You Asked, We Answered!

LonghornDigest.com answered eight reader questions dealing with topics from the Longhorn Network to potential surprises and an outlook for the Longhorn basketball season.

1) Mack Brown vs. Bob Stoops: Would they be equally successful as head coaches if they switched places? And which of the two will finish his career with the most wins and most National Titles?


This might seem like the cop-out answer, but I think each coach is the right fit for his respective school. I don't think Stoops would be as effective in Austin as Brown is, nor would Brown be as effective in Norman. And I think some of those reasons have to do with things beyond coaching.

I'm a huge reader of anything related to college football, and especially in coaching it. And the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) has a great series of coaching books that focus on everything from coaching individual positions to books explaining offensive and defensive strategies to the definitive catch-all "The Football Coaching Bible."

In that book, Mack Brown wrote the section on "Promoting A Program," talking largely about the challenges that faced him when he took over in Austin. He did everything from help to coin slogans to creating more of a fan-friendly atmosphere and uniting the Texas high schools under the Longhorn banner. And all of those were necessary to get the program, (and perhaps more specifically, its recruiting) to the place where Texas was able to run off its recent blitz of 10-win seasons.

Stoops didn't do a section of the book, but I think if you asked anybody who's been a part of his program, he thrives on toughness and discipline. And both were needed after inheriting a program from John Blake that had talent but lacked both of the former qualities. When Stoops won his only national title, in 2000, he did so with a roster that wasn't as talented as most title winners before or since. But he did have talent, most of which arrived before he got there, and his coaching was the missing ingredient.

I think both coaches would be successful at the other place. Brown would do well at Oklahoma, and Stoops would have done well at Texas. But I doubt either would replicate the success the other coach had at each place. Each seems to be the perfect fit, particularly for what they had to fix immediately upon arrival.

As for most national titles and wins, I think Stoops will probably get Brown there, if for no other reason than he's probably going to coach longer.



2) Do you think Coach Brown and company will slowly open up more practices to the public as a part of their new deal with the LHN? Will this be a positive and what risks do you see associated with such a move?


I don't know that they'll open up any more because of the LHN, though you may be able to see more practice footage thanks to the LHN.

I think a big part of the reason that there aren't any open practices this fall — there were two a year ago — has to do with the fact that the Longhorns actually have a competitive advantage that they haven't had in awhile: the element of surprise. Everything we know about the Longhorns' new offense and defense to this point is a combination of 1) hearsay and 2) what Manny Diaz and Bryan Harsin have done at previous stops. And that's a tremendous advantage in that opposing teams won't have much to prepare for. With a tough opening stretch that includes BYU and UCLA, I think you take any advantages you can get.

But you might be able to see a bit more practice footage, likely from "non-team" periods, when players are going through individual drills and not really showing any plays. In that case, it's a positive in that you can see how certain players are looking, and not really a negative in that you're not giving anything away. It's a win-win. The public gets more Longhorns and you're not giving away anything private (with the possible exception of injuries).

For instance, they let us media members in to several practices this spring for the individual periods, only to boot us when team period came. And as far a systems/plays go, we were none-the-wiser.

The Longhorn Network has some potential negatives, and I think you've hit on the biggest one: the struggle between putting out new and relevant information that makes for compelling programming and the need to keep certain things in-house for a competitive advantage. And that's a conversation that will likely last until Texas has been through a full season and can analyze the results.



3) If you could play golf and spend a day with 4 college football head coaches; who would they be and why?


Probably the four worst golfing head coaches, as I'm more of a hit-and-chase golfer.

Honestly, this answer probably changes every year. Two years ago, when Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was still working in Lubbock, he would have been my No. 1 answer (on a side note, can somebody hire this guy fast, please?).

This past year, it certainly would have included the amazing quote Bob Green of Montana Tech. Green, who has had colorful quotes (tabbed Greenisms) like: "It's kind of like watching your mother-in-law go off a cliff in a Cadillac … you've got mixed feelings", retired after the 2010 season. But neither is eligible for this season. It's also unfortunate that you mentioned head coaches, as Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is definitely somebody I'd love to golf a round with. Strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie is not. Honestly, he scares me a bit.

You have to pick Florida coach Will Muschamp. Not only is he a fun guy with a dry sense of humor, you'd be the star of the golf course with the chest bumps you'd get after sinking a long putt. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is another no-brainer, largely because I'm pretty sure he seems like the kind of guy who loves to party.

