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Texas Football: The Road Back to Glory

AUSTIN, TX - JANUARY 7:  The University of Texas Tower is lit burnt orange with a number 1 in recognition of the Texas Longhorns national college football championship on January 7, 2006 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Taylor GasparFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2013

All eyes are on Texas to find a new head coach who can lead the Longhorns back to the Texas standard. The Texas Longhorns are once again the most profitable college football team in the nation, but have lacked the on-field production that is required to be a top dog. 

With the massive change that is headed to Austin, here are the five major obstacles Texas will have to fix in order for Longhorn football to return to glory.

 

Make the right hire

The Longhorn nation is anxiously waiting for athletic director Steve Patterson to announce Mack Brown's successor.  

Texas has not replaced a head football coach in 16 years, and if Patterson does not choose the right person to replace Brown, Texas football could very easily spiral out of control and return to the Akers, McWilliams, Mackovic era.

Scary thought, right?

One of Brown's first goals when he arrived in Austin in 1997 was to rebuild Texas football's relationship with its Letterman and high school football coaches in the state. Brown was successful in both of those areas, and his successor has to be as well, especially when it comes to the relationship with Texas high school football coaches.

Brown has always been known as a recruiting genius. He even obtained the nickname "Coach February" due to his massive success landing the state's top talent. But speculation suggests his success would not have been nearly as high without a good relationship with Texas high school coaches.

With Texas A&M gaining success in the SEC and Baylor winning a Big 12 Championship, a recent Heisman Trophy and more first round NFL draft picks (5) compared to Texas (3) since 2009, the importance of maintaining relationships with the state high school coaches is higher than ever. 

In other words, Texas essentially needs to hire a version of Mack Brown, and that will not be easy to find.

 

Find a quarterback

Nov 28, 2013; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (18) runs the ball against Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Tre' Porter (5)during the second half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Texas beat Texas Tech 41-16. Mandat
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

A significant part of a college football team's success is determined on the quarterback's success—it is not a coincidence that eight Heisman Trophy winners in the last decade were quarterbacks. And Texas has not had a decent QB since 2009. 

Let's play a game of would have, could have, should have: If Texas would have landed a solid backup quarterback for Colt McCoy, the Longhorns could have secured a second BCS National Championship, and Brown should have been able to ride off into the sunset following the 2009 season. 

But that hypothetical scenario is only a Texas fan's dream. 

The reality of the situation has led to a four-season nightmare, and ultimately cost Brown his job.

Barring any transfers or decommitments, the Longhorns' new coach will have three quarterbacks to work with: junior David Ash, freshman Tyrone Swoopes and 2014 verbal commitment Jerrod Heard.

But the impact of these three options has yet to be seen.

Ash is expected to be the Longhorns leader in 2014. But his recurring concussion symptoms throughout the 2013 season could very easily change his football future. Backup quarterback Swoopes' potential is still undetermined. The freshman, who absolutely should have redshirted in 2013, only took 34 snaps and attempted seven passes in his first season at Texas.

Heard is coming off a stellar high school career at Denton Guyer, where he led his team to back-to-back 4A-I State Championships and won offensive MVP in the 2013 championship game. Heard racked up more than 11,000 total offensive yards and 31 touchdowns in his career at Guyer, according to ESPN.com's Max Olson.

But like any true freshman, a redshirt year is almost imperative in order to have a successful transition into the college game. Texas has not redshirted an eventual starting quarterback since Colt McCoy in 2005. 

The new coach has to determine if the available Texas quarterbacks have what it takes to make an immediate impact in 2014, or if he will need to turn to the junior college ranks for a backup option.

 

Better player evaluation and player development

Let's be honest for a minute: There is absolutely no reason for the University of Texas to be in this four-year mediocre situation. Texas is the flagship university in the state and has way too many resources to not be a Top 25 team every year. But here the Longhorns are. And a large cause for the current state of the Texas football program is due to the lack of player evaluation and poor player development.

There is no excuse for Texas to not have a viable quarterback when other schools in the state of Texas have multiple options. A good example is Texas Tech. The Red Raiders mainly relied on two quarterbacks throughout the season, freshman Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, a walk-on from Lake Travis High School—which is an estimated 20 minutes away from the University of Texas. The duo combined for more than twice as many passing yards and a better overall completion percentage than Case McCoy.

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 22: Tony Hills #79 of the Texas Longhorns gets ready on the field during the game against the Rice Owls on September 22, 2007 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  Texas won 58-14.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

In addition to the lack of consistent quarterback play, the Longhorns have not had an offensive lineman drafted since 2008 and have lacked a standout linebacker since Derrick Johnson in 2004. 

Texas has averaged Top 10 recruiting classes since 2002, according to Rivals.com, so how can the Longhorns struggle on the field when they are bringing in some of the top prospects year after year? Is it possible Rivals.com, Scout.com and other recruiting websites have misjudged all of the Longhorns prospects? No.

