Q&A with Texas Longhorns Head Coach Mack Brown
Brian Smith – FOXSportsSouthwest.com
His teams have appeared in two of the past five BCS Championship Games. He’s won at least ten games in nine consecutive seasons. His football factory in Austin has cranked out 48 players drafted by NFL teams in the past 12 years. And even though he’s named his successor, Mack Brown isn’t done yet. The Texas head coach has already cemented his legacy as a winner, but Brown still exudes the same passion for the program he had when he started in Austin back in 1997. Brown talked with FoxSportsSouthwest.com about his team’s national championship run, the upcoming season and more.
Spring practice ended over a month ago for your team, but in those 15 sessions, what were you hoping to accomplish with a team that made it to the BCS Championship Game last season?
We felt like first, we needed to reinvent ourselves. You never know how kids are going to respond after a national championship game that you win or lose. You want them to feel good about 13-1. You want them to be disappointed in the game. But you want them to start over. That’s very important. We felt like in the offseason program we needed to reinvent ourselves, get new energy, new leadership. Get your seniors established, and see what things you need to tweak on both sides of the ball.
We felt like Colt [McCoy] had been so accurate – completing 7 out of ever 10 passes – that we needed to back and mix the run in more. We got away from our running game some, so we needed to be more balanced, like we were when we got here. That would help our defense as well, because in the last two BCS games, we’ve seen a two-back system with Ohio State, and a two-back system with Alabama. In our league, we don’t see that a lot right now. It’s a spread league that’s throwing the ball all over the place. We wanted to continue to throw it like we were, have the spread and be able to run it more to help our defense, as well as our offense.
A lot has been made of the decision to move your quarterback under the center more on offense. How will this benefit your run game?
We studied the last three years, and we’ve probably been under center more than people thought, but we had more explosive plays under the center with downhill runs than we had from the shotgun. We also feel that you have a better play action package when you’ve got the backs going downhill, and that affects the safeties and linebackers more. We also wanted to go back and do a better job of trying get the ball deep through play action.
Your new starter at quarterback, Garrett Gilbert, is a bigger guy and more of a pocket passer than Colt McCoy. However, will we still see Texas run the read option and similar running plays out of the shotgun next season?
We will still see a lot of the same offense. We might run the zone read some; it just won’t be a feature play. Garrett’s a guy who can run. He’s big and strong, and he’ll definitely still run the ball as a quarterback.
During the offseason, you met with some of Boise State’s assistant coaches to talk about throwing some new plays into your offense. How did those talks go?
You talk about reinventing yourself. We also wanted our staff to push the envelope on imagination, and see if we can come up with some innovating things in all three phases. We always liked to have the fakes in the kicking game and the reverses, but we want to do a better job in those areas, and the same thing goes with disguises on defense. But we felt like offensively, one of the things we could do a better job of is have more fun plays. We’ve moved the ball so well, we’ve scored a lot of points and we didn’t really have to have those plays. But I think it’s fun for the kids and it’s fun for the fans, and something that we’re missing.
Boise was actually coming to visit us on some other issues, and we sat down and visited with them about their reasons for their innovative plays and the trick plays, and how they planned them and what they do. It was a great three or four days with the staffs, with innovations from both sides.
Texas really hasn’t had an every-down feature back since Jamaal Charles. Have you seen any of your current backs start to step up in that role during the end of last season and into this spring?
If we played today, we would start Tre Newton or Fozzy [Foswhitt] Whitaker. Those two guys kind of separated themselves this spring, because we’ve got to get ourselves in a position where we can consistently make four-plus yards. If you make the short yards, then you’ll make the long yards. We’ve been good in goal line, we’ve been good in short yardage, but we have not been consistently good out in the field running the ball. That’s the thing, and we sensed that it goes back to the offensive line. We have 3 starters back from last year, but some of it’s on the backs, too. They’ve got to make some yards when nothing’s there. We’ve really challenged our backs to step up, and we do feel like since we are under the center more and we’re running downhill more, that there will be better advantages for the backs to get some more yards.
Were the practices this spring a little more physical in light of the fact that you want to establish the run?
