Ask Texas football players to explain Mack Brown's historical success in the second half of football seasons, and you'll get the same response: raised eyebrows, a shrug of the shoulders and a quick, "I don't know."
And then they'll proceed to tell you why the Longhorns are 48-5 in Brown's tenure in regular season games following the Oklahoma game.
The most obvious reason, of course, is that Oklahoma has defeated the Longhorns six of the last eight times the teams have met, therefore there is nowhere to go but up. Also, in most of those seasons, Oklahoma was the best team on the Longhorns' schedule and Texas plays a few "gimmees" after the first weekend in October (i.e., Baylor on Saturday).
The players claim that Brown sells the team on the concept of a "new season" with "fresh beginnings." That was the theme with the players who showed up for the weekly Monday press outing at Belmont Hall at UT.
Most of the players said the same thing – that Brown emphasizes moving on quickly, working, and putting any first-half-of-the-season "blahs" to rest. Saturday's blasting of Iowa State was the first game of the 2007 "second season" and at least publicly, the Longhorns appear to have put the Kansas State and Oklahoma losses in the past.
Of course with a team filled with dozens of players – and opinions – the reasons for this success vary. But Monday's gathering did shed light on three primary reasons for the 90-plus winning percentage post-OU: Brown's positive attitude, putting every game in its separate "box" and flexibility in the structure of late-season football practices.
"He's not a big rah-rah person," said cornerback Brandon Foster. "He just lets every person know what we need to do to win."
Brown certainly carries a matter-of-fact attitude into each game, and the players say his steady demeanor – whether the opponent is Baylor or Oklahoma – puts them at ease. They see the same coach every day – win or lose – although Brown does adapt his emotions as the team's needs dictate.
"He knows how to approach us as a team," said defensive tackle Derek Lokey. "Sometimes he's serious, sometimes he's real jovial. He kind of feeds off us, and can feel us."
All of that is fine and good, but in 2007, Brown's task of keeping his team on track will be even more difficult than usual. The Longhorns started conference play 0-2, a seemingly insurmountable hole out of which to dig. For Texas to have a successful season – or to reach the 10-win mark again – Brown will have to be at his motivational best.
History seems to indicate that Texas will embark on a end-of-season winning streak of some significance. But to do so this year, the Longhorns must delete the lingering – and realistic – thoughts that a Big 12 conference championship is completely out of the question already.
At Monday's media gathering, they were saying all of the right things.
"At this point last year, OU is sitting there thinking they didn't have much of a chance, but they kept playing and won the rest of them," Lokey said. "We just have to make sure we win the rest of our games to put us in the position to go to the championship game."
With the obvious parity in college football this season, it's not out of the question that the Big 12 South representative in the championship game could have two losses. But it's highly unlikely.
That's where Brown must enter the scene as the same master salesman he is when he hits the recruiting trail.
"On that Monday after OU, he (Brown) just reiterated that it's a new season, so we need to just focus on winning the next game," linebacker Scott Derry said. "And look at last year: it really fell into OU's laps when we lost the last two games, so you never know what's going to happen."
But Brown must also motivate them this season when realistically the Longhorns' chances of a championship was lost when the final seconds ticked off at the Cotton Bowl. It won't be easy.
"I don't know, you'd like to think that they improve every year because you coach them better and you get more experience," Brown said. "Also, we're more direct with the players in private than we are in the public. If there is a problem, we address it immediately. We tell them the truth about how they are playing. And I don't think they panic after losses. If there's something we don't like, we address it with them directly."
Brown also has history to use as an arrow to fire across the players' bow and he's not afraid of sharing that history with the players who were mere boys when his career began at Texas.
"He definitely has a history of doing great in the second half," Foster said, "and he gives us those numbers and we believe in them."
Lokey says Brown takes the "fresh start" theme literally.
"One thing might be that he knows when to pull off in practice," Lokey said. "I think some coaches just beat you down, but Coach Brown wants you to have your legs fresh and your mind fresh. That matters when it's late in the season. And plus, he knows what he's talking about, and when he speaks, everybody listens."
So now the Longhorns find themselves in familiar territory: they have already suffered a pair of demoralizing losses and the season is only half finished. Time for Brown to earn his money; history seems to indicate that he'll do just that.
"I don't do a lot of talking," Brown said. "You just go back to work."
Media session notes:
Brandon Foster was contrite about his "Deion Sanders"-type celebration following his interception return for a touchdown against the Cyclones: "I have to apologize for that. That wasn't very classy of me at all; I was kind of selfish. I had to apologize to my team for that. I'm not proud of myself."…Foster also indicated that he has bad hands in practice, and someone asked him to then explain his success during the game: "God," Foster said. "God is definitely a Longhorn fan."
Colt McCoy's post-OU game "speech" to the Longhorns was still a subject of discussion Monday. Receiver Quan Cosby said McCoy even went Biblical in the address and said that the quarterback's passion was evident…
Defensive end Brian Orakpo said someone told him prior to the game that Iowa State coach Gene Chizik – the former Texas defensive coordinator – said the Longhorns would not record a sack against the Cyclones because of how quickly they were planning to get rid of the football…
Derry described three of the young Texas linebackers thusly:
Jared Norton: "Very physical. And he always asks good questions during film sessions.
Roddrick Muckleroy: "He's quiet and serious."
Sergio Kindle: "He's the jokester. He's always having a good time and keeping things loose."
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