Mack Brown has been spending more time with the Texas defense in recent weeks, and for good reason. The Longhorns rank 96th nationally in total defense.
For much of his 15-year tenure at Texas, Brown spent most of his time working with the offense. After all, he was an offensive coordinator with Iowa State and Oklahoma in the 1980s. But things are a little different this year in Austin, with the Longhorns on pace for one of the worst defensive performances in the program's history.
"He's in our meetings, he's watching us at practice more," senior safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "He used to watch the offense a lot, now he is watching us more. It's a little different."
Brown shifted his focus to the defense following UT's embarrassing 63-21 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 13, when Texas surrendered 677 total yards. The next week, Baylor gashed the Longhorns for 607 yards--but Texas pulled out a 56-50 win. UT (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) had several defensive issues last week in a 21-17 win against Kansas, but the unit allowed just 75 yards in the second half.
"I did think that was by far one of our best defensive performances," Brown said.
Still, it's unlikely Brown will be excusing himself from defensive meetings in the near future. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has struggled to correct the issues that have plagued Texas all season: missed assignments, shoddy tackling and poor communication.
Against Kansas, Diaz drew some criticism from the head coach for inserting a pair of freshman linebackers--Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos--with the Jayhawks pinned back on their own 7-yard line. KU broke off a 64-yard run and later scored on the drive to tie the game at 7 in the second quarter.
"I don't like inexperienced players inside the 20 on either end," Brown said. "That's something we've talked about a lot. That was a key play in the ballgame. We not only lost points, but we gave up the possibility of points offensively. Those [linebackers] were getting out on the next play and it was a play late when I saw it. That won't happen again."
Diaz, though, is not worried that his players are receiving mixed messages now that Brown is more involved.
"That is not happening," Diaz said. "This is more Mack understanding our issues and the easiest ways we have to come across and fix them. There is no issue with the togetherness of this team."
It's not about the coaches, it's about the product on the field.
"Mack is a guy that coaches without a lot of ego. I'm a guy that coaches without a lot of ego," Diaz said. "I don't think anybody really cares about anything other than just finding a way to get it done."
So far, Texas hasn't gotten it done defensively. Perhaps Brown can change that.
By Austin Laymance/Special to the Star-Telegram