The 2013 season has been hailed as a
potential “victory lap” for Mack Brown. But with the hiring of
Larry Porter and the promotion of Major Applewhite, are we seeing a
natural culmination of a career or is Texas simply stuck halfway in a
transition to a completely different football program?
Major Applewhite didn't wait long to
exercise his new-found authority.
Less than a week after offensive
coordinator Bryan Harsin's departure and Applewhite's promotion, the new OC interrupted a post-practice speech by Mack Brown the mete out a bit of accontability. According to a team source, “there was
a percentage (of players) that simply wasn’t looking Mack in the
eye and paying attention to what Mack was saying. In the middle of
Mack’s speech, Major interrupted Mack out of the blue and started
screaming at the kids. He said something along the lines of, 'This is
your coach, you look him in the bleeping eye when he’s talking to
you, or you’re not going to be here anymore.' Major then went on to
have all of the kids run sprints to end practice and continued to
make them run these sprints until 'they got it right.'”
It's a mentality also reflected in
Applewhite's comments following the Longhorns' 31-27 win in the Alamo
Bowl: “It's not about the Xs and Os, it's really about just the
culture of our program and demanding more of our guys, demanding more
of our coaches, strength coaches, trainers, just getting guys
tougher, and that's where we're going to improve as a ball club.”
Given the speed at which he exercised
his authority, it's probably not a coincidence that the arc of the
Alamo proceeded as if Major Applewhite was playing quarterback for
the Longhorns. David Ash's passing stats for the first three
quarters: 12 of 22 passing, 95 yards, no touchdowns and one
interception. Fourth-quarter: 9 of 11, 146 yards, two touchdowns, no
INTs. It was reminiscent of Applewhite's 2001 Holiday Bowl, when – after three second-quarter interceptions – he led the
Longhorns 27 fourth-quarter points.
In similar fashion, against the Beavers
the Horns overcame a lack of an interior running game, chaos on the
offensive line, nine UT penalties to Oregon State's two, a blocked
field goal and zero backup quarterbacks (Alex, you got your one
throw; let us never speak of it again). It was a completely different
team from the one that looked so inept at the State Fair that Big Tex
self-immolated in disgust.
But even with the dramatic
philosophical shift, former UT quarterback Applewhite can still be
sold as a “Mack Brown” guy. A very different picture is painted
by Wednesday's hiring of Larry Porter as Texas'
running backs coach.
As far as his resume is concerned, Porter is a fine hire. He's had success as a coach –
managing both individual stars and committees of running backs –
and been even more successful as a recruiter, consistently stealing
top talent from Texas while at Oklahoma State and LSU. He was even
hailed as Rivals' “Recruiter of the Decade.” But according to
Larry Porter, Larry Porter also has ties to infamous street agent
The Texas Longhorns of three years ago
would not have pursued Porter, regardless of qualifications. Such an
un-Mack Brown hire opens questions about the future of Texas
Over the past couple years, Brown has
frequently pointed to 2013 as the target season for all the pieces to
fall into place in terms of chemistry, experience, leadership and
talent. But these recent changes on the coaching staff are also
distinct moves away from a “Mack Brown” football team. Based on
the results of recent OU games, that trend is unlikely to upset most
Texas fans, but there is a disconnect between the “comeback season
of 2013” held up by Brown and the restructuring of the coaching staff.
Understandably, there are many reasons
the Longhorns actually could make 2013 their “comeback” season.
Ash is getting better, statistically the worst defense in program
history played much better than expected in the Alamo Bowl, Texas
only loses nine scholarship seniors and the offensive line will be
the Horns' most experienced in years. And Texas will finally lose
the the “well, they're just so young” excuse.
So, which is it? Are we really seeing
the successful culmination of a career? Or is this the beginning of a
peaceful transfer of power, a bloodless coup d'état of the Brown
I doubt it can be both.