When one considers preseason expectations, the Longhorns are suffering through one of the more disappointing seasons in the history of the program. With only four wins and the team fighting what looks like an uphill battle just to become bowl eligible, the rumors about off-season changes are flying in from every direction. Everyone suddenly seems to have a connection to the program, with rumors swirling indicating decisions have already been made regarding changes in the coaching staff.
Those talks have proven to be premature, but the latest buzz had Texas undergoing some changes in its offensive staff responsibilities. Mack Brown was asked about the latest rumor, that had Major Applewhite taking over an increased role in the game plan and even having a hand in the play calling.
Not happening. As we've said for a while, any potential decisions will not be made until after the season concludes, when Mack has a chance to do some thorough evaluations of the people in the program.
"No, we haven't changed anything," Mack said regarding possible changes to the staff's responsibilities this week. "We've been working hard to beat Florida Atlantic. There have been no staff changes, nothing adjusted or anything else."
Another hot topic how much input would Will Muschamp possibly have on schemes that are unrelated to the defense or to potential coaching changes?
"None," Mack said. "Will's the defensive coordinator, that's the way it's been. Will's fighting really hard to help us on defense the best he can."
Sticking to the coaching topic (it's pretty much impossible to get away from it), Mack was asked about how he's changed over the years in regards to evaluating his staff. As far as the actual process of dissecting each coach's performance, things have remained the same. Mack did say he hopes he's become more mature over the years, and he's learned to take his time and factor in all elements before making any drastic changes.
In fact, the practice of assessing each coach and going through post-season meetings is the same for Mack after both good years and bad. Thing
"I evaluate the coaches every year. I've changed some coaches when we've won because I've felt like maybe something in an area needed to pick up and it wasn't. I'd addressed it for a year and didn't see changes," Mack said. But I think you're constantly evaluating your staff and who you are.
"We've had so many injuries this year. Why? You have to look at that. You look at a process. It's not an easy thing.
"People just want you to whip through and make a decision. If you make a decision without the proper information, the proper research, you're not being fair to anybody. At the end of the year, coaches are usually tired. You're so focused on the kids and trying to win that you don't want to drift and start looking at other things at this point."
When the season is over, Mack said he'll take some time to himself to appraise every element of the program. He'll get together with people he trusts to make further evaluations.
"That's really no different than any other year, there's just more attention put on it (by the media) because we haven't done well," Mack said.
No new developments on the injury front
The team is still waiting to see whether or not Fozzy Whittaker will be available this weekend, and he'll likely be a game-time decision. Whitaker's situation, combined with Tre' Newton's decision to give up football, has forced Chris Whaley and Ryan Roberson to pick up some work at tailback this week.
"They'll both have to be ready in this game because we don't know if Fozzy will be ready or not," Mack said.
Could either Roberson or Whaley factor into the tailback rotation long-term?
"We'll have to look at it after the season because with Tre' leaving, we'll have to look at our numbers and see where that fits. Right now, all we're trying to do is finish the season properly," Mack said.
Looking further into the crystal ball, what are the long-term plans at running back. Traylon Shead is redshirting and Texas has a commitment from five-star back Malcolm Brown for this year.
Joe Bergeron was initially recruited to fill the role of H-back, but he showed as a senior that he's terrific runner (not to mention there's a legitimate question of how much Texas will use an H-back moving forward).
Pound for pound, Quandre Diggs is about as good a runner as anyone that Texas will have on its roster when he hits camps next year. But where he ultimately lines up is still up in the air.
The big questions for Longhorn fans this week in the wake of the Newton news is whether or not the UT staff will pursue another back in the 2011 class. The name Brandon Williams, an OU commitment out of Brookshire Royal, is brought up in a bit of a case of wishful thinking (we've heard that Texas has not made contact as of Wednesday night). Mack didn't rule out the possibility of pursuing another tailback recruit, but he said it's too early to make that decision.
"It can," Mack said when asked if Newton's decision could affect the running back recruiting numbers for this year. "We've talked about it briefly but we obviously haven't made any decisions on what we do with it because it's so quick. We really didn't know until Sunday that Tre' wasn't going to continue play, so it just popped up on us."
The other issue would a player like Williams even be interested if Texas were to come calling this late in the game? The five-star playmaker is scheduled to enroll at Oklahoma in January. And, like any competitor would, he's probably got a bit of a chip on his shoulder since Texas decided to go with Brown first. Williams is a player who was very, very high on UT early in the recruiting process, but he's been solidly committed to the Sooners for a while.
