Brown: Six Inches Between A Halo And A Noose

Head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>talked tough Monday about starters fighting for playing time following the Oklahoma debacle. But other than the already well-publicized switch at quarterback (<B>Vince Young</B>) and on defense (freshman <B>Aaron Harris </B>will make his second start at MLB while junior <B>Phillip Geiggar </B>will make his first start at FS) there should be no other lineup changes for Saturday&#146;s game at Iowa State, Brown said Wednesday.

I specifically asked Brown if that meant the defensive starters specifically heeded his challenge because they thought their jobs were on the line.

"The starters are still playing better than the others," Brown said.

Cold comfort for those of us who still suffer from post-debacle depression. The fallout has translated into two days of spirited practices at Denius Field, for what that's worth.

"The guys have been great," Brown said. "They weren’t pleased with what they did and they’ve come back full speed. We’ve been hard on them and they’ve responded to it. We’ve had two great days of practice."

Added Brown, "We don’t like losing, and we don’t like losing to a rival. We’ve got to go back to work and get better this week."

Obviously, this has been a week for job security questions for UT coaches as well. Brown’s response was much like that of defensive coordinator Carl Reese and offensive coordinator Greg Davis: talk of pink slips is all part of the territory.

"Last week the opponents were talking to prospects about me going to the NFL and that we’ve got too many good players; this week they’re talking about me getting fired and that we have no players," Brown said. "It’s amazing how much that changes. I can remember a coach telling me that one minute it’s a halo above your head and if you lose a game it can drop to a noose. There’s only six inches between the halo and the noose. That’s just part of this business and part of what you’ve got."

At least Brown didn’t say that we’d have "to deal with it" like his insufferable predecessor did. Still, the appearance Brown gives is that it’s just another day at the office. The only reason Saturday’s debacle didn’t exceed that 1997 UCLA bombshell was because Bob Stoops chose not to stick it in the end zone on OU’s next to last possession. (Backup QB Paul Thompson would, of course, engineer the final drive and cap the score at 65.)

"The thing that people don’t understand is that I have to go back to work," Brown said. "You worry about the young people that you’re involved with and this week, as hard as it was to have played poorly and lose last week, this gives me a chance to be a great role model for our players and our coaches and for a lot of people that have had a tough week across the state. This is really a week that I can get a lot done."

Brown said he spent two and one-half hours with players on Sunday and met with several seniors on Monday.

"I don’t think people realize this is what we do every day of every week," the head coach said. "What you do is you handle things differently. If we’d won the game, we’d have some issues this week, too. After 20 years of this stuff, you deal with whatever you need to based on the day, and that isn’t stuff that we share publicly."

Then again, I don’t believe for a second that there is a 50 point differential between UT's players’ desire or talent level and anyone else, but there is clearly a gaping discrepancy between the caliber of coaching that can put defenders in the right position, taking the correct angles, fighting off blocks, swarming, wrapping up and tackling. Part of the frustration some of the players said this week has to do with their experience that the stuff that works in practice doesn’t work in games.

Texas leaves the state for the first time this season when it plays at Iowa State, followed by one of those "home" road games at Baylor.

"We’ll be in tough situations both weekends and this will help us to see if we’ve improved," Brown said.

Uh-huh. Just like Rice and Tulane was indicative of the improvement since Arkansas. Games at out-manned Iowa State and Baylor might say something about how interested this team is in what’s left of the season. But any test of this team’s actual improvement will come in November when Texas faces nationally ranked teams in Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech and concluding with A&M gunning for a season-saving upset. The Aggies always care more about that game than does Texas, and that one could get depressing should the Horns stumble between now and then.

Bottom line: it shouldn’t hurt to be a Longhorn.

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