Bill Little commentary: Driving on
Sept. 26, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Every now and then, you can’t see the trees for the forest.
Now, it’s time to go back and look at the trees.
The success of the Texas football program under Mack Brown has been built to a gold standard in college football by defining goals, and then dreams. The “goals” are established as: 1. Win the opener; 2. Win the State Championship (beating all teams within the state of Texas), 3. Win the Big 12 South; 4. Win the Big 12; 5. Play in a good bowl game (which, of course, can be defined as playing in a BCS game if goal number four is achieved).
For most of the 21st century, that formula has been tremendously successful. But success for all of us - the coaches, players, fans and media - has been redefined. Somewhere, the mandate of “winning all of the games” got inserted into the equation. When you have lost only one regular season game over the last three seasons before Saturday’s game (and that one with a second on the clock), you start expecting to win. That’s not a bad thing; it is just a true thing.
It is then that a sturdy reminder shocks you back to reality: winning can be a habit, but it is a habit that has to be nurtured with a strong dose of individual accountability. The truth is, it is really, really hard to win all the games. And a 34-12 loss at home to UCLA should go a long way to sending that message to everybody. Life is, after all, what happens when you are busy making other plans.
Mack Brown, his staff, and his football teams have achieved a level of success over the last nine years that is unequaled by any period in Longhorn football history. Since D. X. Bible came to Texas and turned the program into a force in college football in the late 1930s, era after era has reflected the fact that this, indeed, is college football—where players come, grow, succeed, and leave. Bible’s era, though spanning World War II, was the most reflective of that. His senior teams were powerhouses. His others reflected the youth that has to play when the older guys graduate.
Darrell Royal was named Coach of the Decade for the 1960s. From 1961 through 1964 his teams lost a total of three regular season football games. But in the middle years from 1965 through 1967, they lost four games each year before the Wishbone offense took the country by storm starting in 1968.
Since the season of 2001, the Longhorns have now lost 15 regular season games in nine plus seasons. Success has begotten success. While scholarship and NCAA mandated practice limitations have changed the landscape, Texas has kept on winning.
So when a game like the UCLA loss appears, we are surprised.
“What happened to those Longhorns?” questions the man in the restaurant. There is neither the time, nor the inclination, to answer. Because sport is human and therefore imperfect, it is impossible to comprehend why good players, both young and old, do something absolutely contrary to what they have been taught for months if not years. We do know when the “want to” is overwhelmed by an oppressive feeling of “have to”, it can lead to unexplained mistakes and miscues. I am reminded of an airline pilot who once, when he was headed out to a departure runway, disabled the aircraft by hitting the jet bridge with the end of his wing. As he told us we would have to wait for another airplane to be flown in, his final comment was, “No excuses, no explanation.”
The expectations of the media and the fans are no different from those of the coaches and the players. When Brown came to Texas in 1998, Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy and Texas, to achieve a season record of 9-4, won the Cotton Bowl and Austin gave them a parade. When the 2001 team won ten games, it was a celebrated standard. Now, it has become a minimum expectation. And make no mistake, that is absolutely the feeling of the team and its coaches.
Once, when former Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal were playing golf together, a member of their foursome hit a ball that sailed far off the fairway into heavy brush and trees. At first, the novice golfer started to look for it. That’s when the two veteran coaches told him, “Son, that ball is a FIDO. In other words, forget it and drive on.”
That doesn’t work in Texas football, where each week is a part of a mosaic that comprises a season—and the definition of it will come when it is painted into the history books at the end of the year.
Mack Brown has always held to the premise that, “you can’t let one defeat beat you twice,” and with the Big 12 showdown with Oklahoma coming next week in the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, it is time to circle the wagons and remember that old cartoon character who says, “when you are up to your elbows in alligators, it is important to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”
In its own way, a loss like the one Saturday is a reality check that allows you to get back to basics; not to “start over,” but to use it to re-assess where you are and where you now can go. A college football season is like a construction project. You can talk all day about “reloading,” but when you start from an almost bare slab, the fact is, you are rebuilding. That’s what the Texas team is doing in 2010. The offense, which is missing two of the greatest players in Texas history in Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, has to have time to grow. The entire season to this point has been a combination of bright spots and question marks—indicative of both talent and inexperience. Their original goals are realistic—the dreams must come only after the goals are achieved.
So where do we go from here? If you are Mack Brown, his coaches and his football team, you dust yourself off and go back to work. You pull your circle tighter as you head to Dallas. You aren’t overwhelmed by the forest and concentrate on the trees. You adjust the golf game and eliminate the slices into the woods. You use it to learn lessons, not just on the football field, but lessons about life.
You don’t "forget it" and drive on.
You get busy "fixing it," and then you drive on.