Bill Little commentary: RISE to the occasion
June 15, 2012
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
In the midst of a seventy-five minute press briefing on Wednesday, Mack Brown mentioned the "theme" for the 2012 Texas Longhorn football team - R. I. S. E.
The four letters, as chosen as a standard by the team members themselves, represent a particular meaning for each letter comprising the word "Rise." That's the goal-oriented message the players are sending as they spend their summer in team-directed drills that are variously monitored by the strength and conditioning staff or the training staff as allowed by NCAA rules.
In Brown's previous 14 seasons at Texas, each season has had at least one theme, and on occasion there have been at least two. Some are more memorable than others; others more significant than some.
The themes have represented everything from frustration (such as "Finish" following a season where the team ended its season just short of its goals) to commitment ("Take Dead Aim" in the National Championship season of 2005) to dedication ("Brick by Brick" for last season's reconstruction effort).
Historically, themes tie well into Mack Brown's philosophy of building his teams based on communication, trust, respect, and "a common purpose." Some, such as "All In" which became part of the 2009 season after a fall practice speech from Pittsburgh Steelers legend "Mean" Joe Greene, have become particularly bonding.
The success, or lack thereof, related to themes often reflects a couple of things. One is based on one of Mack's favorite truths from his friend Darrell Royal - "the less you say, the less you have to take back." Historically, those themes that live in infamy are those which predict something that isn't backed up by a team's play.
In 1987, when favorite son David McWilliams became the head coach at Texas, the marketing group representing the Texas radio network came up with a pretty cool poster of a dozen or so Longhorns, dressed in old west style dusters, standing on Mount Bonnell at sunset. They even rented a smoke machine for effect, and labeled the picture "Coming to Restore Order in the Southwest." The intention was good. The Southwest Conference had been mired in a sea of probations and controversy, and McWilliams was cast as a replica of his former coach Darrell Royal - one who would return Texas to its accustomed place on the national college football landscape.
The theme was far from deliriously successful, but at least was salvaged, despite a 7-5 record, by a last second win over Arkansas and victory over a ranked Pittsburgh team in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
It was about that time that Longhorn basketball marketers were trying desperately to sell seats in the Erwin Center. In the final season of the regime of Bob Weltlich, they produced a poster based on a popular song of the time, showing players leaping to fit the words of "When the Joint Starts Jumping."
When the season floundered and Weltlich was dismissed, Royal was part of a large committee to determine what Texas was looking for in a coach. When the suggestion came that a little more promotion might have saved the program, Royal exclaimed, "You started this season with a theme of `when the joint starts jumping'. Well folks, when there are three thousand people in the building and you are getting your butt beat, the joint AIN'T jumping!"
Bottom line to all of that is, the most successful pre-season themes are those which you - as a team and a team member - can do something about. You want to be better than you were? Then take charge and do something about it.
That's why "Rise" is a great choice.
The "R" stands for relentless. The "I" for intensity. The "S" is currently up for debate between the players and the coaches, and the "E" is for emotion.
The conversation about "S" is based on the players' wish to have it stand for "swagger" and Mack says the coaches thought that perhaps the word "sacrifice" is a better fit. Understand, of course, that there is nothing more Texan than a bit of swagger - but the coaches feel that's a mode you have to earn, and you earn it - and the other qualities - by being willing to give everything for the good of the whole. Let's be clear here - the players who want "swagger" are not being cocky. They clearly understand there is a difference between "arrogance" and "self-confidence", and the definition hanging in the balance between the two is "swagger."
The most powerful words in the English language are active verbs. And that is why the team's choice for 2012 is important. There is also a message in it for any teacher at any level. Somewhere between the actions of the learning process of kids, there is a constant search for the truth between "pulling" somebody along or "pushing" them to move.
"Rise," however is different. When you succeed as a coach or a teacher, you teach young people to take responsibility for their actions, to respond to challenge, to move autonomously in a positive direction.
In other words, you teach them, not to simply follow or be shoved.
You teach them to "Rise."