Tracking Mack: Sept. 8
Sept. 8, 2010
Opening statement: Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the flood victims in Texas from the storms. We are very, very fortunate here. In the first year that we were at Texas, we did not get to go outside at all before the Kansas State game, and the year that we played Colorado for the Big 12 Championship, we had to stay in a tent and walk through. So for all the boosters that donated the bubble [for us] to use, you have been a lifesaver. We were able to have a good practice yesterday, and it gives us a chance to move forward.
Obviously, from all people in the state of Texas - not just football fans - our thoughts and prayers go out to the Wyoming football family for their loss. We have been through that. We know how hard it is. We know it is very difficult. It is hard to understand, and there will be a moment of silence and a tribute on the jumbotron on Saturday before the game in Ruben [Narcisse]’s honor. Our band will also play a tribute to the Wyoming football family and Wyoming fans. We deeply hurt for you and understand.
There will also be a tribute to 9/11. There will be a red, white, and blue ribbon worn on our helmets in honor of the people who lost their lives and the people who are fighting to keep us safe. There will be a group of seven, who serve us locally, that will walk out in pregame to do the honorary coin toss.
We did have a good practice yesterday. Cody [Johnson] practiced some. It looks like he should be available for Saturday. We will just have to see if he is 100 percent at the time he gets there. We felt like the guys came back and got back to work.
We are really a work-in-progress. Leadership changes. We have lost great leaders over the last two years, and we are trying to figure out who those guys are and how they can work together. It is not just being a leader, it is how do you stir up a whole bunch [of others]. It’s not yourself. It is who else do you get stirred up. I did not think that our boundary was stirred up like it should have been Saturday. I do not think that the kids had enough fun and enough life, and that is something that I want to see this week. Same with chemistry. Chemistry is hard with a young team and an early team - to figure out who is looking at who, who is following who, who steps up. That is something that we have to continue to work on. I mentioned energy on the sidelines. It is amazing to me that we can pull out two basketball goals, ask two coaches and four players to shoot, and they are all over the place jumping up and down and screaming, and then we play a football game and they’re just standing over there looking at each other. It makes no sense to me, so we have to have more energy on Saturday night on that boundary. I think it does matter. It affects the crowd, and it affects the guys on the field. The guys played well on the field, but I want to see the guys on the boundary pulling harder for them.
Our kicking game is something that we did not do well against Wyoming. It is still a work in progress with our field goals, [and] our kickoffs. Our punting is different. Our punt returns are different. Our kickoff returns are different—everything is different. I did notice in the Boise St.-Virginia Tech game that they were bringing kicks back six or seven yards deep on kickoffs. That is something that we have to look at. Only once did they not make it to the 20, so when you are moving back, the kicks are shorter, but if they kick one that deep, they have further to come. So we are constantly looking at things like that.
Our offense is a work in progress. We would rather be balanced about 50-50 run and pass, and I will talk about that a little bit more because I have to go back and touch this. Over the past 10 years, scoring offense is the most important characteristic of a winning football team, so that is the most important thing on offense—score. The rest of it is really unimportant. Nobody looks at stats at the end of the year and says, ‘they lost nine games, but, boy, they ran it good. That is really exciting,’ because nobody cares. The thing that we have to do is go back and talk about scoring and quit putting so much emphasis on just how many yards did you run for. Last year we were third in the country in scoring. The number two most important characteristic of a winning team over the last 10 years is scoring defense. Last year, we did not do as well there. We were 12th, but we feel like there were some things last year, like Saturday, where it should have been a three point game, and it got up to 17. The third most important characteristic is rushing defense, and last year we led the country in rushing defense. It is very, very important, even in a game like this Saturday, where it will be a throwing game for Wyoming. You count the screens and the draws as runs. You count their quicks as runs. You have to dominate the running game to be able to do that. The fourth most important characteristic is total defense, and we were third in the country last year in total defense. So we need to stop the run, keep them from scoring, keep them off the field which means they do not have a lot of yards, and then you need to score points. And some of those points may be scored in the kicking game or may be scored on defense, but it doesn’t matter. You have to get points to win the game. We have talked so much about the running game now, with some, it is an obsession about how many yards did you get, and we do not care. The perfect balance was in 2005, when we rushed for 250 yards, we passed for 250 yards, and we scored 50 points. We were not the number one defense in the country that year, but we did not have to be because we were so dominant on offense. This year, we feel like we can be dominant on offense, but we have to continue to figure out ways to score points and get that done, but we will shift the focus to; we would like to run it better when we want to run it, but we could care less about how many yards we get. We want points. We gave up 14 points the other day in interceptions. We missed two field goals, and we did not score from the 1-yard line. So there is 30 points that we gave up that we should have had on the board.
[Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations] John Bianco did talk to some staff members at the Heisman Trophy yesterday, and they said that all of the talk about Reggie Bush’s Heisman is premature. They have not made any decisions and have not come close to a decision.
When people ask me about TCU and Boise State and where they fit right now in college football, I really thought that my answer would be that TCU and Boise State better start paying Chris Petersen and Gary Patterson better because everybody in the country is going to want them. They have done a tremendous job at what they do. They have obviously done as good of a job as anyone at coaching with their relative programs.
Wyoming, if you take their offense, it is a mirrored offense of Missouri because [Wyoming Head Coach] Dave Christensen was the offensive coordinator at Missouri for all those years, and they are still doing what they do in our league. They have been very, very successful at it.
Austyn Carta-Samuels is a young man that is really, really good. He is a star. He can run. He can throw. He is the difference right now in their football team compared to last year. They did not move the ball well against us last year. He can make plays. We saw a running offense last week. It will be good for us to see a passing offense, and that is what they will do. They will try to run the ball some, but they’ll have all of their gadgets—the screens, the draws, and the quicks—but they are going to throw the ball downfield, and he can scramble and make some plays.
They have really good wide receivers, especially [David] Leonard. Leonard is a 6-4 guy who returns kicks. He is a pro prospect, and he played against us last year.
They have an outstanding kicking game, and they feel like that can be a real plus for them.
Defensively, they will play nine guys against us that played last year, including seven starters. Those guys are tough. They are a team that believes they can go on the road and upset teams. They have done that in their past. That is who they are. They will come in here with great confidence after the first half of last year, and we will constantly talk to our guys this week about protecting our home field because we won 15 straight. It should be hard to win here. We will challenge our crowd to be a great crowd, and we will challenge our guys on the bench to stir the crowd and our guys on the field up and do a better job of all of that than we did last week. We need to have more fun. We did not have enough fun with last week’s game in my estimation.
On whether he has talked to Coach Christensen about Ruben Narcisse’s death: No, I have not. I remember when we went through this with Cole [Pittman], I did not want to talk to anybody. What we have done is sent our messages, and we will send flowers, and it is obvious that if there is anything that we can do to help, we would like to help. They are dealing with trying to prepare for a ballgame so Dave does not have enough time to talk to me, and they know that we are here if they need us.
On how he has addressed Narcisse’s death with the Longhorn family: What I said to our staff and team yesterday is that the most important thing is when you say your prayers at night, if you are a person who says prayers, say one for his family, say one for the young man’s friends, and say one for the coaches. But we still have to play the game.
On why the team was not having more fun against Rice: I do not know. It is probably a combination of so many young guys that they were looking around, and as new and as fresh as they are, there is so much going on in their minds that it is hard to relax and enjoy. I have heard some of them say that just standing there, some of them were having so much fun that they just stood and looked around like it was a dream come true. We have to get out of that. This starstruck stuff needs to go away.
On RB Fozzy Whitaker’s excitement over carrying the American flag before the Rice game and what the tradition means: We bring two American flags out every week, and we have someone carry them that has [an] immediate family tie to our military. Fozzy’s brother has been in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he is going back to Iraq, so he was very, very proud to carry that flag not only in his brother’s honor, but also for every other service member that is over there. Dustin Earnest did the same thing, and he did it in honor of his dad and grandfather. If we are on the road, we have a senior carry the Texas flag out as well. At home, we have the huge Texas flag, so we do not carry a Texas flag out because we feel like we are well represented here. We do feel like it is important to our kids. Gosh, there are too many kids that have ties [to the military] to be able to carry a flag out, so we will have to look at that. We have one young man who was in the Special Forces himself, so he will probably carry it out this week.
