The Texas Longhorns under Mack Brown were once synonymous with elite, tough football teams. Between 2001 and 2009, Coach Brown led the Longhorns to nine consecutive double-digit-win seasons and won three of four BCS bowl games. But somewhere along the road, Texas football lost its edge.
When Texas football was at its best, Brown had feared leaders around him.
Brown is a stereotypical good-cop coach, but every good cop needs a bad cop to balance things out. For a while, Brown's bad cop was former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. At other times, upperclassmen like Roy Miller or Sergio Kindle played that role. The biggest difference between the BCS-bound teams and the post-2009 version of the Longhorns is the absence of any bad cops.
Much to the chagrin of their tough-minded fans, the Longhorns have become the entitled fat cat of college football.
Their 5-7 season in 2010 was the first visible sign of a decline. But after seven coaching-staff changes and spending the last two seasons under the microscope, Brown's high hopes of getting Texas back to the standard he set in 1998 appeared within reach in 2013.
"We have worked really hard over the last two years to put ourselves back in the mix," Brown said at Big 12 media days in July. "I think we're going to make another run. We're getting our depth, we're getting our ability back up, our recruiting is going well. I'm really excited about where we're headed."
After suffering two back-to-back losses early in the season and surviving a too-close-for-comfort 31-30 win over Iowa State, the criticism of Texas football is coming from all different directions, including from former players.
Brian Jones (Texas linebacker, 1989-1990) had this to say about the state of the program, per the Houston Chronicle:
Embarrassed once again. It's mystifying and bewildering that we keep meeting at this intersection of where we're supposed to be a better program, and yet we get embarrassed. It is disheartening to see that it keeps recurring. We've been told and led to believe over the years, especially the last four years, after an overhaul of the staff, that this team would get turned around. They can out-athlete a number of teams. That's what they've done in the past, because there has been a lack of development of these three-, four-, and five-star recruits everyone gets so excited about every February, which is just mind boggling.
It is the media's job to analyze the reasons behind Texas' issues, but it is a completely different scenario when former players start questioning the leadership of their alma mater.
How has this one-time college football powerhouse fallen so far from grace?
Chris Simms (Texas quarterback, 1999-2002) singled out recruiting, per the Austin American-Statesman:
I do think it's gone too far down the tracks. The recruiting has gone down. The first thing I look at as a red flag is you don't see too many people coming out in the NFL draft. That's the thing that jumps out to me.
Since 2002, Texas has continued to put together an average top-10 recruiting class every year, according to Rivals.com, which means the issues at Texas do not necessarily have to do with the talent the Longhorns are recruiting. Rather, the issue is Texas' recent inability to develop talent once the athletes arrive in Austin.
Texas and Oklahoma have historically gone after many of the same recruits, so why are these top recruits not developing at Texas, but are developing at schools like Oklahoma?
One word: complacency.
There are a lot of people to blame for the Longhorns' complacency in recent years, but it starts at the top of the food chain.
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and University of Texas President Bill Powers gave Mack Brown the benefit of the doubt to rebuild Texas football following the Longhorns' 5-7 season in 2010.
Brown hired six new assistant coaches and entered the 2011 season with a brick-by-brick mentality. But after the Longhorns finished the season 8-5 and were handed a 38-point loss by Oklahoma, speculation arose about Brown's future at Texas. To silence the critics, Dodds and Powers extended his contract through 2020. Apparently, mediocrity pays well in Austin.
Following the Longhorns' home loss to Ole Miss, five different Texas players said the loss was due to a "lack of focus" and a "lack of effort." This lack of "focus" and "effort" came seven days after the Longhorns' embarrassing loss to unranked BYU.
If Texas played with a sense of urgency, would the phrase "lack of focus" or "lack of effort" ever leave the players' mouths? Absolutely not.
In a radio interview last October, former Oklahoma defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek was asked if OU players feared Bob Stoops. Dvoracek said:
"We feared all of the coaches. I played there from '01 to '05, and we walked on pins and needles around there. We were scared of our strength staff, scared of our coaching staff, scared of everyone. In the moment, I thought 'Man, this sucks. This is so tough.' But looking back now, I think that's why we were so good."
