Dan Neil: Pay Attention to Little Details

This season, here on HornsDigest.com former Texas All-American offensive lineman DAN NEIL, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos (1997 & 1998) who opened holes for 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis, is breaking down film of Texas games and telling you what he sees.

Post your questions for Dan in this thread, and he will answer them. Catch Dan on “Upon Further Review” on the Longhorn Network on Mondays at 6 pm CT.




When then-Tampa Bay Bucs’ coach John McKay, whose team was on its way to 0-14, was asked about the execution of his players, his response was: “I’m all for it.” 

Coach McKay was an incredibly successful college coach at USC, where he won four national championships (1962, 1967, 1972, 1974). He then decided to take over in Tampa Bay, an NFL expansion team in 1976. That team went 0-14. 

But McKay ended up leading the Bucs’ to the NFC Championship game three years later, missing the Super Bowl in a 9-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

The Longhorns are not an expansion team. But they are still light on established talent at key positions – namely quarterback - and they are light on proven leadership. 

You look at this team and what jumps out to you is the young talent that is exceptional. 

I am always going to do some projecting, based on my time in football. And as an athlete who was proud to wear the burnt orange with TEXAS across my chest, I will always look at what’s possible.

If you were to ask me if Texas will make a bowl game now at 4-6, I would say, “The team controls its destiny.” 

Others may say, “No ******* way”! 

I have talked about Texas beating Baylor all year in these articles, because I knew it would all come down to that game. 

I don’t think you could write a better script for Texas. 

The Horns have to beat Texas Tech at home on Thanksgiving and then go to Waco and ruin the Bears’ year to get into a bowl game. 

Look, I was on the Texas team that was a three-touchdown underdog to Nebraska in the 1996 Big 12 title game.

I get excited thinking about how things could unfold for Texas the next two games and the opportunity this team has! That’s how ALL the players and coaches wearing burnt orange should be looking at it.

There may be some pessimists reading this who think I’m crazy.  Some may believe there is no way Texas is beating Baylor in Waco.  Tell OU that. Did anyone think Texas would physically dominate OU?

When Texas decides to put all three phases of their game together at the same time you get what we saw against OU. 

The question is why they do not put all three phases together at the same time more often? 

When I watched the film of Saturday's game at West Virginia, I saw a dominating ground game. I saw improvement in the passing game, including an 80-yard drive that included three third-down conversions through the air. I saw a couple big-time three-and-outs forced by the defense in the fourth quarter as well as holding WVU to a field goal after Texas fumbled at its own 22.

But I also saw the little mistakes that undermined a lot of what I just described:

The holding calls … players out of position in coverage … dropped balls … missed blocks … blocking the wrong player … in the wrong gap defensively …

I have been stuck on repeat all year when it comes to these things. 

They need to get fixed and fixed now.

To fix the little things, the entire team needs to pay attention to detail.  This means committing to the discipline it takes to do the little things. Not getting distracted. Not listening to doubters. Not questioning teammates or coaches, but drawing even closer to ensure everyone is committed to the discipline of doing the little things.

The little things - the details - are what give one team the edge over another. Take it from me.

The year before I got to Denver, the Broncos had the best record in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Jacksonville Jaguars came to Denver and beat the Broncos in the divisional round in 1996.

I came in after this, and the effects of that loss were still lingering.  There were some changes made in the detail of what the Broncos did in practice.

One of those was running all the way off the field when coming out of a game.

When Jacksonville was driving late in the game to win the game the Broncos stopped the Jags on third down.  There was a flag on the play.

It turned out Denver had 12 men on the field because one guy did not sprint off the field and was walking off the field.

It was one of the reasons Denver lost that game.  The next season, it was a rule you run all the way off the field.  If you did not, you ran after practice. 

I learned this the hard way one day and ran off the field for the next seven seasons.  The little things make the difference.

I was having a beer this week with a friend who played in the NFL. We were talking about a coach of a major university who has turned around the program in one year.

My friend coached with this head coach for a few years, and I was asking him what this head coach does that makes him such a great coach.  He said one word, “Competition.”

“Everything is a competition,” he added. 

Sprints at the end of practice are a competition.  He wants his guys to compete in everything they do. 

I thought this was great advice.  A football play is 11 competitions going on simultaneously.  I am just one of those 11 competitions, and I can only control my job on that particular play.

I must understand that I need to compete on every play.  You win your competition by preparing yourself for that competition.  Knowing your job, conditioning yourself, discipline, pride, heart, effort all go into every play. 

There is no play where you are not willing to do all those things to win. 

Somehow this staff needs to get these players to compete on every play and focus on the details. 

This starts at practice.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  Teams should strive for a prefect practice every time they step on the field.

None of us are at the practices.  We have no idea what goes on and what the coaches are doing to try and create a practice that strives for competition and perfection.

I’m only seeing what I see on Saturdays. And right now, I see a team that makes to many mistakes.  This West Virginia game was a game Texas should have won.

Texas gave this game away because of little breakdowns on too many plays.

Somehow, this team needs to clean this up. When they do clean up the mistakes, we know what this team can do.  I agree with Coach Strong.  I want to see the team I saw against OU!  I want to see that team the next two games.  I want to see this Texas team beat Baylor!

I know for many it has been frustrating, and a lot of fans are angry and disappointed. 

Remember, those players live it, and they have to own what they put on the field. 

I know there is not one guy who is happy with what is going on right now.  The thing we all must realize is that these players control how this season will end. 

It will be in the record book long after we are all gone from this earth.  The players will decide what to leave in the record books for the future generations to see. 


My question to this team is what are you going to leave in the record books? How do you want to be remembered?

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