Stuck in the Middle

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By Ross Lucksinger
Posted Jan 2, 2013
Copyright © 2018

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Mack Brown and Major Applewhite

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 Willie Lyles.

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 football.

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 regime?

I doubt it can be both.

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