An interview with Texas coach Mack Brown
Texas just completed spring football, and new starting QB Garrett Gilbert had observers raving. I spoke to UT coach Mack Brown on Monday afternoon. We discussed the Longhorns’ shift in offensive scheme, his hopes to invigorate the running game and his thoughts on when he’ll be ready to hand over the coaching reins to Will Muschamp.
BF: What is the thinking behind not using the spread as much this year?
Mack Brown: What we’re going to try to do is keep the spread for third-and-long; keep it for our one-minute drill before halftime and at the end of the game. And we’ll also keep the spread for any game where we’re not hitting on all cylinders offensively and we need to change the tempo. But we’re going to go back to more of a balanced philosophy like what we had when we first got here with Major (Applewhite) and Ricky Williams. That will take some of the pressure off our quarterbacks.
BF: How much of the move is related to trying to spark your running game, because I noticed that three years ago, you’re 17th in the country in rushing. Then two years ago you drop to 41st and then last season you drop down to 61st.
MB: When we started running the spread, it was because Vince (Young) could run the Zone Read. Then we ran Vince less in the Zone Read at the end of his career. We never really accomplished what we wanted to accomplish with Colt (McCoy) because he got hurt as a freshman, so we were probably more cautious with him.
We feel like if you’re going to run the spread, you either need to be really good at your quarterback running the ball or you’ve got throw it every snap. We didn’t feel like we wanted to put as much time as you have to into the quarterback position and then have a higher probability of him getting hurt because he would take more hits. We felt like Garrett can run. He may not be quite as quick, but he’s as fast and stronger. But he’s also got the big arm and he can also use the play-action. We wanted to help our linemen more with our protection. And we thought we could beat some teams down with our depth, but we got away from that when Colt started hitting 76 percent of his passes. We started out with the old analogy that we were taking a few aspirin in the passing game, but then we went crazy. We want to be 50-50 (run-pass). In 2005, that’s what we were. But then instead of taking an aspirin, we took the whole bottle. Last year, we threw it 50, 58 times a game. We’d like to get back to more throwing the ball 50 percent of the time and running it 50 percent of the time and then 60-40 with one of the two phases that they’re giving us more. We do want more balance, though.
We had such a great run with Vince. He was 30-2. Colt was 45-7. That’s a pretty good run, but it’s one of the fun things about college football, unlike the NFL. New era. New time. It’s Garrett’s time. We’ll do different things. You need to be innovative in college football to continue to coach to keep from being complacent. You have to reinvent yourself and your team every year. It takes new energy. If you don’t do that, you’re going to be behind and somebody’s going to catch up and beat you.
BF: Obviously, Garrett was thrown in a tough spot facing Alabama in the BCS title game. What has surprised you about him since that game?
MB: The concern coming out of the national championship game was, did he lose some of his confidence because of the turnovers and us losing the game? We really found just the opposite. I think it probably allowed him to gain confidence.
He was very quiet last year as a leader, and I had talked to him a couple of times about it during practice. He said to me, “Coach, this is Colt’s team. I’ll be fine when Colt leaves.” And he has absolutely stepped up and taken the leadership role on this team. The kids think it is his team like it was Colt’s. The defensive kids believe in him. He’s very smart. He’s very patient. We think he has a chance to be special.
BF: Is he the most advanced drop-back passer you’ve had at this stage?
MB: We feel like he is in a very similar place to where Colt was. He played in a bigger division than Colt did, so he played against better players and in front of bigger crowds. He won two state championships at Lake Travis. His dad was a 13-year-pro in the NFL. He’s been taught well. He has thrown the ball in a lot of different systems. He won the state championship (in his junior year) with a different head coach than the one he played for and won a state championship with during his senior year. He’s flexible. He’s smart and he’s a guy who when he walks in the room, everybody turns and looks. He takes over the room when he walks in.
BF: How much do you think he gained by being in there, facing a Nick Saban defense on that stage?
MB: I think it was really helpful for him. He got 50 percent of the work all fall. He wasn’t here for spring practice. He was here for the summer. But he did not play in the first half of a game, so when he went in, the games were over. Unlike in our past, we let him run our offense, so he did get more work running our offense than some others did.
The national championship game let him understand the different looks that he was going to see. Nick Saban does a great job. You’ll never play against a more talented defense, because they could run and cover. We all thought he handled it real well. Obviously, he wants to get back to that stage and he wants to win.
BF: Where is the running game in its stage of development? Do you need to have one back emerge and become a Cedric Benson or Ricky?
MB: I don’t think we have to have that one guy. In modern day football, like Alabama did, most people have two (running backs). Ohio State had two. If you’re going to run a guy 25 to 30 times a game, he’s going to get tired and he’s going to get beaten up and he might miss a game. We feel like you need at least two. Right now we’ve got to re-establish that we’ve got two and then have a short-yardage, goal-line guy that’s 250, 260 pounds as well.
BF: I’ve heard a lot about (tight end) Barrett Matthews having a breakout spring. What kind of dimension does he bring the offense?
