The "sub technique charge."
Defensive tackles hate the drill. Big men, crouching low, like a Golden Retriever burying a bone, but with the added challenge of having to dig back up through an offensive lineman. It is "down and dirty." You have fight your way up, grabbing and clawing.
Yet there was Rod Wright, in the middle of the Rose Bowl with the whole world watching and the words of Mike Tolleson, his beloved defensive tackle coach, ringing in his ear. It was fourth down, two yards and a life-time and a National Championship to go.
Over and over again, "Coach Tolley," as he is known to his players, had made them do the "bad drill."
"I guarantee you this," he had said. "Some time, somewhere in a game or games, this technique is gonna help us win a football game."
At the snap of the ball, two Southern Cal linemen took on Wright, who got under their pads, and penetrated, shoving them back into the ball carrier and starting a chain reaction that resulted in the stop that gave Texas the ball for its winning drive in the 41-38 triumph over the Trojans.
As they reached the sidelines, Mike Tolleson jumped in front of his jubilant charges. Like the ultimate cheerleader, he broke down and shouted, "It's the bad drill, baby. I told you."
The Rose Bowl victory and the National Championship are team accomplishments which Tolleson celebrates, but in a year where there is a lot to celebrate at The University of Texas, Tolleson has a bunch of things for which to be proud.
Sunday, when Pittsburgh and Seattle meet in the Super Bowl, Tolleson will have the rare distinction of having two of his former players playing key roles in the game. For Seattle, Marcus Tubbs, whom Tolleson helped convert from a tight end into an All-America defensive tackle at Texas, is in their three man rotation.
"Coach Tolley is passionate about the game of football," Tubbs said. "I think he instills that in his players to have that same passion and drive out on the field. Just by that, it's helped a lot of us in life with things that we deal with. Coach Tolley is just an awesome person and there aren't many people like him."
Casey Hampton is the nose guard and anchor of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense on the other side of the ball. "Coach Tolley has so much experience and knowledge of the game and he has worked with a lot of great players, so you knew if you listened to him he'd help you become a better player," Hampton said.
And just to add to the accolades, Hampton and Detroit's Shaun Rogers are both headed to next week's Pro Bowl.
"I've been fortunate to have nice young men to work with," says Tolleson, who takes pride in describing himself as, "A humble defensive line coach."
"They know I care about them. I'm awfully hard on them some times, but I'm just trying to help them be the best they can be," he said, adding with a smile, "and sometimes, they over come coaching, too."
Players have been reaping the benefit of a relationship with Mike Tolleson for most of the last 36 years, when he realized he wasn't going to make it as a pro football player and "got the fever" of the coaching profession.
His love of the game would draw him to it, but it would be relationships that would etch the image, and the soul, of Mike Tolleson. His high school coach was Buddy Nix, now with the San Diego Chargers. Nix would not only be the first image Tolleson had of a coach, but he would be a guiding force in his career.
Mickey Andrews, long known as one of the country's top college defensive coaches, would touch his career as well, and the cosmic relationship string would continue when John Mitchell, whom Tolleson worked with at Arkansas, became Casey Hampton's defensive line coach at Pittsburgh.
It is, after all, a small world.
"This is not about Mike Tolleson," he is quick to point out. "It is about the players. I love the game. I love people, and I love to teach."
Growing up in Anniston, Alabama, Tolleson got his early values from his Dad, who farmed and worked other jobs to earn a living.
"I've had to work hard all my life," Tolleson says, "and I'm real proud of the fact that I came up the ladder in coaching. Along the way, you are gonna hit some potholes. My Dad, when I was real young, used to always talk to me about, 'Don't be a braggart, be humble, put in a day's work.' My Dad worked hard, and my Mom had some health issues. I learned then that you have to deal with some things mentally, even though you are bleeding inside."
The smile on Mike Tolleson's face is there in spite of some really tough personal issues. There have been days when fun on the job was something he needed to take home to brighten the day of his family. Just after he took the job at Texas in 1998, his youngest daughter, Heather-a high school cheerleader-was stricken with a disease which temporarily paralyzed her. His wife, Wilda, a former school teacher, became her constant caretaker.
But as far as Tolleson is concerned, the Good Lord had put him in the right place at the right time. His friend Carl Reese had been hired as the defensive coordinator at The University of Texas in December of 1997. At the national coaches convention in January of 1998, Tolleson renewed an acquaintance with Mack Brown, whom he'd met when he was an assistant at Louisiana Tech, and Mack was an assistant at LSU.
"We were re-introduced, and it was like I'd known him my whole life," Tolleson said. "We knew so many of the same people, in fact, Buddy Nix had first introduced us. We'd been the same places, LSU, Southern Miss, and I'd known his brother, Watson. It felt real good. It was comfortable, and taking the defensive tackle coach was a no-brainer."
But the coaching part of the job was only the beginning.