USC coach Lane Kiffin is another one in that same vein, though I'd also like to have him there in that I think he's a lot smarter than people give him credit for. He committed an awful lot of secondary violations at Tennessee, ones that basically created good publicity in the eyes of recruits while committing violations that didn't lead to any real punishment. I know he somewhat embraces the black hat role, but I'd like to see if he did a lot of those things just to pump up interest in the Tennessee program (notice that he hasn't done the same at USC), and if a lot of his "villainous" actions were completed just because he felt they had to be.

And lastly, I'd probably pick Les Miles. No coach is more likely to make crazy course bets like "bet I can get a hole in one on 18 on my first shot." Of course, if his football coaching career is any indicator, he'll make good on most of those bets and wind up with half your money. Perhaps no coach has moonwalked into as much success as Miles has.

On a side note, if I could pick one historical staff to play golf with, it would probably be 1999 Oklahoma. You have Leach and Mark Mangino, two guys with absolutely great wit and wry senses of humor. And is there anybody that you'd rather watch hit a poor golf shot than Brent Venables and Mike Stoops? I don't think there's any doubt that it would make for a wild, and entertaining, round.



4) What is the inside scoop on Blaine Irby?  Will this young man see the field in 2011?  Can he be the GLUE that brings this program together in 2011 from a leadership standpoint?


Irby is an interesting player to watch for 2011 in that, by most accounts, he's recovered from his injury and has a chance to make an impact on a need position and play an important role in the Bryan Harsin offense (which often uses two tight ends at a time). Major Applewhite said the only real thing that reminded you of the injury was Irby's knee brace, and he said that Irby made a diving catch in practice a few days ago that reminded him of the old Blaine Irby.

All of that is great news. Irby looked like he was headed for stardom before suffering his tragic knee injury, and at times it seemed like he wouldn't ever get back on the field. But reports were that he did a great job in the spring (he only played in "thud" situations and wasn't taken to the ground), clearing the way for a full-contact fall.

As for leadership, I think the answer is both yes and no.

I would say no in that, in terms of, when talking with several players, Irby hasn't ever been mentioned as one of the unit's main leaders. And I can see how that would be difficult. After being off the field for so long, it's tough to step in and lead when most of the players on roster haven't ever seen you play football before.

But at the same time, I think he can be in that he's somebody who has overcome adversity. When I asked a former player about what went wrong in 2010, one of the things he said was that nobody was used to fighting adversity. When things started to go wrong, people just assumed it would work itself out. They didn't know how to turn a negative into a positive. Well, Irby is a shining example in terms of how to deal with adversity, and should Texas find itself in a key third-and-long early, Irby could say "look, after overcoming a knee injury that almost ended my career, how hard is it to get 10 yards?" And you love having those kinds of players on your team.



5) On a scale from 0-10 (with 10 being the best), how bad is UT basketball going to suck this season?


I guess I'd have to define suck. If 10 is a Final Four berth, I don't think the Longhorns are going to get there. But I could see another tournament appearance and potentially a spot in the tournament's second weekend (the Sweet Sixteen). So maybe that's an eight.

The thing to remember is that while Texas lost several key players, so did the rest of the Big 12. Baylor is likely the preseason favorite, though the Bears seemed lost on offense when Lacedarius Dunn wasn't putting in baskets, and Dunn is gone now. Likewise, the Bears struggled at times on defense without a true shot blocker in the paint, and I'm not sure how much you can trust Scott Drew to take a team to the league championship.

Missouri returns everybody, but the Tigers haven't been able to win on the road, have to replace their coach and will change playing styles away from what many of the players were recruited to play. Kansas lost a ton, though the Jayhawks could be considered favorites considering they've won the last seven titles and return a point guard (Tyshawn Taylor) and a big man (Thomas Robinson) who will contend for All-Big 12 mention.

And I expect to see Texas snuggled somewhere in that mix. Kansas State must replace Jacob Pullen, who seemingly accounted for half the team's production a year ago. Iowa State is a wild card with a ton of transfer players, but should be better than a year ago. Oklahoma State is kind of meh. Texas Tech is short on talent, as is Oklahoma. Texas A&M is replacing Mark Turgeon, who excelled at getting that team to play above its talent level.

