Head coach Mack Brown's December 3 announcement that all starting jobs are now "open" and under intensive scrutiny is empty lip service unless he really means it. It's not the first time Brown has declared 'open' season for starting jobs; he used the same language following historic losses to Oklahoma (2000, 2003). As a result, Brown opted to start freshmen Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Vince Young in their respective years.
Coaches typically say they never look beyond the next game. Coaches say Texas needs to win the Holiday Bowl to gain momentum for the spring and to earn that seventh-straight 10-win season. But the 2007 season was practically a wash following the 0-2 start in Big 12 play and it sank to that status after the A&M game. If Brown is, indeed, treating bowl preparation like it's spring training with all spots "open", then the Holiday Bowl would best serve Texas if it is likewise perceived in terms of the annual Spring Scrimmage. In other words, get quality snaps on December 27 for guys who look to fill next year's two-deep chart. And that begins at linebacker.
Maybe you give SLB Robert Killebrew and WLB Scott Derry a symbolic start in San Diego, but then you shake their hands and thank them for trying. If starting jobs are based on productivity rather than seniority, then WLB Roddrick Muckelroy, SLB Sergio Kindle and MLB Jared Norton opens with the Ones.
The same goes for the secondary, where coaches failed to build depth for the second year in a row. Mack Brown typically lists the reason why he doesn't put younger players into ballgames is because a situation didn't arise 'in which they could succeed.' Memo to Mack: your starting DBs aren't succeeding either. Texas' enters the Holiday Bowl with the kind of pass defense (No. 109, 275.5 ypg) that would make John Mackovic blush. What happens when Texas plays a Pac-10 passing game rather than one that the Aggies dusted off in practice for the first time just 10 days before Thanksgiving? Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter will torch Texas' undersized, arm-tackling, assignment-busting secondary unless the defensive front can get to him early-and-often. The young ones couldn't be much worse, could they? The verdict here is that Brown is more concerned that their fragile psyches can't handle the chunks of real estate that your starters have yielded. Fifth-year senior Brandon Foster was generally solid during his first (and only) year on the job. Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown are stars of the future. So is Deon Beasley, who saw considerable playing time in 2007.
Texas has been off the national radar screen since the K-State loss. USA-Today listed the 2007 Longhorns as one of the year's Top Three disappointments. The worst start in league play in 50 years? The worst home loss since Route 66? Losses to both OU and A&M in the same season for the first time in 14 years? It's time to pull the plug and let the dirty bath water drain from this tub. It's time to look forward.
Following what is arguably the most disappointing season of Mack Brown's tenure, the future is now for the Longhorns. Get the whippersnappers on the field and watch them fight for their jobs rather than lame-ducks playing out the season.
2) PUT MAC DUFF IN CHARGE OF SPECIAL TEAMS ONLY
Oversight of special teams is typically piece-mealed among position coaches. Why not put former San Francisco 49ers special teams coach Larry Mac Duff solely in charge of special teams operations?
Texas' special teams are certainly in need of more focused, hands-on direction. The unit has been woefully inconsistent ever since since Michigan's average starting position in the 2005 Rose Bowl was its own 45 (and perhaps even since North Carolina State blocked three punts in 1999 to spring the upset). Texas prides itself on leading the nation in blocked kicks from 1999-2006, but that is only one facet of the game. Consider these ugly stats: Texas' punt return defense currently ranks No. 100 (11.75 yards per return), which further compounds its pedestrian punting game (No. 68, 39.6 yards per punt). It's punt return team ranks No. 65 (8.7), while its kickoff return defense checks in at No. 53 (20.89).
Special teams were so important to Darrell Royal that he became a de facto coordinator of the unit. I've heard Royal say, on more than one occasion, that at least one game each year is determined by special teams play. It was so important to him that he handled it himself and he relentlessly drilled his special teams players.
The saving grace on Texas' special teams this season was dependable FG kicker Ryan Bailey and Quan Cosby's KO returns (helping produce a more respectable 23.2 yards per return average, NCAA No. 24). But the numbers. as a whole, rank from mediocre-to-miserable. And none point to a special teams unit that has proven capable of consistently flipping the field. As long as Mac Duff is on DeLoss Dodds' payroll, he should focus his NFL smarts on upgrading a special teams squad that is nearly as bad as the pass defense.
Who, then, would become linebackers coach? A number of universities boast the type of premiere linebackers coaches that Longhorn fans dream about (notably Ohio State's Luke Fickell, LSU's Bradley Dale Peveto, USC's Ken Norton, Jr., Alabama Co-DC/inside linebackers coach Kevin Steele). Texas would be served well by an assistant of this ilk and stature. Ideally, your linebackers coach is a fiery, in-your-face drill sergeant (with a streak of Brent Venables) and who places as high a priority on teaching fundamentals, as did former defensive coaches Greg Robinson and Dick Tomey.
3) REDSHIRT JOHN CHILES
This is the most difficult suggestion to swallow, but coaches either need to redshirt John Chiles in 2008 or find a way to get him 10-to-12 touches per game. Chiles enrolled early in the spring and Texas proceeded to waste a year of eligibility for Chiles (One could argue that coaches had no choice following Sherrod Harris' injury and that games were too close to insert an unproven backup. The latter argument hearkens back to Brown's concern that players appear only when there is situation where they can 'succeed'). Chiles obviously did not have the redshirt-year that Vince Young had. Just as obvious, Chiles' passing game could only benefit from a year of polishing. The only thing that is unacceptable would be for Chiles to ride the pine behind Colt McCoy for three seasons.
Harris is as fine of young man to ever wear the Burnt Orange, but durability has plagued him throughout his collegiate and prep career. RS-freshman G.J. Kinne is a sleeper, has good size, serviceable mobility and is as pure of a passer to emerge from the Lone Star prep ranks in recent memory. Recruiting services probably underestimated him because of his early commitment to Baylor. In short: there are enough backups on campus for Chiles to redshirt if he and coaches are willing to consider the option.
These are just three suggestions, and are by no means exhaustive. What do you say?