"It's been a blessing to me," says Tolleson. "His coming into my life has just meant the world to me and my family. Coach Brown is consistent and fair, and if there is any irritation, he deals with it and then moves on. Since I've been here, I have tried to do a better job of not letting things fester. He has so many positive traits -- his determination, his staying on path, knowing where you are going, staying the course.
"Coach Nix had taught me a lot of that in my younger days, but I had gotten away from it. Coach Brown brought that back to me. It gets back to knowing no matter how hard you work, you work in a positive manner,"
When Tolleson was first in the short-lived USFL, a pro league which had both former and future NFL stars, he remembers his first day on the job when one of his linemen walked up to him and said, "Mike, what do you want us to call you?"
In jobs at three different high schools and 10 different universities where he has wound up working, the answer to the question would have been, "Call me coach."
But to the pro player he simply said, "They call me Tolley."
And so it has been.
"Tolley has a phenomenal relationship with the players," says Gene Chizik, the Longhorns co-defensive coordinator who joined the UT staff this season. "He is a great football coach and a great person."
Becoming a great defensive lineman, Tolleson says, begins with hard work.
For Tolleson, while work begins with fundamentals, relationships begin with caring.
"Everybody's born with different abilities," he says. "Some guys are born with a world of God given talent. At Texas, we have the freedom to get the best players, and it gets down to wanting to be the best that you can be. As long as players know that you're doing everything you can to help them be a better player, you have a chance. They need to know that I'm working hard for them. I try to be the best I can be, try to study and be a better coach, and if I'm working that hard for them, we kind of meet each other halfway, because we are trying to be the best we can be, period.
"Because the better we are at our position, the better we are going to be on defense, and the better we are on defense, the better our football team will be, and that's the ultimate goal. The deal is the team."
Hampton, Tubbs, Rogers and Cedric Woodard -- an all-conference defensive tackle who played in NFL and helped mentor Tubbs as a rookie last year in Seattle -- are examples of what Tolleson strives to produce.
"The kids I have been fortunate to be around here have all been that way. Some may have a little more talent than others, some may be faster, some may be stronger. Some may have more instincts because they have played inside more than one who maybe was a tight end (such as Tubbs) and had to work into the progression, but they all had the same focus, to learn as much as they could to be the best defensive linemen they could be."
"When I first got there, I honestly didn't know anything about defensive tackle," Tubbs said. "I felt he just took me under his wing and made it a point to teach me and help me get better every day. I am where I am today because of Coach Tolley, because he's the one who welcomed me and he never gave up. Some days, even when I felt like the sorriest player on the team, he still stuck with me."
"Coach Tolley genuinely cares about you as a player and a person," Hampton added. "You feel like his son out there so you don't want to let him down. I know I played as hard as I could so that I could get my job done and make plays."
"His demeanor and attitude are a big reason why he's such a great coach," followed Rogers. "Coach Tolley is a guy that really cares about you as much, if not more, as a person than as a player and that goes a long way with the guys. He's a coach that you really want to work hard for."
Players love Tolleson because he loves them, and they know that. He is a rescuer, who takes pride in the success of his players. And yet there are times when his players have rescued him.
"The things that helped me most here with my personal family was being able to come to work and being around Coach Brown, our staff and my players. If I hadn't had that, I don't know what I would have done. But golly, just knowing that they were here, knowing they were behind me and for me, coach Brown said, 'If you need to be with your family, go be with your family. If you need to run home for a while, do it and come on back when you can.'
"It was an awesome experience...a shot in the arm that I had to hang on to. I knew that I couldn't break down in front of the girls, because my daughter was going through all that pain and suffering. I don't know that I could have done that without this staff being like it is, or Coach Brown being like he is."
But perhaps the strongest balm of all came from his players.
"Seeing them smile and knowing that they knew what I was going through. They knew that I had their back, and they had mine. We just kept working, and we all worked our way through it, and the Good Lord came through and things worked out."
Tolleson is, by his own admission, a guy who has a fetish for being organized.
"The guys kid me about it," he says. "But to be a great defensive lineman, you have to believe in the basics, in the fundamentals. You have to be technically better than you do at some other positions because things happen so fast -- you're right there on the football. We try to learn through film study and playing the game, and you are constantly working on getting better.
"Just when you think it is good enough, we start all over, because it's not. Sometimes it may be a little bit of a grind, too, but that's the life of a defensive lineman, and they learn to take pride in that."
And in that space, relationship takes over.
"It gets back to the fact that we care about them, we love them, and we want them to be successful. I tell them all the time, I'm not in it for Mike Tolleson. My personal trophies that I sit back and ponder are the kids...are my players. So if somebody writes something nice about them, or they win games and everything that goes with that, that's a shot in the arm to me, a pride thing that my children have gone on and are doing good things.
"And that's very, very rewarding for an old ball coach."