MB: He was an inconsistent catcher in the fall and at the beginning of the spring, but he came on so much at the end of spring. I believe he ran a 10.6 100 meters in high school at North Shore, so he is fast. He’s 230, 235 pounds. He gives us a threat downfield that we haven’t had in the last couple of years. We think that we can flex him out and play like a wide receiver, so he gives you a lot of flexibility with formations and personnel. And with running the ball more, and therefore using more play-action, we feel like we have a chance to get the ball downfield more to our tight ends.
BF: How did the new left side of the offensive line come together?
MB: The left side has changed. It was the two starters from our right side. We flipped Kyle Hix from right tackle to left tackle to start spring. Midway through spring we thought it would be good to put Michael Huey with him on the left side because they’d been together for two years on the right side. David Snow has played a lot at center. Tray Allen and Britt Mitchell are seniors, have been backups and they’ll start at right guard and right tackle.
We feel good about them, and part of our change in philosophy is we’d like to help them more. When you’re an offensive line that throws it every snap, it’s more difficult when you don’t have the ability to use play-action because it lets all the good defensive linemen in this league just tee off on you. We feel like we can help our linemen a lot more by the angle of our backs running downhill, because we will be under center more and the fact that we will have play-action to slow down the defensive line’s pass rush.
BF: What has been the feeling of this program since losing that title game?
MB: You never how they’re going to respond. We won five or six bowl games in a row. I think we’d won seven out of eight going into this year. After we lost to Washington State in the 2003 bowl game, which was the last bowl game we’d lost, we felt like everybody was just so down and so disappointed. But I feel differently about this one. I think the guys felt like they played hard. They felt like they were prepared, like they had a chance to win even with Garrett as a freshman quarterback when they lost their star. Now for nine years, they’ve won 10 plus games. I think they feel an obligation and a responsibility to Texas and to this program to make sure that they don’t have a dip. The expectations will be a little more like the ’08 expectations, when people thought we might not be quite as good because we’d lost so many people. They’ve had a tremendous spring. We’re really positive.
BF: With Texas having already named your successor with Will Muschamp, what goes through your mind when you see a Bobby Bowden leaving coaching and a Mike Bellotti going into the broadcast booth, an area where you’ve said you’d also been interested?
MB: I think when a guy like Lloyd Carr goes out as some people would think prematurely, or when a Bill Snyder comes back to coach, you see Bobby Bowden getting out this year, Mike Bellotti getting out last year, it’s a great barometer for me. Rich Brooks is getting out this year. Those are all great friends of mine. They will all be able to tell me what life is like outside of football.
It’s crazy but I have never had life without football. I really think when I watch my friends step out and try to do something else and see if it works for them, it’ll at least be some people that I can talk to when I get more near thinking of getting out to see if there’s something that I’d like to do outside of football
BF: Snyder came back. How much had you talked to him about leaving early and then missing it and getting pulled back?
MB: Bill obviously missed it tremendously. You take a guy like a Barry Alvarez. He has made a smooth transition to being an athletic director. Rich Brooks is 69. Mike Bellotti is more my age. I’m 58. Coaches are great resources. I talk to Lloyd Carr all the time. He says to make sure that you coach as long as you want to, and that you don’t quit early because it’s never the same after you quit. I feel like I’ve gotten great advice.
We’ve lost two games in two years. We had a tremendous recruiting class this year and it looks like we’re going to have one next year. Things are so positive in this program right now. Will and I, unlike some coach-in-waiting situations, get along great. Will is young. He doesn’t have to be a coach next year or the next year after that at Texas. He loves being the defensive coordinator and we’re paying him like a head coach. We feel like we’re in great shape.
People have asked me if I’ve sat down and talked to Will or (AD) DeLoss (Dodds) or (UT president) Bill Powers or (wife) Sally about the day that I’m gonna quit. I really have not. I know people think that can’t be possible. I haven’t because I really feel if I start talking about it, it’s not fair to the kids or me. I don’t want to plan retirement and not do a good job coaching. I think what I will do is continue to coach until the day I feel like it’s time for a change for everybody, and then I’ll walk in and tell DeLoss and Bill Powers, it’s time. But there is no timetable.
BF: There’s been a lot of speculation about conference expansion this offseason. What goes through your mind when you hear Texas’ name linked to the Big Ten?
MB: I really let it go. DeLoss has been here like 29 years. He and Bill Powers have such a great feel of what’s best for Texas. We’re all very good friends. I trust them as much as I can trust anybody. If anything came up where they thought they were looking at another conference, they would come and talk to me about it. But that has not happened. I’m still worried about who is going to be at fullback, what we’re going to do to run the ball better, who our tight end’s gonna be, who is going to be our backup quarterback, how we’re going to get settled along the defensive line when we’ve lost two years of really good players. My job is to keep winning, and their job is to make sure that we keep playing in a place conducive for Texas fans, and for us to continue to make the money that we need to make and for Texas fans to have a good experience.