Meanwhile, Texas coach Rick Barnes typically thrives when he has a creative point guard, which he now has in freshman Myck Kabongo. And J'Covan Brown's two-year stats compare favorably to those put up by former Kansas guard Sherron Collins in nearly identical situations. Now Brown will be expected to make a Collins-like jump in production his junior year. Add in talented freshman wings in Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis, and the Longhorns could field a salty backcourt. The frontcourt will be the main question, but pretty much every frontcourt other than Baylor faces major question marks, and Jonathan Holmes is a good place to start. He and Chapman could make for a nice starting duo, while Alexis Wangmene and the other freshmen could add depth.

That's a long answer to say that Texas will be talented, but young. As the league will largely be in a similar spot, it's not unreasonable to think that the Longhorns will fight toward another top-four finish, another tournament berth and a win or two in the Big Dance.



6) Depending on who signs MLB deals, there is a chance that UT will be one or two over on its baseball scholarship commitments.  Who should get transferred or de-committed to get down to the scholly limit?


Honestly, these questions always make me a bit queasy, and I'm afraid I'll take somewhat of the easy way out — I have no idea.

The reason I say that is that, in college athletics, with 18-to-22-year-old players, anything is possible. A player can be a bench warmer for most of his career, only to find dedication, grow as a person or player, and emerge unexpectedly to become a star.

I once covered a running back who was written off and moved to linebacker in the spring before his junior year. By the end of his junior year, he was his team's leading rusher, and he finished first in the Big 12 in rushing as a senior. By his account, he was mostly going through the motions, but had some family members get ill, and it changed his perspective on life. I learned a lesson from that experience too: never, ever write off a college athlete. Just too many variables to consider.

The one thing I'll say generally about this is that these things typically tend to work themselves out, either via academics or general attrition. And if those two things fail, a coach will essentially call a player into the coach's office, tell him that he probably isn't going to play and that he should probably think about transferring. And so, one way or another, they'll get down to the right numbers.



7) Who do you think will be the biggest surprise on the football offense and on defense this season?


Offensively, I think the biggest surprise will be Jaxon Shipley. I know that it seems crazy to pick a freshman, somebody we've never seen in a Texas jersey before, but I was able to see Shipley in person several times last year, at U.S. Army All-American Bowl and U.S.A. vs. The World practices, and he fits exactly what Texas is looking for in a slot receiver.

Shipley has excellent size for the position, runs great routes and is a better athlete than people give him credit for. He's surprisingly good in the air, and his ability to run slot routes should open up all the rest of Texas's receivers. I thought one of the reasons Texas struggled in the passing game a year ago was that the Longhorns didn't have a slot guy to eat up holes over the middle and clear out things for everybody else. I think that Shipley is that guy.

Defensively, I don't think it's a surprise anymore, based on talk that everyone has heard, but Kenny Vaccaro is going to compete for a spot on an all-league team. One player in the secondary told his high school coach that he thought Vaccaro was an early-entry candidate, and fellow safety Blake Gideon said that he had a chance to "fill the Earl Thomas role." Vaccaro seems to have all of the tools. He's a physical player in run support, a big hitter and is the best man-cover guy on the team despite weighing 214 pounds. If I had to pick a real surprise, I might go with Reggie Wilson. He won't start over defensive ends like Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat — both of whom are expected to be among the best players on the team. But he has fantastic athleticism (a must in a Manny Diaz offense) and a gift for getting to the quarterback. I wouldn't be surprised to see him grab six or seven sacks in a role similar to the one Jeffcoat played a year ago.



8) Which is the early season "straw-in-the-wind" game, BYU or UCLA?


I'll go ahead and say BYU, largely because the Cougars are expected to be a better team. If Texas beats Rice (which of course, the Longhorns should do, but last season taught us to not take anything for granted), the BYU game will be the first measuring stick of just how good this team could be. Lose, and it could be another long season. Win close, and it will be tough to tell. Blow out a good BYU team, and Texas could be on a quicker road back than most people expected.

I don't think UCLA carries the same weight for several reasons. For one, it's the team's first game on the road, and a young team could underperform on the road and lose without it saying much about the overall talent or direction of the season. And UCLA is tremendously unstable, a team with the upper-tier talent to knock off a top-10 squad and the inconsistency to lose to a team that it has no business losing to.

So I think BYU is actually the better measuring stick game. With their typically tough schedules, you can be relatively sure that you're going to get a good shot from them. And at the same time, it's a team that Texas is more talented than and should beat. Whatever Texas does against BYU will reflect on the kind of team that Texas has. Whatever happens against UCLA might be more contingent on which UCLA team shows up, and how a young team handles being on the road for the first time.


Horns Digest Top Stories