March 28, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
It is the second definition, in the studied opinion of Mr. Webster, that comes into play as the Texas Longhorns enter their final week of spring practice. The word is "evaluate," and to the learned writers of the dictionary, that means "to judge or determine the worth or quality of...."
And what Mack Brown asked his players to do in these final days of drills is to not leave that evaluating to your coaches or your teammates. "Learn now," he said, "to honestly evaluate yourself."
There are several operative words there, and the most important of all of them, for all of us, is the derivative of "you."
We are told that there is no "I" in the word "team," but there is in the word "piece" and that is what each individual is in the mosaic that will determine the success of any endeavor, including, most especially, team. In football, which some say is the ultimate team sport, each individual piece must do its part for the whole to excel.
Each generation of Texas football takes on a different personality, a different look. The 2010 team will be no different. It is part of the neighborhood - old friends move away, new folks move in. New names, new faces, but most of all, new responsibility.
That was the point Mack Brown was making to his work-in-progress football team as they returned from spring break - now is the time to determine who you are, and what you intend to be. It is about accountability, responsibility, and most of all, it is about taking a hard look at yourself and determining what you need to do better.
The message was simple: athletes who have reached the pinnacle of sport don't get there without being able to know what it means to play within themselves, to develop your own capabilities to the fullest, and yet, not try to be somebody else. In other words, to borrow a phrase from the advertising world, "Be all you can be." Don't try to be more than you can be. For the last 12 seasons, Mack has built his program on the principles of "communication, trust, respect, and a common purpose." And it all starts with communication.
It is no different than anything faced in life. It is darned amazing what can be accomplished if people will just talk with each other. And the overriding premise from Brown as he addressed his team after practice last Wednesday was simply, "It is a good time in your life to learn to start evaluating yourself."
That means, if something isn't going right, don't blame somebody until you take a hard look at yourself first. And that is the essence of self-evaluation.
Spring football is a time where coaches get to teach, and players have a clean slate on which to sketch their promise. I remember the spring practice of 1963, before the Longhorns' first National Championship later that fall. Scott Appleton, who would win the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman that year, was watching from the sidelines as an official made what Scott thought was a call that should have required a little more effort.
"Come on!" Scott shouted at the official. "Get it right. We're not out here for fun!"
Somehow, it was hard to fathom how playing a game wasn't "fun," but for Scott and the rest of that team, the days of spring would give rise to the wonders of the fall. Appleton expected effort from his teammates, and from that particular official.
Mack Brown's approach to spring drills includes both work and fun, as the family atmosphere that permeates the Texas program rushes into full bloom. The competition between the offense and defense is sincere, even with the caveat that, come September, they will be on the same page.
It is in that space that self-evaluation takes form.
"Self-evaluation," says Brown, who is entering his 13th season as the Longhorns head coach, "is one of the hardest things to do. And it is one of the most important. For instance, the offense and the defense compete in each practice. If the offense makes a great play, it is often easy to overlook that and blame a defensive player. That's not right. The defensive player may have made the best play he could possibly make. Sometimes when you compete as you do at this level, the other guy just makes the play."
Coaches may be the Supreme Court when it comes to evaluation, but when it comes to understanding yourself and others, it is imperative that you learn to assess yourself. That's not about fault or blame - it is about figuring out how to get better.
As the Longhorns went through the 11th of their 15 practices on Saturday, they finished on an upbeat note where the offense completed a long TD pass, and the players in orange rushed to the end zone to congratulate each other.
"Some of you on defense may not have liked that," Brown said, "but the defensive player didn't do anything wrong. He played it perfectly. The offense just made the play. And next fall, when we are playing a tough opponent on the road, you defensive guys are going to want to see us celebrating."
It is, after all, about the future. There is no blame and no fault in spring practice. It is all about responsibility and learning to grow from both accomplishments and missteps. The Texas team of 2010 will have a different look than that of 2009 or 2008 or the years before. That is the nature of the college game. You come, you learn, you play, and then you move on.
That is why they are called "student" athletes.
Saturday was a stunningly perfect spring day in Austin, and as visitors who included signees and junior commitments looked on, the Longhorns spent the morning working hard, and then taking time to laugh at themselves with their coach when the workout was done.
This time, it was about fun. And when you learn the secret of being able to mix work and play, you are on your way to something really positive. If you don't believe that, try a little self-evaluation and find out why not.