In his time in Norman, Dvoracek and the Oklahoma Sooners won two Big 12 titles and played in two BCS National Championship Games. But Bob Stoops was not the only Stoops Dvoracek and other players feared:
"You want to talk about the most intense, passionate man in football; that's [defensive coordinator] Mike Stoops. The defense had a level of accountability and a level of everyone must do his job and must do it right. If you don't do it right, [Stoops] will let you know about it so it strikes fear in you. The fear of 'Oh, my gosh. If I don't do this right, this man might kill me.' Obviously not really kill me, but you won't hear the end of it."
Dvoracek's apparent fear of his former coaches at Oklahoma is something that has not been discussed by Texas players, at least not since Muschamp was the Longhorns' defensive coordinator.
Muschamp was the first person to compliment his team for making great plays and the first to ride it when it made mistakes. He even picked up the nickname "Coach Blood" after he violently ripped off his headset and scratched his face during the first game of the Longhorns' 2008 season. In true Muschamp form, he ignored the blood running down his face and kept on coaching the defense.
"We love him to death." Brian Orakpo (Texas linebacker, 2004-2008) said in 2008, per ESPN.com. "He gets on us, but he praises us too. When we make a great play, he's out there chest-bumping us. Muschamp is the guy who carries the torch."
In his three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns defense picked up Muschamp's blue-collar mentality. "We're going to take our lunch pail to work every day and do a good job putting in an honest day's work," Muschamp said in 2008, per TexasSports.com. "That's what we're trying to identify our team with."
When Muschamp left Texas to take the head coaching job at Florida, Texas lost more than a coach; it lost its feared leader and the hard-hat mentality of working hard every day to earn a spot on the roster.
Does Texas have the feared leaders in Austin now?
One could argue offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who has been known to throw his hat at players when they make a mistake in practice, is a feared coach. But the constant struggles of the offensive line could lead some to believe the players may not take Searels' hat-throwing too seriously.
If Mack Brown's assistants are not filling the shoes of the feared leaders, then the bad-cop leadership needs to come from the Texas players.
Between 2004 and 2009, Texas' player leadership was astounding, with Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, among others, stepping up. But since 2009, the player leadership has apparently dwindled.
Before his senior season in 2012, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro described the differences in Texas his senior year compared to his freshman year in 2009:
People haven't really called anyone out since Sergio [Kindle] and Lamarr [Houston] were doing it. I was scared my freshman year. I had Lamarr and Sergio, "the Predator," and all of these dudes around me. I thought if I didn't make every tackle on kickoffs, they were just going to rip my head off.
I don't think guys have really talked since . You don't want to go overboard because nobody wants a guy that's on a power trip, but you need to say what needs to be said. There have been great leaders but there have not been those type of tough, feared guys in the locker room that everyone respects and nobody dare says anything back to.
When asked if Texas has the tough, feared guys in the locker room this season who could compare to a Houston and Kindle, junior defensive back Quandre Diggs said, "When something does go wrong, I look at myself as one of the guys who can get in somebody's face. We do have a couple of those guys, but Sergio and those type of guys are rare."
The feared leaders were not rare at Texas prior to 2010, so why are they rare now?
Vaccaro pointed to a lack of senior leadership, per NOLA.com:
I think those senior leaders have to get together and get this thing going because [the defense's performance against BYU] was ridiculous. ... I don't blame the coach. I blame the players, honestly. I think the mentality at Texas isn't where it needs to be right now.
On the Longhorn Network's weekly show, All Access, former Texas guard Kasey Studdard (2002-2006) talked to the Longhorns at practice in what appeared to be a desperate attempt by Brown to ignite a fire under his team:
I don't care if you win or lose, but if you're out there beating these other cats down, we'll be happy about that. But if you go out there and play soft football, and get beat, that really hurts us. ... This is football, you're supposed to play this game pissed off. Football is the only sport in America where you can go out there and get in a fight for 60 minutes and not go to jail.
Studdard was a member of the Longhorns' 2005 BCS National Championship team. In the weeks leading up to the national championship, quarterback Vince Young had one of the more infamous quotes from a Texas football player, per Sports Illustrated: "[USC] haven't seen the different guys on our team who are gangster."
An interesting remark to say the least, but it makes you wonder about the players at Texas today. Did Mack Brown veer away from recruiting the "gangster" players? Or has the complacency from the top dogs at Texas trickled down and changed the players' mentality?
People can pin the blame on a multitude of things, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to an inability to demand success.
Coaches can teach their players what and how to do things until they are blue in the face. But if there are no repercussions for poor play from the coaches or from the locker-room enforcers, Texas' nonchalant mentality will continue—at least until significant change is made in the Texas football program.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.