Carlton: After rare losing season, Texas faces array of tough questions
Column by CHUCK CARLTON / The Dallas Morning News
The Texas football season has become a postmortem examination.
By Monday, Mack Brown will be closely exploring what put the Longhorns in the postseason morgue for the first time since 1997 – barring an unlikely reprieve if not enough bowl-eligible teams are available.
Sound grisly? You must not have seen the game film. After a 5-7 finish, Brown indicated that he would try to be patient and begin work Monday.
“I have a lot of work to do here,” Brown said. “There’s no timeframe on it, no timetable.”
In cyberspace, rumors swirled about the fate of various assistants, including offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Likely scenarios include long-rumored retirements by offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and special teams coordinator Mike Tolleson.
In reality, much of the Texas staff was already on the road Friday, trying to secure and build on a recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by Rivals.com.
Brown made it clear than any decisions would be his, and praised athletic director DeLoss Dodds and president William Powers.
“I’m very lucky that DeLoss and Bill Powers trust me to do the things that I need to do to fix things,” Brown said.
Though Brown called the season an aberration, the number of breakdowns is significant.
In many ways, the 24-17 Thanksgiving loss to Texas A&M was the season in microcosm.
The Longhorns gave away valuable early momentum with a red-zone fumble. A potential tying drive ended on a tipped pass and interception.
Texas finished with four turnovers to two for A&M, making the Longhorns minus-12 in turnover margin.
Cyrus Gray became the eighth opponent to run for 100 yards against the Texas defense, finishing with 223 yards on 27 carries.
Then the game ended on a head-scratching special teams mistake, when Texas didn’t field a punt.
The Washington Generals weren’t this predictable in losing every night to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Brown recounted his season-long concerns. He fretted about a hangover from the BCS title game loss and was frustrated by the lack of intensity of the first August scrimmage. And it got only worse.
“There were some things that were flawed. That’s what I’ve got to figure out – what we missed,” Brown said, rattling off question after question.
“Why didn’t they play with emotion early? Why didn’t we play better? Why didn’t we score points like we had? Why did we give up too many big plays on defense? Why was our kicking game inconsistent when we had really good players, and I thought it would be the best we’d ever had?”
In the locker room Thursday, sophomore Garrett Gilbert went from teammate to teammate, telling them the 2011 season began with Monday workouts.
For Texas to rebound, Gilbert must be a much better quarterback than the first-year starter who finished with 10 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.
A 5-7 record and falling short of bowl eligibility has “got to be something that motivates us as a team going into spring,” Gilbert said.
Center David Snow described the feeling as “pain and agony.” Twice.
Senior defensive end Sam Acho said he learned it “takes a team to win games,” not individuals.
Asked what he had learned about this season, Brown cut straight to the bottom line.
“I’ve learned I don’t like losing,” he said. “It’s been 20 years since I haven’t been to a bowl.”
Questions facing Texas coach Mack Brown after a 5-7 finish:
? Does he make a change with Greg Davis, his offensive coordinator since 1998?
? If he considers this a one-year blip, does he have to be careful not to overreact?
? How can he build leadership among the players after a season that showcased Texas’ fragile side, especially on defense?
? Will maturity and a top recruiting class bring more offensive playmakers?
? Why did so many mistakes come from special teams?