The Components of Mediocrity

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By Ross Lucksinger
Posted Feb 7, 2013
Copyright © 2014 InsideTexas.com


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Major Applewhite and Mack Brown

After an unprecedented run of success last decade, the Longhorns have now fallen well past the mean. But there is no single action that led to Texas' downfall. Instead a collection of problems has caused the program to be defined by the challenges it is attempting to overcome.

On Friday January 25th, Texas Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving – both ranked No. 7 in their respective Coaches polls – traveled to TCU's University Natatorium for a dual meet against the Horned Frogs. The men won 133-88, taking 11 of the 12 events in Fort Worth. The women's fared even better, winning 147-74 and sweeping all 12 events.

What's significant about the successful night in Fort Worth is it marked the first Big 12 victory for Texas in 69 days in any sport. The last was Vollyball's 3-0 win over West Virginia back on Nov. 17. Following that win, Football lost on Nov. 22 (TCU) and Dec. 1 (Kansas State) and Men's and Women's Basketball proceeded to lose their first ten games of the season, collectively.

Given the large number of conference events that Texas teams participate in, occasional statistical deviations are to be expected. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said as much, recently telling CBS Sports “these things are cyclical. They are everywhere. I can look at kids coming to campus, the coaching staff, facilities, all those things – we're fine. We need to play games and win games.”

There are challenges that need to be overcome and if those challenges were few then allowing the “cycle” to run its course would be sufficient. But the challenges are not few.

Within a short span of time we've seen – in football alone – the loss of Bryan Harsin, the Regents calling an emergency meeting to address the conduct of the man who was promoted into Harsin's place, arrests and a recruiting class with zero five stars, only six of the top 20 players in the state and zero defensive linemen.

Individually these are challenges to be overcome. And they can be overcome. For example, though the 15-man recruiting class is not as highly regarded as those in years past, Texas also had a not-so-highly-regarded 15-man recruiting class in 2005 that – thanks to actual player development – turned out just fine. But when the problems become too numerous, they cease to be “challenges to overcome” and instead become the program itself.

Have you ever heard of the ship of Theseus?

It's a paradox written by Plutarch in the first century CE. It asks if an object that has had all its component parts replaced is fundamentally a different object. And, if so, at what point did it cease to be the original object? If all the planks the make up a ship are replaced over time, is it still the same ship? What if you took all of the old planks and built a new ship? Why is that not the original ship, even though it's made of all the original pieces? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Mostly it's just an argument of semantics. We apply the word “ship” to a collection of wood and treat it as a singular object. In reality, all objects are just collections of consituent objects we give titles to, at least down to the quark level. Even our bodies are the ship of Theseus. Within seven years, our body has replaced most of its cells. (Most. There are a few exceptions. Neurons in the cerebral cortex cannot be replaced. Dead brain cells are gone for good. Don't huff paint, kids.)

The point is that the pattern is more important than the parts.

The loses are composite parts of the program. When they become as numerous as we've seen in recent years, they become what Texas is. Now winning is the statistical anomaly. Volleyball and men's golf are the islands of success in a sea of mediocrity. This is made more apparent by just how far Texas has fallen.

Do you remember 2005? Of course you remember 2005. Vince, Rose Bowl, National Championship, all that wonderful stuff.

But it wasn't just a banner year for football. Seven of the nine men's athletic teams won their conference championship. The other two, cross country and golf, placed second. No other Big 12 member institution claimed more than one league title during the 2005-06 academic year and Texas had seven. It gave the Horns a total of 30 Big 12 titles in men's athletics in the short history of the conference. The next closest was Nebraska – a team that has since left the Big 12 – with 17.

That is not something that occurs as the result of a cycle. It is also does not occur as a result of a single action, a single hire or a single win. It was a collection of actions that created the complete and utter dominance of Texas in the Big 12 conference. And it is collection of actions that has resulted in the current mediocrity.

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