Texas Football: Mack Brown Can Learn a lot from Nick Saban
After the Alabama Crimson Tide won their second straight national championship, the rumor mills kicked into overdrive with speculation about the possibility of Nick Saban taking over Mack Brown's job as the Texas Longhorns' head coach.
Various headlines about Saban to Texas surfaced, like one from Ty Duffy of The Big Lead: "Nick Saban to Replace Mack Brown at Texas? More Plausible Than You Might Think"; or the one from Christian Corona of the Daily Texan: "Why Texas should pay Nick Saban whatever he wants to be Longhorns' next head football coach"; and, more recently, SB Nation's Roll Bama Roll spoof, "Parody: Saban Headed to Texas?"
As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire and the Saban-to-Texas fire sparked up Thursday afternoon.
University of Texas regent Wallace Hall and former regent Tom Hicks reportedly had a January conversation with Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton about the possibility of the Crimson Tide's head coach replacing Mack Brown, according to Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press.
Hall said the telephone conversation took place shortly after Alabama's Jan. 7 national championship win over Notre Dame, but the matter was dropped after Mack Brown told Hicks he wanted to continue coaching the Longhorns.
Brown's future as Texas' head coach has lasted longer than some fans may have wanted. Saban would be a desirable head coach for any university. Unfortunately for Texas fans, Saban does not appear to be going anywhere. "Quite frankly," Saban said Thursday night, "I'm just too damn old to start over somewhere else." (Michael Casagrande AL.com) But if Texas is not going land the Tide's head coach, it might be the perfect time for Brown to take some pages out of Nick Saban's coaching manual.
Page One: Fear factor
It is no secret Alabama players are terrified of disappointing Nick Saban. At SEC Media Days in July, Alabama offensive lineman Anthony Steen said when he saw a player impersonate the coach he "knew he had a death wish," per Edward Ashcoff of ESPN. Steen has also said, "I'm scared to death of the guy. I don't want the offense to mess up. I know when we're doing a team run, I definitely don't want to mess up. I don't want to disappoint my coach." (Per Cliff Kirkpatrick of DecaturDaily.com)
Mack Brown has maintained the good-cop coach image during his time at Texas, which works if he has assistants who can play the roll of the bad cop. One could argue offensive line coach Stacy Searels might be a bad cop—Searels has been known to throw his hat at linemen when they make mistakes in practice.
But the Texas offensive line has arguably been one of the weakest links for the Longhorns since 2010. Bad cop or not, the O-line does not play with a sense of fear of Searels or even a fear of losing their starting job. That falls back on the head coach.
Is it possible Brown's control over his assistants has made it to where he does not allow his bad cops to take a disciplinary role? Is Brown's comfort in his job security making the players too comfortable in their starting jobs? Speculation answer: Absolutely, which leads to the next step in Saban's coaching manual.
Page Two: Put up or get out
Nick Saban has previously been criticized for the number of football players put on medical scholarships throughout his time at Alabama. In 2010, former Crimson Tide players suggested the team used medical scholarships as a way to cut players it no longer wanted and clear spots for "better players."
Three players who took the scholarship said Saban and his staff pressured them into accepting medical scholarships, even though their injuries were not serious enough to keep them off the field, according to Hannah Karp and Darren Everson of the Wall Street Journal.
If the allegations against Saban are true, people may think it wasn't the most kosher move by the Crimson Tide.
But it goes to show the demand Saban puts on his team: play up to the Alabama standard or leave the team. "He's a perfectionist," senior Alabama cornerback Deion Belue told DecaturDaily.com. "He stays on us all the time because he wants us to be the best we can be."
Let's take a look at Mack Brown's demands.
Brown said he was disappointed in the Longhorns' performance against BYU when the Texas defense gave up 679 yards and 40 points to the Cougars. Brown's reaction? Replacing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with former Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
"You can look at it like there are enough good players that I think this will fix [the defense] or you can look at it as a panic move," Brown said Monday after firing Diaz. "I'm trying to fix it. That's what I've done my whole life." The following weekend, the Texas defense gave up 449 yards and 44 points to Ole Miss.
Was replacing Diaz but allowing the same starters who were missing tackles and getting gashed by BYU the way to fix the defensive problems? The stats and points suggest not. Do you think some new faces could appear on the Tide's starting lineup if Alabama's defense missed tackles and were getting gashed in the run game by lesser opponents two weeks in a row? Yes, because that is a big component in Saban's tough-love coaching mentality.
"There's a psychological disposition that you're trying to create, especially in defensive backs, that 'I can play the next play,'" Saban said to the New York Times.
Some of these guys get beat and they're not any good for the next 10 plays. Well what are we going to do? Take you out? The way you learn is to make mistakes. If you make a mistake and learn from it, you're progressing. If you make a mistake and you're frustrated about it, you're not progressing.
Is the end really near for Brown?
History shows when Mack Brown had great player leadership (i.e. 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009 BCS teams) Texas has been successful. Great assistant coaches have also helped Brown's success. One of the greatest assistant coaches Brown had was former defensive coordinator and current Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp.
Muschamp brought a fresh, intense image to the Longhorn defense during his time at Texas. He even picked up the nickname "Coach Blood" after he ripped off his headset and cut his face in the Longhorns' first game of the 2008 season.
Muschamp's intensity and passion for the game made players want to play for him. "Just from day one, you just want to play for a coach like [Muschamp]," former Texas defensive end and Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said to the Orlando Sentinel. "He's a player's coach. He wants to put a helmet on and play."
Muschamp, the one-time coach-in-waiting at Texas, even with his intensity did not sustain the Mack Brown era. Muschamp left Texas in 2010 to take the head coaching job at Florida. In his second season at Florida, Muschamp led the Gators to a BCS bowl game, which has only led to more speculation on Mack Brown.
The unanswerable questions like where would Texas be if Mack Brown walked away in 2009 and allowed Will Muschamp to take over the Longhorns permeate through many fans' brains.
Today, people question Texas' player leadership, along with the leadership from assistant coaches. But if you look at the assistants' track records, there is hope for these coaches—offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, offensive line coach Stacy Searels and defensive tackles coach Bo Davis have all coached under Nick Saban.
If Mack Brown is in it for the long haul as the Longhorns head coach, Texas fans around the country can only hope Brown starts taking pages from Nick Saban's playbook or allows his bad-cop assistants to take control of the Texas football team.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar
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