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December 20, 2010

Texas looks to get out of its mud hole

The power of positive thinking was never lost on Darrel Royal.

"You've got to think lucky," Royal, the legendary former Texas coach, once said. "If you fall into a mud hole, check your back pocket -- you might have caught a fish."

Well, current Texas coach Mack Brown, who invokes Royal's name at most every opportunity, should be reaching back on a daily basis because the Longhorns have fallen into a giant mud hole.

Amazingly, Texas, a program that had won at least 10 games for nine consecutive seasons, isn't among the 70 teams in the postseason. Indeed, Texas is the only team in the Big 12 South Division that isn't bowl eligible, which means the Longhorns have gone from playing for the 2009 national title to sitting at home for the holidays this season.

Texas had a stagnant offense that couldn't mount a consistent running game, an error-prone quarterback and a defense that allowed too many big plays. Major changes are being made on the coaching staff, not the least of which was replacing highly successful defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who last week was named coach at Florida.

Brown reportedly will fill Muschamp's vacated position with former Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. A fish in the back pocket? Time will tell.

Brown still has to hire an offensive coordinator to overhaul a unit that ranked 87th in the nation in scoring, 112th in turnovers lost (with 30) and frequently stalled in the red zone.

Mud hole? Actually, this looks more like a sinkhole.

Of course, the Longhorns will get out of it. Texas has too many resources, too much tradition and too rich a recruiting area to stay stuck in the mud forever. The question, then: How long is this going to take? And if it takes too long, could Brown lose the support of Texas fans? Could he even wind up on the proverbial hot seat that often incinerates the careers and reputations of struggling coaches?

An interview request for Brown was denied, but a former Big 12 coach who requested anonymity suggested Texas' problems may not be easily fixed, which may result in once-adoring fans turning on the Longhorns' coach.

"They're not real patient in Texas," the former coach said. "That could happen. What I think would happen sooner than anything is that Mack would check it in. I think he would hate go to out on a losing note. He wouldn't want to quit, but I don't think Mack could take it [if Texas continued to struggle]."

Not patient in Texas? That's an understatement.

True, Texas is just one year removed from winning the Big 12 championship in dramatic fashion over Nebraska. But this season, the Longhorns lost seven games, including a blowout loss at home to UCLA and setbacks at the hands of Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

The above paragraph also describes Texas' final season under John Mackovic in 1997.

In '96, Texas upset Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game, but the Longhorns lost seven times in '97. They were blown out at home by UCLA and fell to Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. They also lost to Missouri. (This season's team did not play Missouri, but compensated by losing to Iowa State.)

Mackovic was fired. His predecessor, David McWilliams, was fired after finishing 5-6 in 1991 -- coincidentally also a year after winning a conference title. And before McWilliams, Fred Akers was fired in 1986 -- his only losing season.

The difference between then and now is obvious. Those coaches never brought a national championship to Austin. Brown did, in 2005, with a team filled with professional-grade talent that included Vince Young, Jamaal Charles, David Thomas, Justin Blaylock, Michael Griffin and Michael Huff. Comparatively, senior defensive end Sam Acho was the only Texas player selected first-team All-Big 12 this season.

"If you look up and down that lineup, the first problem, it looks to me, is that there aren't many NFL prospects on that team," the former Big 12 coach said. "They don't have the overall talent that they've had."

Texas does have players with NFL potential, but they weren't ready to play at an elite level this season. In each of the past two years, Texas has had top-five recruiting classes that have included numerous coveted players, such as offensive linemen Mason Walters and Garrett Porter, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, linebacker Jordan Hicks, receivers Mike Davis and Darius White and defensive tackles Taylor Bible and Ashton Dorsey.

Thus, it's not a stretch to see Texas make significant progress as those players develop and improve.

This current recruiting class could provide immediate help, too. Brown's list of commitments currently is ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation and is headlined by five-star running back Malcolm Brown, who could provide a huge boost to an extremely disappointing running game.

Some wonder why Texas' running game should be in need of a boost. Of the 41 FBS players who have rushed for 1,000 yards this season, 10 went to high school in the state of Texas. Six of those - Oregon's LaMichael James, Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, Arkansas' Knile Davis and Louisiana Tech's Lennon Creer -- play college ball outside the state.

Texas' leading rusher is Cody Johnson, who gained 592 yards this season.

"How does Texas not have a running back?" the former coach said. " What are they doing? Probably the reason they don't have one is they've had no commitment to the running game.

"I've been a defender of [former offensive coordinator] Greg Davis over the years, and he did marvelous jobs with Colt McCoy and Vince Young. But Greg Davis doesn't care about running the football. He wants to throw the football. At Texas, you should be able to run, especially when you're facing Kansas State, which had the 120th run defense. In that game, [Texas] threw 25 consecutive passes."

Kansas State actually is ranked 118th in the nation in run defense. Still, Texas threw 59 passes in a 39-14 loss to Kansas State.

Davis -- who had been with Brown since Brown arrived in Austin after the 1997 season -- resigned under pressure after the season, and Brown's choice as his replacement will have tremendous ramifications on the future. That person also will have to oversee the development of sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who has a strong arm but threw 17 interceptions this season, his first as a starter.

"Who Mack hires as offensive coordinator is very, very pivotal in whether he is coaching there much longer or not," the former coach said. "Mack has to decide if he wants to be a spread guy or an I-formation guy. Mack has got to sit down and say, 'This is what I want as an identity for the offense,' and hire that person. These are critical decisions."

New coaches, new identities, developing players and prized incoming recruits could help Texas make an immediate turnaround. But the former coach said the Longhorns need more. He said they need a chip on their shoulders and be willing to get down and dirty to make sure this season's disaster isn't repeated.

"They have to look at this year and not going to a bowl game as a great slap in the face," he said. "They have to come back with a feeling of hunger. If they do, I think they will bounce back and have a good year."

Brown talked about his players' sense of entitlement after the shocking loss to Iowa State. Texas almost certainly will head into the 2011 season in the reconfigured Big 12 picked to finish no better than third in the league, which means any sense of entitlement should be long gone. If that entitlement remains, it'll be a long road back to the top.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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