The reason for the lack of production from Texas prospects is simple: Somewhere along the road, the Texas football coaches stopped developing talent, and Brown's successor has to change that path.

 

Find an offensive identity

Oct 12, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Johnathan Gray (32) runs with the ball in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Red River Rivalry at the Cotton Bowl Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Spor
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like Texas has changed its offensive identity every year since 2009, but to be precise, the Longhorns have shifted between four different offensive schemes and three different play-callers in the last four seasons.

When Colt McCoy's throwing shoulder went numb in the 2009 BCS National Championship, Texas did not have a running game to carry the load.

Brown attempted to force a downhill running attack in 2010. However, the Longhorns did not have the proper personnel to run this scheme. After finishing the season with a 5-7 record, Brown changed offensive coordinators, which ultimately changed the offensive identity, again.

Texas tried to emulate Boise State's offensive trickery and deep passing game when Bryan Harsin took over as offensive play-caller in 2011. But Harsin's offense did not have the same success at Texas as it did at Boise State. 

Following the 2012 regular season, Harsin was named the head coach of Arkansas State and Major Applewhite took over the Longhorns offense.

Texas went to a no huddle, uptempo spread offensive attack led by quarterback David Ash in 2013. But when Ash went down with a season ending injury, the Longhorns had to abandon the spread offense and heavily rely on the running game.

Texas needs to determine its offensive identity and stick with it. The constant scheme changes and coaching turnover has only hurt the Longhorns' chances of returning to the top of the college football ranks.

 

Eliminate injuries

Sometimes freak injuries occur and there really is not a trigger or an answer as to why those happen, but there have been an awful lot of freak injuries on the Longhorns depth chart. 

December 28, 2011, San Diego, CA: California Bears wide receiver Marvin Jones (1) attempts to recover a fumble on a kick off during the first quarter of the Holiday Bowl against Texas Longhorns linebacker Jordan Hicks (3) at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Cr
Jody Gomez-USA TODAY Sports

Here are a couple of the freak injuries Texas has faced: Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat ruptured his left pectoral muscle in 2011 and then ruptured his right pectoral muscle in 2012; linebacker Jordan Hicks sustained a groin injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2012 season, then ruptured his Achilles tendon against Kansas State on a play where nobody touched him in 2013; and running back Johnathan Gray also ruptured his Achilles against TCU on a play where not a single player touched him. 

Dealing with injuries is a tricky situation, but the blame is automatically placed on the Longhorns' strength and conditioning program. 

An interesting note is Texas did not hire a football specific strength and conditioning coach until 2011, which was years later than other major college football programs.

When I started doing my evaluation here (in 2010), I was in my own little world and I didn't realize that just about everyone in the upper part of Division I-A football had their own football strength coach. We had a departmental wide strength coach and we were wearing him out and he was doing too much. -- Mack Brown, via Pete Thamel.

Texas hired Bennie Wylie as the strength and conditioning coach for football in 2011, but injuries are still frequently occurring. Texas had seven season ending injuries in 2013, and 19 players who missed games due to injuries.

2013 Texas Football Injuries
PlayerPositionInjuryStatus
David AshQBHeadOut for the season
Demarco CobbsLBKneeLingering from 2012, has not been cleared in 2013
Josh CochranOTShoulderMissed eight conference games, played three snaps in final two games of the season
Greg DanielsTEFootOut for Kansas State
Deoundrei DavisLBKneeOut for the season
Mike DavisWRAnkleOut for Kansas State
Steve EdmondLBLiverOut for the season
Sheroid EvansCBKneeOut for the season
Johnathan GrayRBAchillesOut for the season
Desmond HarrisonOTKneeOut for Oklahoma
Jordan HicksLBAchillesOut for the season
Bryant JacksonWRFootOut for the season
Tevin JacksonLBKneeOut for the season
Daje JohnsonRB/WRAnkleOut for Ole Miss and Kansas State
Miles OnyegbuleTELegOut for the first five games of the season
Kendall ThompsonLBHeadOut for Baylor
Josh TurnerSHipOut for New Mexico State
Kevin VaccaroSAnkleOut for the first nine games of the season
Chris WhaleyDTKneeOut for the season
Texas Sports Information Department Media Releases

To put that into perspective, the Big 12 schools that will play in a bowl game—Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech—have a combined total of 11 season ending injuries.

In order to return to glory, the Longhorns' new coach needs to address this ongoing battle and find a way to limit these frequent injuries.

 

The long road ahead

Returning a college football program back to dominance is not an easy task. It requires the right coaches, talented personnel, patience and will power. Whoever is chosen to take over the Longhorns' reigns will have a long road ahead. But with the support of Patterson and a large enough budget to find the best possible replacements, the future could be bright for Texas football.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and information was obtained firsthand.

Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar

 

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