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August 3, 2011

Brick By Brick - Mack and staff talk about 2011

It was a different Mack Brown at the Texas Gridiron Kickoff Luncheon. There was a definite blue-collar quality to Mack's tone. And that's how it probably should be as he prepares to pull Texas up from 5-7.

--Ron Franklin asked him if he had logged all of his days during his search for new assistant coaches.

"Last year wasn't fun, but reorganizing the staff was fun."

--Mack said during that time he realized other programs "had a strength coach just for football." That seemed really curious considering Texas has a strength coach just for basketball. And what was Jeff Madden before Bennie Wylie arrived?

--Mack said he and Major Applewhite started looking at offenses "our fan base would enjoy, that fits our team and would be fun to coach" before turning to Bryan Harsin.

--When looking for his defensive coordinator, Mack said he talked to four SEC head coaches and asked who was doing the best job coordinating defenses for an opposing team.

"They all said, 'Would you get Manny Diaz out of here? He's really a hard guy to gameplan against.'"

Mack joked that he and Sally nearly got divorced because they had so much time together during the off-season without a bowl game to prepare for.

--Mack said he went to the SEC to hire his line coaches because that league has won the last five national titles and is a "line of scrimmage" league.

And because he saw the defensive line at Alabama coached Bo Davis up close two years ago.

--Mack said WR coach Darrell Wyatt is doing a good job of teaching UT's receivers to block.

--Despite all the positive work and chemistry Mack believes exists on his staff, he said, "We're a work in progress and don't have an identity on offense or an identity on defense."

--Mack and the staff have elected to make the team's mantra in 2011 "Brick By Brick" because he said UT is "rebuilding its foundation, starting over, tearing it all down and building it back."

Mack said, "We won't talk about the end of the season expectations because we lost the right to do that after last season."

--When Ron Franklin asked Mack who would start at quarterback, Mack went into a long, roundabout answer about how all the guys on his staff who have played quarterback have been in interesting situations.

He referred to Major's battle with Chris Simms; Harsin's role as a backup at Boise; even Duane Akina getting beat out by Warren Moon at Washington "and said he got screwed - that if he had gotten the job it would have been Duane who set all the records and was All-Pro."

He said those experiences will help the staff coach all four of Texas' QBs - Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy, Connor Wood and David Ash - through the competition over the next 29 days.

"I think we're OK (at quarterback)," Mack said. "I'm not worried about it. I'm excited about it."

--Ron Franklin asked Bryan Harsin about how everyone thinks his offense is based on "trick plays."

Harsin was very relaxed in talking about how people probably saw games like Boise State's victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago in which three huge trick plays paid off and have probably just concluded that's all the Broncos' offense is about.

But Harsin said even though he works a lot on trick plays, the foundation of the offense is based on "being physical and being able to run the ball."

Because Harsin's offense has so many personnel groupings, people think it's complicated. But it's actually easier for guys to learn (except for maybe the QB, who has to learn everything).

Many players will only learn the plays in their personnel grouping. So they are actually very focused on a set number of 10 to 15 plays. So instead of learning a phone book-thick playbook, they learn just a few plays and master them.

Harsin said he works hard to find a role for guys who work hard in practice and do the right things.

"We're going to find an opportunity if you work hard and deserve to be on the field," Harsin said. "That's fun for us and keeps morale high on the team."

The downside of that is potentially taking a great player off the field, but that's the balance you have to find.

--Major Applewhite put it this way: Texas has been used to having everyone learn the entire offense.

"Now, we have a bunch of guys learning a little bit of the playbook, a package of plays that allows them to be really efficient at what they do."

--Manny Diaz had some interesting thoughts on how difficult it's been to install a new offense and a new defense against an offense and defense that are "so hard to learn against."

"They are a hard offense to learn against, and, hopefully, we're a hard defense to learn against," Diaz said.

--One of Manny's Diazisms is that "defense determines if you win or lose, and offense determines by how many."

--Diaz wants to play with four DEs and four DTs, and he thinks Oscar Giles and Bo Davis will have the players ready to deliver.

Diaz talked about how you have to have enough pass rushers so that "players don't pace themselves."

He talked about how he wants 22 players to take the field on defense by the end of the first quarter.

Diaz said his mentor at Florida State - Mickey Andrews - always used to say, "We'll coach next year's team this year." Meaning, the backups all had to see a lot of action and that such a move wasn't a luxury, it was a necessity.

--When Ron Franklin asked a question from the audience - directed at Manny about who could be a surprise or X-factor on defense this season, Diaz said Kenny Vaccaro's name first.

Then, Diaz mentioned his linebackers, followed by Alex Okafor and Kheeston Randall.

"The good thing is we have balance at all three levels of our defense," Diaz said.

Diaz added that you don't really know who your X-factors are "until you get into battles and find out."

--Major Applewhite addressed special teams and said Justin Tucker would likely handle kickoffs, field goals and punting.

Applewhite also said David Ash was an effective punter at Belton and might be used at Texas as a punter "for some flavor."

--Mack Brown was spitting out one-liners all through the luncheon, including his rule that new strength coach Bennie Wylie is not allowed to take his shirt off around the other coaches' wives.

Mack called the summer under Wylie "the best summer we've ever had." (Seems like every program says that every year at this time. Just sayin.)

--Mack also said he liked the media picking Texas to finish fifth in the Big 12 and said if the media ends up being wrong, they should be fired from their jobs. It was a joke, but it came off like Mack would enjoy that just a little too much.

On the Longhorn Network, Mack said, "They told us it wouldn't add any more work, and then we spent four hours yesterday doing commercials."

Longhorn Network programming director Dave Brown was in the audience.


MY TAKE: All in all, a great chance to hear from Harsin, Applewhite and Diaz. Honestly, those are the minds I'm really interested in getting inside. I think Mack made great hires on his staff, and I think this staff really has a chance to turn things around.

At times, today Mack came off as the crazy uncle trying to reel off his one-liners and sounding a little detached when saying things like, "We found out other programs have a strength coach just for football."

At different points, I felt like Mack was Bobby Bowden with a young Mark Richt and a young Mickey Andrews on his staff. If that's how this all turns out, that will be just fine for the Longhorns.


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