Brown's Message For '04 Is Clear And Present

Head Coach <B>Mack Brown</B> (unlike his predecessor) is a personable Public Relations master who could make a living by leading seminars on how to manufacture and maintain the message that he wants communicated about his program. With the home opener against North Texas less than 100 days away, here is the message that Brown wants to convey about his 2004 Longhorns:

There are relatively few superstars on this team.

"This is not a star-studded team," Brown said. "There's not going to be a lot of NFL people out here looking at all the guys."

Starting with spring drills and concluding with the annual Big 12 off-season teleconference, Brown has worked the message (in some form or another) into nearly every media gathering. In short, he wants to make sure you hear it.

"We don't have as many seniors," Brown said on another occasion. "We don't have as many stars."

Those who closely follow the program could surmise that the statement might be more accurate of next year's squad. After all, this year's bunch boasts All-American linebacker and Butkus Award favorite Derrick Johnson. It returns in RB Cedric Benson the Division-I statistical leader in rushing yards and rushing TDs. Both are NFL first-rounders. And yet the Longhorn getting most of the pre-season national pub is sophomore QB Vince Young. Most coaches would be thrilled to have as few stars as Brown has.

"Derrick Johnson had, by far, his best spring and so did Cedric Benson," said Brown, who knows his talent pool runneth over.

To be sure, there remain star athletes on the squad. But let it be known, Brown said, that there aren't as many. So why is it important to Brown that we hear this message now?

Initially, it's tempting to think the statement is intended to temper the expectations of Orangebloods should Texas lose two or three games again this year. (A fifth straight loss to Oklahoma? Well, you see, it's because they are more of a star-studded team.) Here, the logic doesn't fly because it only raises questions about slippage in recruiting. And Brown also knows that the expectations surrounding his program will always remain stratospheric.

Closer to his intent, part of Brown's spin on the upcoming campaign is that, where the current herd of Horns may be lacking in star-power, they will compensates with a blue collar work ethic. It recalls one of the statements Longhorn legend Tommy Nobis made in the current edition of Inside Texas magazine in reference to the 1963-64 Longhorn squads that went 21-0-1 and claimed the program's first national championship.

"Our team didn't have any All-Americans," Nobis said. "It was just a blue collar, hard-working, give-it-all-you-got team."

That's the kind of team Brown wants, but he still wants fans and media to quit focusing so much on glamour boys like Benson, Young and Johnson. (And quit asking when the tight ends are going to get the ball, dammit!) Or, closer to the point, Brown wants the emphases to be on the entire program rather than individual statistics. It's perfectly understandable. Almost every coach attempts to keep the focus on team rather than me.

It was almost a weekly ritual last season that Texas would whip up on a team and fans would still demand to know why Benson, for example, didn't get more carries or how come Roy Williams wasn't getting more touches. That type of emphasis filters back to the athletes who handle it with varying levels of maturity. If you listen closely, Brown will remark that so-and-so has "bought into the team concept" or that so-and-so "is buying into it."

We mentioned that, last season, there was no love lost between Williams and Benson (on the issue of individual attempts-per-game). Whereas Williams recited the party line of not caring about individual stats as long as the team won, Benson let it be known that he wanted those 30 carries per game. To be fair (and probably closer to Brown's concern), those statements were made in direct response to media questions about a particular athlete's individual contribution, whether actual or desired.

"What we're going to talk about is having a better team and quit talking about athletes," Brown said.

The times they are a'changin'. Well, probably not. Media will continue to ask questions about superstars as long as fans continue to care about them. How Brown chooses to respond, however, will be a litmus test both to the commitment he has to his program as well as to his message.

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