The need for a change at the top in Austin became obvious after yet another debacle in Dallas, but what should UT be looking for when they begin their search?
Mack Brown is the common denominator in Texas' failings to live up to the resources and expectations for the program. The most recent blowout defeat by Oklahoma was hardly discernible from previous debacles in that atmosphere, making clear the need for Mack's removal if Texas intends to compete in the Red River Rivalry.
Texas needs to compete in that game if they want to be the top dog in the region and a contender nationally. National contenders aren't routinely drubbed by conference rivals.
Athletic Director Deloss Dodds is at a crossroads. He's trying to expand the Longhorn brand nationally with the Longhorn Network, welcoming the departure of in-state rival A&M to a new conference where they are surging, while facing an increasingly competitive Big 12.
After the disaster of 2010, Dodds made the choice to travel the road already known with Mack and set Texas up for the loss of Will Muschamp. If they retain Mack again, it sends the message that they value the safe and lucrative MackBrown-texasfootball brand more than real success on the field.
Should Texas decide to bring in a new man to build and protect the Texas brand, here's what they need to be looking for:
1) A system and identity for the program
A good head coach will establish a particular identity, often from a schematic or philosophical foundation, that defines a team and how they pursue winning football games.
When building that identity or philosophy at a new location, coaches often have to fill two roles: Engineer and Mechanic.
Engineers are innovative and often introduce new strategies, schemes, and programs to the game. Examples include Urban Meyer and Mike Leach, who introduced football to the wide world of spread offense tactics in the passing game and running game.
Then there are the Mechanics, coaches who have a system or philosophy that is based in established wisdom or tactics and understand how to tinker and maintain the engines of success. Jim Tressel installed a system at Ohio St. based in excellent execution of tried and true football tactics by premier players. They ran Power-O down your throat, avoided making mistakes and played basic Cover-3 4-3 under defense.
Mack Brown was an Engineer in the way he developed new early recruiting strategies and built a culture at North Carolina and then Texas that was designed to gather the best and brightest talent. After the debacle of 2010, Mack went to work on his old model and brought in younger and different types of coaches and football players, looking to make his vintage V8 Camaro energy efficient enough to survive EPA emission standards.
Ultimately, Mack's culture of drawing in the best and brightest talent and minds did not always result in the qualities that typically define excellence on the football field. Texas struggled to prevent national attention, top rated recruiting classes and Austin's party atmosphere from resulting in a soft and entitled football team. His teams rarely over achieved.
The coach that replaces Mack doesn't need to be an innovative Engineer, but he needs to be able to install a system, cast vision for a team identity and build a culture that will make that vision a reality.
That system needs to be more than "gather all the best resources in Texas." With the emergence of the Longhorn Network, the facilities at Texas and the tremendous size and scope of the fan base, the next head coach won't struggle to find top staff and players for his system if he's willing to work hard.
There's a lot of talent in the coaching ranks and from Texas high schools that will be eager to play at Texas, but finding the ones that will fit the team's identity and system will require a coach who prioritizes and excels at evaluation.
2) A proven problem solver
Things in life rarely go as planned and winners are constantly adjusting and tinkering to stay ahead as well as to stave off disaster. This is where a mechanic's skills come into play.
Last Saturday, TCU moved on without starting quarterback Casey Pachall, went into Waco and won a football game with a previously unknown back-up leading the way. In 2007, Oklahoma survived the preseason suspension of starting quarterback Rhett Bomar by filling in a converted senior WR at QB and took home the Big 12 championship trophy at the end of the year.
The ability to adapt and tinker generally flows from having a strong system and program identity in the first place, but coaches that can't handle adversity will seldom win championships because the stars rarely align just right.
In 2005, Texas had several moments of good fortune on their title run. They defeated a stout Ohio State team on the road that was dealing with a QB controversy. The Longhorns fumbled the ball 35 times over the course of the year but only nine were recovered by the opponent, a four to one ratio which held true in the Rose Bowl as Texas fumbled against the Trojans four times and only failed to recover one.
Most importantly, Texas had few injuries and none to essential star players. Mack was never able to catch lightning in a bottle like that again, nor win another championship.
By contrast, Muschamp took over a defense at Texas in 2008 which had seen bad luck and missed evaluations on defensive line that threatened his system and philosophy of consistently achieving pressure on the QB with four rushers. So he transformed Sergio Kindle into a pass-rush specialist and then all-around great player. He also moved Lamarr Houston inside to defensive tackle, where he became a dominant force in the 2009 defense.
This is the kind of problem solving that defines great coaches and allows a team like 2007 Oklahoma to win a conference title. There are numerous coaches that do these things on a regular basis around the country, but Texas needs to narrow their field yet a little further.
3) Can maximize the resources at Texas
There are things that a coach can do at Texas that can't be done at other programs. Fans often look to coaches of smaller programs that have ingenious methods for milking more from the resources they have. Well, Texas doesn't have the same resources as that school. For the most part, they're better, but there are a few drawbacks. The advantages?
a). Access to the best athletes in the state of Texas
Dallas, Houston, East Texas, and now Central Texas are producing more good players than Texas can sign in a year, as Mack is quick to point out after defeats at the hands of overlooked Heisman winners. Texas produces both well coached players and spectacular, raw athletes alike in prolific fashion.
It's wise for a Longhorns head coach to take advantage of both types of player. Getting too cute with complicated schemes fails to take advantage of the athletic advantages available to Texas.
Currently the state of Texas has made use of 7 on 7 leagues to crank out obscene numbers of highly effective QB's. The next head coach would be wise to make use of that fact, but there are other traits that Texas can afford to have that other programs would struggle to afford. Texas can consistently play man defense with the secondary against spread offenses, find dominant future NFL defensive ends, run the ball behind super powered offensive lines, you name it.
They should choose physically dominating schemes to take advantage of the athletic advantages they can consistently find against opposing programs. It's nonsensical that Texas should ever be dominated in the trenches.
b) Money to hire the best staff in the country
Mack made good use of this to continually re-stock his defensive coordinator vacancies with rising SEC coaching talent. He also occasionally trended towards cronyism, often employing offensive staff that repeatedly failed to develop a power running game or find good Tight Ends while the rest of the football world experienced a Tight End renaissance.
Texas can afford to pay big money to every assistant and not settle for less than excellence at any staff position.
4) Protect the Texas brand.
Texas has an image and legacy as a clean program. Mack has had his share of headaches from immature young athletes but still maintained a program that avoids NCAA scrutiny, street agents and devastating scandals.
It's important that a program with the prestige, notoriety, and resources of Texas do things the right way. Personally, I don't want to support or give money to a program that places victories on the field above competing with honor. At any rate, Texas can afford to field contenders without the assistance of foul play so it's an unnecessary risk regardless of your values and priorities.
Popular candidates for the Texas job that have already surfaced after calls for Mack's departure include names like Chip Kelly, Gary Patterson, Charlie Strong, Art Briles, Kirby Smart, and Dan Mullen.
Some of these names can easily be associated with questionable recruiting tactics or moral oversight that should cross them off that list. There's no need to take big risks, there will be no shortage of applicants. Some of the others might be strong candidates. Charlie Strong stands out in particular amongst those names.
Alright Deloss Dodds, go get 'em. What's that? You haven't done that yet? Very well, we'll be waiting ...