Not really. We hit all the time. There’s sometimes the perception out there that we don’t, but we’ve hit really for all 13 springs that we’ve been here, so I didn’t feel like the structure of our practices changed very much.
You lose your big playmaker at receiver, Jordan Shipley. Do you have a guy on your roster who can take Shipley’s place as the lead receiver, or will his production be spread out over a group of receivers?
I would think we would see it spread out more. We lost Quan Cosby one year, then we lost Jordan Shipley the next year, and as of right now, we don’t have that go-to guy. We can spread it around up to four or five guys, but as of this moment, we wouldn’t be able to do it like we did.
Shipley also excelled as a kick and punt returner. Who will take over his job at those positions?
Marquise Goodwin returned a kickoff against Texas A&M for a touchdown, so we feel like he has a chance. D.J. Monroe returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last year. Earl Thomas would’ve been our punt returner this year, but he obviously left early for the NFL. Right now, we feel like Curtis Brown or Aaron Williams would be starting as our punt returner.
Talk about leadership for your 2010 team. Your four-year starter at quarterback is gone, Jordan Shipley graduated, and there really seems to be a lack of guys with big game experience on offense. Is that a concern for you?
Leadership is a concern every year, because you’re really not sure what you have, even if you think you know. Until you’re in a game and you’re in some trouble, and you’re fighting from behind to win the game, you’re really not sure who’s going to step up in my estimation. I think it’s easier to change the past difficulty into your future than it is to anticipate your morale, your chemistry and your leadership. So that’s something that we constantly work on: To re-teach and develop leaders, because if you aren’t developing leadership, you’re getting behind.
One of the more overlooked losses due to graduation is that of your kicker, Hunter Lawrence, who had a terrific season last year. How confident are you in the kickers you currently have on the roster?
We lost a great kicker in Hunter. He had a tremendous year. We feel like that John Gold can step in the punting role, along with Justin Tucker. John punted in the national championship game and did a great job for us. We also feel like watching Justin this spring, he’ll be really, really good kicking off and with field goals. We feel like, even though there are some question marks, we can be as good in the kicking game as we were last year.
It says a lot about Texas’ talent that you can lose a top-15 Draft pick in Earl Thomas and still have the secondary be one of the strengths of this year’s team. Do you think Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown are the best pair of cornerbacks you’ve had in your time at Texas?
It’s hard to compare them, because I think every corner that has started for [defensive backs coach] Duane Akina in the last seven years has had some time in the NFL. So the guys have been really good, but we think these three guys – Curtis Browns, Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams – all have a chance to be NFL guys. We think they have a chance to be really good.
Take me back to last year’s BCS Championship Game against Alabama. When you saw Colt motion toward the sidelines, could you tell anything about the severity of his injury? Did you have any idea that you may not have him for the rest of the game?
We did not. We knew he had a stinger at Kansas State in his freshman year. So what you do is you try to get your young freshman out there, and you get him to manage the game until you can get a doctor’s report on Colt. The reason we didn’t know is because he was on the sideline for a little while. They were obviously trying to get some feeling back in his shoulder, but then they took him inside. It was halftime before we understood that he would not be back in the game.
It took Garrett a little while to adjust to the speed of the game, but he started to make things happen toward the end. Was there a particular point when you saw him start to gain some confidence?
We thought in the late third quarter he had a couple of throws, and all of a sudden we felt like he was getting comfortable, that the protection was getting better, the momentum was changing some and that he had a chance. Then obviously the two touchdown passes to Jordan and the two-point play. I really thought that, with three minutes and fifty seconds left, we were going to win the game.
What did you tell Garrett at halftime after you found out that Colt could not play? Do you remember mentioning anything to him in particular?
Not really. We told him that we thought the circumstances would be different. We told the team in general that people probably think we’re going to lie down and get embarrassed, because it was not a good half, and to go show them it’s different. We asked Colt to stand with Garrett and try to help settle him down and move forward during the game. We told Garrett he won two state championships and we have tremendous confidence in him, and let’s not talk about age, let’s talk about production.
How great was it for you to be able to call out your four-year starting quarterback’s name at the NFL Draft last month?