On the hardest thing the players had to face in the wake of Cole Pittman’s death: I think that it was just the whole process because young people think that they are going to live forever, and when they see one of their friends in their age group that is gone, they realize that they could be gone, too. So it is really tough because they feel sorry, they are sad, and they are confused. That is what I saw. We got heavy counseling for our players immediately, especially the close friends. We got advice from everybody. I got so much advice, and I felt like I learned so much. The best advice I got probably was from [his wife] Sally because I remember saying what an awful day to be the Head Football Coach at Texas. That I have to go to this funeral or I have to go tell this team, and I remember two things that she said. She said what a lucky day for you that you can make a difference in people’s lives because you have to be strong, you have to stand up, you have to handle this, and you have to make it okay. It is an awful thing, but you have to help everyone understand that we will not move on, we will move forward. That made so much sense to me. You don’t move on, you move forward. That is at some point after you deal with it. Secondly, she said that the toughest thing for all of us is that I am older, been married, had a good life, had children, been to school, had a job. Nineteen-year-olds [like Narcisse] do not get that. Cole was 21, and why not take one of us older ones, who has been through all of that instead of taking a younger person. That is what gets really confusing. Another thing. I remember [First Assembly Pastor and Evangel Christian High School offensive coordinator] Denny Duron saying at the funeral as he came up to me, ‘How many Saturdays do you have left?’ and I thought, ‘We play…we play.. .we play,’ and he said, ‘You do not have any guaranteed Saturdays.’ We are all going to be there [in that situation], and we need to understand that. And you just need to try and have a great presence while you are here and understand that if you want to see Cole again that you be nice, handle yourself well, and you will see him later if you believe those things.
Those are the type of messages that you have. Ours was different, good and bad, in that ours was in the spring. So you wonder when do you start practice again? Wyoming has no choice. They have to go right back to work, and in some ways that is probably really good for the kids. I think that we waited a week and then we were not sure, and we actually brought the kids in and talked to them. The other thing that was interesting is that we were advised to bring his closest friends and team leaders to a press conference immediately and have them talk about him. That way they could celebrate his life instead of sitting around and not saying anything. That seemed a little unique to me, but I thought it was good watching the kids. [Athletics Director] DeLoss [Dodds] flew all the kids that wanted to go to the funeral to the funeral. It’s such an impact . I can’t even imagine as a parent, but it’s such an impact as a coach. I still have the video of Cole’s funeral behind my desk in a drawer and that was 2001 and I’ve never been able to watch it. I’d like to try at some point but I haven’t been able to do that yet. I’ve got the little program from his funeral in my case there as I sit, and look at his picture and his parents all the time. I vividly remember the North Carolina tribute - his parents in the dressing room after the game. Those things never go away.
On balancing the game plan with a conference game next week: It’s tough. It’s a hard thing. We went into the game last week offensively to look at specific things, and when we were able to see we were going to win the game, we stayed with those. We wanted to walk out so we could make an emphasis to our team that when they know we’re running the ball and they’ve got a bunch of people up around the line of scrimmage, you can still run it. You have to block everybody, and we need to block better downfield, and we need to cut off better. We put our guys in a very difficult position last week and we thought they handled it well. We’ve been able to come out of it being very positive about no turnovers, [and] no sacks. Only two negative plays that were both mental mistakes. So you could have gone through the game with no turnovers, no sacks and no negative plays. You don’t do that very often, especially in an opening ballgame. Now we feel like we can add toys and passing to it and do some more things. We wanted to do mostly play-action last week so they would see that you can protect very well if you’ll fake better. We’ve got a lot of teachable moments this week from last week’s game. Now what we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to start expanding. And conference is the most important thing we do, but you’ve got to beat Wyoming. The question gets to be - in an out-of-conference game period - how much do you hold as compared to, do you need somebody to see it? Do you need to have worked on it so it’s not new for you when you walk out there next week because we’ve got so many young players? We’re still dealing with some of that. We’re not really sure where that will be. The most important thing is you’re 2-0.
On having to prepare indoors because of weather: We’d like to be outdoors some. Our bubble’s too short to punt and kick in so the punt catchers, [and] the kickoff guys, they do not get to have the elements and they do not get to kick and catch. We’ve decided we’re going to try and go outside for some [kicking game practice]today. And the fields - they’ve been up there and they say they’ve just drained unbelievably and that they think we can go outside for a while. It’s supposed to be really humid on Saturday night so we need to get a little bit of that as well.
On remembering where he was on September 11, 2001: I was sitting in my office, when I think it was Arthur Johnson [who] at that time was in charge of football operations, and he walked in and said, ‘Coach, turn on your TV, somebody hit the World Trade Center,’ and then obviously I turned it on. The thing - as a coach - you start worrying immediately; ’Do you have any parents that are in New York? Do you have any people that work in that area? Who do we need to get?’ So what we tried to do is call a team meeting as fast as we could and get them over here so we could explain as much of what was happening as we could, and make sure we could help them find their parents because we had some on vacation. Chris Simms’ parents were working next door to that building - I think his dad [was]. So that’s what we tried to do. Our whole focus is our families and then our player’s family. That’s just something that you try to do. Even with all of our players - until they could talk to their parents - they were very unsettled because it scared all of us. Then when it expanded to [Washington] D.C. and we didn’t know what was happening - and even more so since so many of our players were close to President Bush because when he was the governor he would work out downstairs – and [with] one of the daughters in class here and speculation that Austin might be hit as well . . . we were trying to be a settling effect as soon as we could get some information about what to do.
