Is This Team Built Texas Tough?

Seems like everyone from the national sports media to Gandhi&#146;s grandchildren are questioning the toughness of Texas football. And it didn&#146;t just start with the shocking 38-28 loss to Arkansas. The Horns have been labeled as a soft, underachieving team on several occasions during the past couple of years. On the heels of his first home loss in nearly four seasons, head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>spoke to that assessment as Texas prepares for Rice (Saturday, 8:22 p.m., ESPN2).

"People are like parrots," Brown said. "Every time we lose, it (lack of toughness) is what they come back to."

To show that the "soft" moniker is more indicative of the regional football culture than his particular team, Brown referenced a 1963 article published after Texas beat Oklahoma to claim the nation’s No. 1 ranking. The piece quoted the Oklahoma players as saying Texas’ offensive line was soft.

"So it’s not the first time that it’s been mentioned around here," Brown concluded. "Every time we lose a game here, that’s what is said. They’re just waiting for one of those games so they can say that. We’ve got some players that don’t play well some times and we’ve got some that really played well. Teams don’t quit. When a player quits, teams aren’t soft. Teams aren’t soft when a player’s soft. So, I think it’s probably hard to label a team. They’re probably talking about me, and I don’t care."

Well, ultimately, "they" probably are talking about Brown. "They" are talking about Brown because, ultimately, it all goes back to coaching. Whether it is a matter of poor technique, scheme, execution, intensity, motivation, talent, play calling or replicating a coach’s personality on the field, it ultimately goes back to the man in charge.

Anyone who has ever rubbed shoulders with Brown will almost unanimously attest that he is a warm, personable gentleman. But the rub on Brown is that his athletes (in high profile games against physical opponents) play like warm, personable gentlemen. And they lose.

Not so fast, Brown insists. A soft team could not go on the road last season and knock off Kansas State, he said. And that was not a soft Texas team you saw at DKR Saturday, he is convinced.

"Arkansas won the game and they made some big plays," Brown said, "but they didn’t line up and whip us every play. We were tough enough to win the game but we didn’t make the plays we needed to win the game. A 56-yard pass over the top is not about toughness with maximum protection and one guy out. A naked boot, or 60 yards on a touchdown on a scramble is not about toughness. So, I think the toughness stuff is over-used."

Some have questioned how adequately Brown prepares his teams for tough Big 12 games as well as for Texas’ first tough non-conference opponent in five years. Some have suggested that the team hits at less than full- speed during two-a-days and spends too much time in the air conditioned, in-door facility.

"We have hit more in this pre-season and we have tackled more in this pre-season than we’ve ever hit and we’ve ever tackled," Brown said. "We hit last Monday and Tuesday -- hard."

Other than improving the ground game and run defense, the big push during the preseason was to ensure athletes were better conditioned. From Brown’s perspective, his guys are conditioned -- and tough enough -- to win them all.

"I thought we were in shape," Brown said. "I looked really hard to see if we loafed at the end (of the game). We didn’t. I still thought we’d win at the end."

In the end, however, a team’s perceived level of toughness has to do with winning.

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