At age 62, Greg Robinson’s thick hair is snow white. He had been out of coaching for two seasons and operating a consulting service in Southern California. Talk about a career in mothballs.
That was until Texas coach Mack Brown summoned Robinson to Austin to help save the Longhorns’ season.
Robinson took over as UT’s defensive coordinator when Manny Diaz was fired after the BYU disaster on Sept. 7. He settled things down more so than make wholesale changes. Considering how the last four months have played out, Robinson is as energized as ever.
“I’ve got a lot left in my tank,” Robinson said Saturday. “I really was considering darkening my hair, but my wife won’t allow it. I can coach. I’ve still got a lot of energy left, and I can outrun a lot of younger coaches, too.
“I got at least 10 more years left in me.”
Robinson can’t help but smile when he talks about players like Jackson Jeffcoat, Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs. He believes they’re the ones who should get credit for the defensive turnaround, not Robinson.
It’s easy to forget how desperate Texas was in early September. The defense looked helpless in a 40-21 loss at BYU.
There were missed tackles and players out of alignment as the Cougars rushed for 550 yards, the most ever allowed by a Texas defense. The next day, Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and inserted Robinson, who was already on staff as an advisor.
This was Robinson’s second tour of duty with the Longhorns. He was Brown’s defensive coordinator in 2004 before leaving to become Syracuse’s head coach in 2005.
“He just came in and made our assignments clear to us,” Reed said. “He put his arm around us and told us, ‘Hey, we’re going to get this thing fixed one way or another.’ We just put our trust in him to help us while we were helping ourselves.”
Robinson didn’t have time to make any philosophical changes. UT had a game in six days against Mississippi. So Robinson said he worked with the assistant coaches to learn their terminology and get his arms around what UT was trying to do.
Brown has said several times that changing defensive coordinators was a likely reason why Ole Miss won 44-23 on Sept. 14. As more time passed, Robinson got familiar with the players’ skill sets, what worked and what didn’t. All during this time, Robinson said he never spoke to Diaz.
In the final nine games of the regular season, Texas allowed just 3.5 yards per rush and tallied up 35 sacks, the highest total nationally during that span.
“Players are players and they’re resilient,” Robinson said. “I didn’t feel like there was a hangover or anything like that. I think they were ready to go back to work, and I would suspect they were embarrassed.
“I know they felt bad for what else came about. But really it was just a matter of getting ready.”
Diggs said he can still remember the first team meeting with Robinson in charge.
“He had guys he wanted to be leaders and step up, bring the unit together,” Diggs said. “We could have laid down. One thing I’ve said about this team all year is we’re very resilient.”
Jeffcoat said: “We got our coach fired. So we put that on us. That’s on us, and we’ll get it corrected.”
One strategy Robinson used was to highlight the UT defensive line. Instead of having Jeffcoat continue to play as a stand-up defensive end, Robinson put Jeffcoat in a three-point stance. Jeffcoat finished the year with 12 sacks and earned consensus All-America honors.
Robinson also wasn’t afraid to mix up the blitzes. He had defensive tackle Chris Whaley drop back into coverage against Oklahoma. Whaley was in perfect position for an interception that he returned 31 yards for a touchdown.
UT finished the year ranked sixth in the Big 12 in total defense (402.1 yards per game).
Robinson is so energized, he’d love to stay on at Texas under the new head coach.
“I really like Texas. I really do,” Robinson said.
Oregon also has a defensive coordinator position coming open. Just don’t expect Robinson to coach like he’s auditioning for that gig during the Alamo Bowl.
“They’re the enemy. Hell no.”