With Cole Pittman, the highway patrol [called] and they asked me for some identification - they wanted a picture of Cole because they saw a book with his name in it, and they saw a bowl ring with his name in it but he didn’t have a billfold on him. They asked me to send in a picture immediately. So from the time they call, to the time they get back with you from the identification just scared you to death. You sure can’t say anything. You don’t know anything.
You’re just hoping and praying that it’s not Cole Pittman. And then when they call back, and I’m supposed to call the parents and tell them they’ve lost their son - it’s one of the worst days of my life. I mean how do you tell a parent he’s lost his son? I talked to Marc [Pittman] on the phone and this would have been very similar with 9/11 if one of our players had lost a parent. What do you do? We were open that weekend so we didn’t have to practice and I can’t remember, I think we had the kids vote and they wanted to go out and do something. So I think we went out and did a little bit, but since we weren’t playing that weekend it was kind of a weekend to get away from it and let it go. My job is to get our coaches, our staff and our players over here and try to explain what’s going on to the best of my ability. Then the head coach has to fix things and in those situations it’s hard to fix them. What you do is, you try to say this is really, really bad. I remember walking into the team to tell them that Cole had passed away - and [the counselors] said do not tell them that he had died because that’s too harsh - and I remember saying, ‘Guys, Cole Pittman’s not going to be with us anymore, we’ve lost Cole,’ and one of the players said, ‘Is he transferring?’ It’s a very difficult transition from where you are with kids to getting them national news or tragic news and making sure they handle it. It’s a very difficult time and a hard time for a head coach.
On still talking to the Pittman family: We do, and they still have a foundation. [A] golf tournament here in Cole’s honor that they raise money for. Marc’s written a book that I get so many people that come up and say, ‘That book’s touched my life and changed my life.’ And Judy still emails some, so yes, they have a real presence in our lives and that will never change.
On RB Tre’ Newton’s performance last week: Tre’ has a great knack for finding the hole and then he has this burst that he gets through it. We laughed. We didn’t make the third and two, but he scored three times on the goal line and when you guys interview him I try to watch the interviews and see what our kids are saying, and Tre’ said, ‘Boy when I feel that goal line I can just smell it.’ Well I’m going to tell him, ‘When you feel that first-down marker, smell it too because it smells good. It’s the same.’ He’s one of those guys like Cedric Benson that allows the hole to open up and then he finds it. He’s very patient as a runner and I think that’s what makes him so good.
On understanding slow starts to the season: Fifty percent of the teams lose their opener every year, based on my calculations. We’ve been one of those that has not, so my expectation of us playing like it’s the Oklahoma game is something that you all [the media] really made my standards higher than [they were] when I got here. I’ll never forget when I worked at Oklahoma, coach [Frank] Broyles told me - they were playing 11 games at that time - he said, ‘If you can get your team to play hard four times with a lot of emotion, you’re going to be lucky. The other seven you’ve got to be good enough to win.’ That’s always haunted me because I want our team to play hard 14 times and I want them to play with passion 14 times, and you would think that should be possible. Now for the last two years I think they’ve done that pretty well. Last year’s opener, we got some interceptions and it would have been like [that] last week if we would have scored when we should have scored. The second game, I’m not sure [if] part of it was the altitude. We had kids throwing up, and I was shocked. It was different. It has not bothered us in Boulder [Colorado]. I’d never been to Laramie [Wyoming], but it bothered us some. It was different. When I looked at it, we made so many great plays but we just messed stuff up. When you get a punt blocked, you try to fake a punt from your six[-yard line] and get it to your nine[-yard line], that’s not good. Colt [McCoy] was on a boot[leg] where he can run for a first down and he lobs the ball out there and hits a guy right in the face. I mean it was like we had to get excited about getting started over or something. But we’re mad when we win 41-10 and we’ve run up and down the field, so our standard is a little different around here than most.
