nationally in total defense (among 123 teams), safety Adrian Phillips said it is not too late to salvage this defense or this season.
“You want to be known as a physical team. Starting out, we haven’t reached that point yet,” Phillips said. “But it’s the perfect time in the season to get that changed around. We still can save the face of our team and save the face of our defense.”
If not, Brown can expect more serenades like the one he received — and understood — Saturday from the home crowd.
“I’m not very happy with me, either, right now. I might boo me,” Brown said. “The fans don’t have to like me. I’d tell them, ‘Be mad at me but don’t let that hurt the energy that you bring to your team.’ ”
In a season that is fast approaching the brink, this much is certain: Brown cannot afford to lower the bar much farther in his weekly renditions of Longhorn Limbo.