It's impossible to truly know how Williams would react until Texas decided to make a move, but a couple people we talked to on Thursday that are pretty close to the situation still think he's locked and loaded for OU.
Speaking of early recruiting, Texas has benefited immensely from the practice, securing some of the country's top talent with early pledges. There's also the flipside.
By locking up its entire class so early, the Longhorns are subjecting themselves to the possibility that guys could peak early, prospects could get injured or their bodies could change dramatically by the time they step foot on the UT campus.
Furthermore, it limits a program's ability to evaluate and ultimately take players who hit their strides late in their high school careers. Mack Brown addressed the struggles that can come with early recruiting.
"It is tough. It's a tough thing because it's what's happening now. I think coach (Joe) Paterno started it, coach (John) Cooper at Ohio State, coach (Lou) Holtz at Notre Dame started it many years ago. It seems like it just keeps speeding up," Mack said. "I don't like it. I would like to go back to what we did when we first got here, that was evaluate guys in their junior year, watch them in spring practice, hope they can come to your camp and at the end of that you'd have a pretty good feel of who you're offering.
"Now, most people are forcing you to offer them in February before they even start spring practice of their junior year. It's a much more difficult thing than in the past, but I think it's hard to stop when the train gets rolling."
Could Texas even go to a slower pace if it wanted to? A program can't fall too far behind, and other schools would certainly use any added delays as ammunition for negative recruiting. Truth be told, Texas already displays more patience than just about every program in the country, withholding from extending formal offers until February of a prospect's junior season. If the Horns slowed things down any more, an increased number of players would fall off the board and Texas would have to look at changing its policy of not recruiting players who have committed to other schools.
"What we've done with our process, if someone wants to go to Texas and we have not offered him, we would call the high school coach and say 'if he decides he wants to come to Texas we would offer him but we're not going to bother him.' Or if he decommits from the other school, we would start recruiting him," Mack said.
"The thing high school coaches and players have done for us right now, they wait until at least that February. Those junior days, they'll hold off for us that long. But that's a hard thing right now. It's one of the biggest changes, I think, in recruiting, because it's really sped up over the last three or four years. I think now people are offering sophomores and we don't do that, but we're seeing sophomores being offered. It's amazing to me. We're trying to hang on just by offering them in the spring of their junior year.
"Now you have sophomores wanting to come to your junior days. I think a lot of sophomore come to cap expecting an offer. When they leave and don't have an offer within 10 days to two weeks, they think you don't like 'em.
"I would think that sometimes we're going to miss on a guy that pops up in his senior year that we didn't see because maybe he didn't get the ball as much."
It's a real struggle balancing out early recruiting with scholarship limits, and the bottom line is that a school like Texas is going to have to leave some good talent on the table for other teams to pick up. Take, for instance, Florida Atlantic tight end Rob Housler, of Converse Judson (31 catches for 471 yards and 2 TDs).
"He goes and he shows up and he is going to be a pro prospect, and he was right under our noses and none of us saw him," Mack said. "Those are things that happen to you. I think the other thing, if there are 375 sign on the average, and you're going to take 20 of them, it's tough, it's really tough because you're going to play against a whole bunch of them and all of them are mad at you."
Some interesting notes on UT freshman walk-on safety Nate Boyer ...
A 29-year old freshman from Dublin, California, Boyer did not even play high school football (his school didn't have a team). In 2004, Boyer joined the Special Forces as a staff sergeant, was a Green Beret, won a Bronze Star Medal for his services in the Middle East. This summer, Boyer went through UT's walk-on process and handled the academic and physical requirements so he was added to the team. The team, including the coaches, didn't know anything about his past. As players got to talking to him about his background, Boyer remained very quiet about it. After his teammates found out about some of his accomplishments, they asked that Boyer be honored last weekend as an honorary captain.
"He's a guy that has been really, really special to our team and as a 29-year-old freshman, he can talk to them about how hard things are at other places, so he's had a great message this year," Mack said.
"For Nate to come in as a walk on, nobody even knew he was, he wasn't even from state of Texas, he'd never been here, he just wanted to come to Texas and he wanted to walk-on for football."
Last week, the coaches asked Boyer to address the team about some of the things he's been through, but Boyer declined, preferring to not talk about the war, what he's done or where he's been.
"It's a story in itself that 29-year-old would walk on, and didn't even play high school football and think he could make it. And not tell anybody he didn't play," Mack said. "Second, what a message to our players about being in the Middle East, fighting in a war, being a staff sergeant, becoming a green beret and winning a bronze medal - all those things are things you read and you see on TV, but there are things you don't think you're going to be around."