Mack Brown's hiring of Greg Robinson as his Co-Defensive Coordinator. Question is: is this change a good thing?"> Mack Brown's hiring of Greg Robinson as his Co-Defensive Coordinator. Question is: is this change a good thing?">

Will Defense Give Texas A 'Sporting' Chance In 04?

This probably passed beneath the radar screen for most Orangebloods, but buried deep in a recent <I>Sporting News </I>column was writer Tom Dienhart's assessment that one of the "major coaching changes" during the off-season that people "might have missed" was <B>Mack Brown's </B>hiring of <B>Greg Robinson </B>as his Co-Defensive Coordinator. Question is: is this change a good thing?

Dienhart correctly states that switching coordinators can be just as effective as changing coaches. But then Dienhart raises serious questions about Robinson's effectiveness while coordinating the Kansas City defense (2001-03). Comments Dienhart: "The change that could have the biggest impact was at Texas, where defensive coordinator Carl Reese resigned and Coach Mack Brown hired Greg Robinson. Robinson arrived in Austin just ahead of the posse in Kansas City, where the Chiefs defenses ranked 29th among 32 teams in 2003 and last in the NFL in 2002. Who can forget the way the Colts trashed Kansas City's defense in the playoffs?"

For the record, neither the Chiefs nor the Colts forced a punt during that Indy win. Robinson addressed the issue at his introductory press conference by simply stating, "I know I can coach."

Brown had never met Robinson before his courtship last January. But so impressed was the Texas head coach with his new DC that Robinson was given command of not just the "only whistle" during spring drills but also the final word in calling the defense on game days this fall. Despite the Co-Coordinator status that Robinson shares with Duane Akina, there is no doubt who da man is on the Longhorn defense.

There have been ample critiques of Robinson in this space which do not require repeating, other than the fact that I am hanging my Burnt Orange hat on the six seasons Robinson spent in Denver. There, he directed a unit that posted three Top 10 finishes in total defense. His run defense also registered three Top 10 finishes, including an NFL best 83.2 ypg in 1997. Not coincidentally, that year was the first of consecutive Super Bowl championships for the Broncos.

But part of what Dienhart goes on to write demands qualification: "Robinson has installed zone blitzes and more zone coverages in a system that requires more thinking than reacting." The commentary makes it sound as if Orangebloods can anticipate the second coming of John Mackovic's finesse defenses that leaned more toward read-and-react than sustained aggression and ultimately redefined woeful by UT standards.

If Robinson's troops mirror his persona, then we have little reason to fear that the D will regress to the bad 'ol days. His self-proclaimed mission is to fashion a swarming, attacking defense that flies to the ball and finishes every play regardless of the score. His operative words have been "controlled violence" while applauding the "dog-eat-dog" competitiveness among his charges. What's more, Robinson spent the first half of spring drills doing little else but teaching the basics that you know were lacking on this team (at least across the board). So far, it's been sweet music to the ears of we who bleed orange.

Still, you're going to see more zone this fall. But that's got more to do with Brown than Robinson. Texas will still play some man, but Brown wants the secondary to do a better job of disguising its coverage. His intent is to try and force more turnovers and to keep QBs from throwing over the top of the secondary.

It was no secret that both Reese and his D-backs preferred man coverage. When pressed, the former D-Coordinator took a "Whatever the boss wants" stance in response to media questions. But when Brown was asked (during each of the past two seasons) if the defense played as much zone as he wanted, he either said "no" or he displayed his weariness with the line of questioning by asking media just how much zone we thought we saw on the field following any given contest. (Read: do you reporters know enough about what you're talking about to keep asking the question, or are you just parroting what you're getting from angry fans?)

Either way, Brown believes changes in the defensive staff (rather than offensive) are key to getting the program over the hump and into the BCS promised land. The 2004 season, of course, will determine just how significant the off-season changes were at Texas. Can the defense get to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White? Can the defense shut down Texas Tech's freak-show offense? Can the defense keep erratic Arkansas QB Matt Jones from looking like the leading Heisman contender?

With the season-opener now less than three months away, the final verdict will no longer be under the radar screen. The eyes of Texas -- indeed, the entire nation -- will be upon the Longhorn defenders.

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