On DE Eddie Jones: He has been a great leader. He’s emotional. He hit the winning shot in the basketball contest on Thursday, and he said he might be leading the nation in kickoff returns. He was bragging yesterday. We need to make sure he stands where he is and doesn’t back up because yesterday he was wanting to back up and get one of Marquise [Goodwin]’s balls so he could return it. So we’ve told him,’You are a defensive end, you are not a deep returner.’ He brings passion every day and brings emotion every day and he’s one of those guys, like Sam Acho, that we want to ignite our team. He’s had so many bad things happen to him that he’s having fun [now]. This is his senior year and I think he’ll be a pro player if he stays healthy, so this is a fun time for him.
On changing kickoff personnel to make sure the fast guys get the ball: We’re excited about starting at the 44[-yard line]. I mean that’s it. If the fast guys in the back would have gotten it back to the 44[-yard line] every time we would have been pumped. If people are going to do that, we’ll take the 50[-yard line], we’ll take the 44[-yard line] and hopefully we’ll finish better on offense.
On Boise State being better than expected: I expected them to be good. I think they’re obviously a good team - that’s never been in question. Virginia Tech’s a good team, and you go back to kicking game mistakes and bad penalties and turnovers and they determine first ballgames and that’s what scares you to death.
On the future of a playoff system: I think that’s up to you all [the media], I really do. Coaches don’t have any say. The only time I’m ever asked is when you all ask me. I’m never asked by people that are making decisions - not like you all aren’t. I don’t see playoffs coming soon and that’s what I’ve been told, regardless of what happens. I would suspect the BCS likes all the talk. They probably like all the chatter because people are talking about the BCS early. What I said I really mean - we don’t want to talk so much about the end that we don’t enjoy the beginning because so many things will happen between now and then. If it’s an issue in the end, let’s talk about it. The second thing, I think, that was very obvious is TCU and Boise [State] are good - regardless of your take on where it should happen and how it should happen. And Gary Patterson and Chris Petersen have done a great job. I mean what I said. They have done two of the best jobs of coaching in the country and should be recognized as that, period.
On RB Vondrell McGee: Vondrell is a guy that has worked really hard in preseason. He’s come back, he’s fresh, [but] he missed the [Rice] game. He would have been in the game at the end instead of Cody [Johnson] and the guys in the fourth quarter. We’ve got to look [and see] if Cody’s ankle isn’t well. He [McGee] has to be a guy that we look at on short-yardage and goal line, so he’s still in that mix. He just got himself behind.
On expecting the defensive backs to come up with interceptions: We do. Poor Chykie was out there catching the balls off of the machine yesterday. I bet he caught 100 in a row. I think they will - they both kind of kicked themselves. It’s exciting when that ball’s floating at you and it looks like a pumpkin and it’s hanging up in the air and you see the goal line and you see a touchdown and your heart’s racing while it’s coming. I mean it’s a lot different than those at practice. Hopefully if that comes up again we’ll do a better job at catching them.
On QB Garrett Gilbert sharing similar traits to former QBs Colt McCoy and Vince Young: They won so much in high school they don’t even have any thought of losing. They’re very, very confident. I’ll never forget the vision of Vince. He’s playing a game and its 65-63 or something, [and] he put himself in at free safety and then he covered a kickoff trying to win the game. I’ll never forget that. That was so impressive to me. Colt - the fact that he went to a state championship in football with his team, [and then] he lead a basketball team and scored 28 points leading them to a state playoff game and then he was on the golf team . . . I mean that’s what those kids do, they’re so competitive. Then Garrett - two state championships and wasn’t intimidated at all in the national championship game. One of the things I think that the second half of that national championship game did was, it made all of us me included, think Garrett’s about a junior and [that] he started 30 games already. We forget that was his first start. To think about that start all spring is much different than walking out there when you’re not expecting that, with no pre-thought in going into the game at the national championship. There’s a lot more pressure on him in my opinion in some ways right now then there was in the second half of that game because there was no expectation. Now the expectations go back to Vince and Colt which is pretty unfair to him, and that’s why I brought out the stats on Monday that he actually threw more and in some ways [was] better than Colt or Vince in their first start.
On the player’s death at Wyoming affecting his team’s thought process: All of us have to be mature enough that we understand it is what it is - a tragic situation has happened and a life was lost. We need to be respectful and honestly, if you are a person that prays, pray. And then you’ve got to go do your job and I think that’s the tough part of this. Around Thanksgiving I still think about those 12 families that lost their child that day [in the Texas A&M bonfire tragedy] and that’s a very difficult thing for me at Thanksgiving. We all reflect back. To me, I reflect in this situation to being the coach and I reflect to being a father. Those are things that are real, but I’ve got to be mature enough to coach our team during the week and coach our team during the ballgame because that’s my responsibility.