If Mack Brown said it once, he said it umpteen times.
His Longhorns, he told anyone who would listen over the offseason, are “getting ready to make another run.”
For Brown’s sake, they’d better make one.
After three years of relative college football irrelevance — at least by the standard he established in his first 12 seasons as Texas’ head coach — Brown believes the time is now for a long-awaited breakthrough as he heads into his 16th year at the helm.
The 5-7 meltdown of 2010 has been followed by records of 8-5 and 9-4. The overall 22-16 record is the worst three-year stretch for the Longhorns since a 16-16-1 run from 1991-93.
That 22-16 mark includes an 11-15 record in Big 12 games and a 4-11 mark against ranked foes. It is not, as Brown well knows, the so-called “Texas standard.”
Some teams gladly would accept UT’s 2012 season. But Brown also knows he didn’t get paid $5.4 million to finish 9-4 thanks to a comeback victory in the Alamo Bowl over Oregon State, despite how entertaining it might have been.
His players “know nine (victories) is not enough for Austin,” Brown recently told a local luncheon audience. “They know nine’s not enough for Texas. It’s not enough for them. It’s not enough for me. The fans don’t like nine. The players don’t like nine.”
Brown thinks being better than “nine” is a reasonable goal, although there are widely differing opinions from others. Phil Steele, the publisher of a national college football publication, predicted Texas will finish fourth in the nation; media covering the Big 12 picked the Longhorns fourth in the league, which many expect to be weaker than usual this season.
If the Longhorns — ranked 15th in both preseason polls — are closer to the latter than the former, next offseason might be interesting. While Brown has the unwavering support of his bosses, UT-Austin president Williams Powers and men’s athletics director DeLoss Dodds, as well as numerous well-heeled alumni, many fans are fed up and stridently vocal about it.
Nevertheless, Brown says he has enjoyed the rebuilding process.
“It’s been a fun challenge for me,” he said. “I like fixing things. I don’t like messing them up, and obviously I was involved in messing it up for whatever reason.”
What especially galls many fans is how the Longhorns have messed up that game in Dallas each October against that team from north of the Red River. Oklahoma has won three straight, which is bad enough. But the last two have been by a combined score of 118-38, which is worse.
Texas also has lost five straight games to Kansas State — its last victory in the series came in 2003. That’s also bad. And making it worse was the recent comment of Wildcats linebacker Tre Walker, who in discussing K-State’s 42-24 romp last year noted that the Longhorns “kind of laid down a little bit.”
“That’s nothing to say about their character,” Walker added. “That’s just what they do.”
Uh, yeah, that remark got around.
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit says that “potentially, on paper, it’s hard to imagine” Texas not having a good year. But besides getting consistent play at quarterback and have the offensive line “blowing people off the ball,” Herbstreit wants to see, well, anger.
“If I’m a Texas football player and I’ve had to … listen to what’s being said about my coach and my teammates and myself, I would think they’re going to show up with somewhat of a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “And I think they’re going to have to.”
Adrian Phillips says the Longhorns, indeed, are lugging around a massive chip.
“Of course you’re mad about last year,” said the senior safety. “You don’t want to be known as a soft defense.”
That’s what happens, though, when you surrender a school-record 404.2 yards per game in 2012 and your tackling, or lack of it, was “mystifying,” according to Herbstreit.
But the Longhorns believe those days are behind them. They return 19 starters, more than any other league team. Junior David Ash has matured into the unquestioned starter at quarterback, and his 18 career starts are more than any other signal caller in the Big 12.
“There will continue to be adverse situations, but you have to be prepared to accept that,” Ash said. “It’s how you handle those adverse situations that will really build a team, build their legacy and write their story.”
Brown expects Texas’ 2013 story to include the “run” that has been glaringly absent for three years. Ditto for his players.
“It’s the feeling of everybody. Everybody feels it’s that time,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “It’s the time to strive for greatness and stop settling for being mediocre. It’s a feeling among everybody. Coaches feel it, players feel it, coach Brown feels it. We just have that feeling of, ‘Let’s get it done.’”
Sounds good. But Brown also said something else umpteen times this offseason.
He recently repeated it to reporters.
“Now,” he said, “we’ve got to shut up and do it.”
THE MACK ERA, YEAR BY YEAR
In his 15 years at Texas, Mack Brown has compiled a 150-43 record, including a 91-31 mark in the Big 12. He’s 10-4 in bowls. The Longhorns, over the last three seasons, are 22-16 and 11-15 in the Big 12.
2012;9-4;5-4;15/19;Alamo Bowl (def. Oregon St.)
2011;8-5;4-5;—/—;Holiday Bowl (def. Cal)
2009;13-1;8-0;2/2;BCS title game (lost to Alabama)
2008;12-1;7-1;11/4;Fiesta Bowl (def. Ohio State)
2007;10-3;5-3;4/10;Holiday Bowl (def. Arizona St.)
2006;10-3;6-2;3/13;Alamo Bowl (def. Iowa)
2005;13-0;8-0;2/1;BCS title game (def. USC)
2004;11-1;7-1;7/5;Rose Bowl (def. Michigan)
2003;10-3;7-1;5/12;Holiday Bowl (lost to Wash. St.)
2002;11-2;6-2;4/6;Cotton Bowl (def. LSU)
2001;11-2;7-1;5/5;Holiday Bowl (def. Washington)
2000;9-3;7-1;7/12;Holiday Bowl (lost to Oregon)
1999;9-5;6-2;17/21;Cotton Bowl (lost to Arkansas)
1998;9-3;6-2;—/15;Cotton Bowl (def. Miss. St.)
* Preseason/final AP ranking
Four Longhorns freshmen shined in 2012:
The runner: Johnathan Gray — Ended up starting five of Texas’ last six games, took over for Fozzy Whittaker in the “wild” set and led the Longhorns in rushing, with 701 yards. That’s ninth best ever for a Texas freshman.
The playmaker: Daje Johnson — When he touched the ball, good things usually happened. Johnson averaged 11.5 yards per touch, including a 7.5 yards-per-rush mark. He started two games, including his best performance of the season against Baylor, including an 84-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. It was Texas’ longest run since Jamaal Charles went 86 yards against Nebraska in 2007.
The kicker: Nick Jordan — We thought Penn State transfer Anthony Fera would be the one replacing Justin Tucker, but while Fera got his shot, it was Jordan who had the better season. He made seven of his last 10 field goal attempts of the season, including a career-long 40-yarder in the Alamo Bowl.
The tackler: Dalton Santos — Endeared himself to fans by being a season-long presence on special teams, especially on kickoff coverage. He led the team in special teams tackles and started at linebacker against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, his first career start.
Who’ll shine in 2013?
Get back to us in December. But these are five freshmen to watch …
Tyrone Swoopes, QB: Connor Brewer’s gone, which means Swoopes is the third quarterback. He’s big and fast, and there may be a package put in just for him.
Pick a receiver, any receiver: Cayleb Jones’ decision to transfer coupled with the loss of Marquise Goodwin will have a trickle-down effect on the receiving corps. Jake Oliver broke Jordan Shipley’s prep state receiving record, coaches like Montrel Meander and Jacorey Warrick has perhaps the highest ceiling of the three.
Chevoski Collins, S: Coaches love his versatility — he worked out at wide receiver the first week of practice.