It was really special. We were standing there, and [former UT defensive tackle] Lamarr Houston had just been taken. We were waiting for Lamarr to get done with his press conference so we could spend some time with him. A couple of people on the Commissioner’s staff said, “Colt’s probably going to be taken here in five or ten minutes. Would you like to walk out and call his name?” That’s not happened before with college coaches. I said, “That’d be great.” I loved it. It was a thrill for me.
You also spent some time as an analyst for the NFL Network’s coverage of the Draft. Is that a harder job than most people believe?
It is tough. I have great respect for what those guys do. The guys were very prepared, and had worked so hard for it. Charles Davis and Corey Chavous and Mike Mayock had worked so hard to have a beat on every kid who had a chance to be drafted. Rich Eisen is the ultimate professional. He handled the whole pool of guys who were up front. He would lead you into the right questions and cut you off when it was time to move forward to the commercials. They worked really hard. We started at 6:00 that morning, and didn’t finish until 5:30 that afternoon. It’s a full day, and people who think that those guys don’t work just don’t understand.
Toward the end of the 2008 season, you named your defensive coordinator Will Muschamp as the head coach-in-waiting. Why did you decide to make that decision at that particular point in time?
The number one thing is that we think Will will be a tremendous head coach in time. The second part is that we had four defensive coordinators over a five-year period. We had guys who were leaving and going to head coaching jobs, and it wasn’t fair to Texas or to the kids. Will still was excited about being a defensive coordinator, and there were three other jobs that were open, Will was going to have a conversation about all three. We felt like there was a possibility that we would lose him.
I’m not ready to be through coaching, but I’m getting a little bit older. Will is young, so we felt like if he was willing to come and wait his turn, he would have an opportunity to get a great job here. And we felt like Texas would benefit over the experience he would get by sitting here and learning about Texas football and the state, more so than trying to bring someone else in. He would have a relationship with the high school coaches. He would have a relationship with our staff.
We also felt like over time, he would know the lettermen better than anyone else, and there would be an easier transition for the kids on campus. So we just felt that it was a win-win. It’s a model that a lot of people use in the business world. The reason it works is Will doesn’t feel like he has to be a head coach right now at 37, and I’m not ready to quit. It wouldn’t have worked if he needed to speed his timetable up.
The NCAA instituted a rule last year regarding head coaches-in-waiting and recruitment that limits them when it comes to recruiting. The rule has since been delayed a year, but do you feel like the rule is unfair? Do you think the rule really singles your program out?
It does single out us and Maryland, because we’re the only two teams that have future coaches. We felt like the rule is unfair for Will to do his job currently as a defensive coordinator. That’s why we’ve appealed the rule, and we sure hope the NCAA will uphold that appeal.
You made the move to Texas from North Carolina back in 1997. Upon your arrival, you went across the state for a series of talks. What was the aim of those talks, and what did you think needed to be changed about the Texas football program for it to be successful?
Coach [Darrell] Royal told me there were a lot of split loyalties when we came here. The faculty, alums, high school coaches, media, lettermen…so many people across the state were not consistently proud of their football program. And this is the state university, so they wanted to be proud. He said it was like a box of bee bees that had been dropped and were all over the room, because your support is scattered everywhere. He said, “Texas is a powerful place when it has the power of one and everybody’s working in the same direction. What you’ve got to do is get all those bee bees back in the box, and everything will be fine.”
This year’s team loses a lot of leadership from last year and the previous seasons, but it seems like several other Big 12 teams are in the same boat. At Texas, you’ve raised the bar in terms of expectations. What do you want to see from your team in 2010?
We ask our guys to be the team they can be. Our goals would be to win the opener, to win the Big 12 South, to win the Big 12 Championship, and then win our bowl game. That’s our goal every year, and hopefully the bowl game might be the national championship game. But when Auburn is 13-0 and doesn’t get to play in the championship game, we do not tell our guys they have to win the national championship to be successful, because the way the system is, they may not get that chance. That’s our goal each year, and the guys know it. Because they’ve won 10-plus for nine straight years, they understand that ten is the minimum that we can even consider. We want to start from there and move forward.