Bill Little commentary: Show me
April 7, 2008
A young transfer student who would go on to become a successful sports journalist had high hopes and dreams about playing college basketball, so he assembled his resume, gathered his courage, and headed to Lemons' office, hoping to become one of those rare "walk-ons" who could make the team.
He began his organized spiel by telling Lemons of his background, and then presented his case, complete with statistics and newspaper clippings. When he finally stopped talking, he looked up to see the steel eyes of Lemons, peering at him over the cigar on which he was chewing.
Then, in the awkward moment of silence, Lemons said these words: "Just show me that you can play."
And when his chance came, he couldn't.
In so many ways, that is the message of the 11th spring practice of Texas Longhorns' football under Mack Brown, and that was the challenge Brown left his team with in their final meeting before last Saturday's final scrimmage at the Spring Jamboree.
In a chart Brown put on the overhead projector entitled "To Play," there were a half-dozen or so principles, which are the standards by which the Longhorns football program is being measured.
In a continuation of the early workouts and renewed aggressiveness the Longhorns adopted in preparation for their resounding Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State, the Texas staff and players approached the 15 days of spring drills with focus and determination. Now, as they head into the offseason work that will finish the spring semester and carry them into the summer workouts, Brown set forth a road map to success.
The first point was "ability." That is where the story from the visitor to the basketball coach so long ago comes in. Each day in practice, multi-view videos are taken of every play. And the coaches scour the films. No position is guaranteed. There is no "depth chart," but players can lose or win their playing status by how they practice. If a player excels, coaches see it. If he loafs, they see that, too.
The second, third and fourth principles complement the first. In the second, the coaches are looking for players who are "mentally tough, competitive and confident." The third requires that they be "passionate about football." The fourth asks that you "care about your team."
Football, Brown has often said, is a tough game.
"If you don't like it, quit," he says.
Caring about your team means that you are willing to do whatever it takes to help. It opens the door for any player to volunteer to be on special teams, it means a great attitude for those who run the opponents' offense and defense, and it means pulling for each other.
All of those are essentials in the quest for the ultimate goal of "winning." At Texas, where Brown's teams lead the country in consecutive 10-win seasons, expectations are high -- from the coaches, the staff, the team, the fans, the media -- and one of the reasons players come to UT is to accept that challenge.
The final four of the eight keys Brown discussed transcend the football field, and enter the important realm of what could be called "citizenship." And he made it clear that there are two essential bench marks that are critical.
It is important here to remember that Brown demands that his coaches and his staff understand their role as teachers in a university whose purpose is to educate and mold young people so that they can go out into the world and make a difference.
So points five and six are: "Do your school work" and "stay out of trouble."
The failure to do either can short-circuit even the most promising of athletic careers. The way Brown sees it, he told the team, is that if you don't do both of those things, "you are telling me that you don't care enough about this team to be a part of it."
Caring about the team and the game also carries into the summer, where workouts are voluntary. Coaches cannot be present to supervise such practices, but the norm across the country is that players, drilling around the summer school work or summer jobs, find times to practice together. If for some reason that can't happen, each player is given a suggested conditioning schedule which will bring him back in top shape when fall practice begins in August.
Now that spring practice is over, each player will hold individual meetings with their position coach and Brown will discuss the evaluations. It is a vital communication tool in the program's rock-solid foundation pillars of "communication, trust and respect."
In his final meeting, Brown told the players of his vision and hope for the team in a season that will be interesting for the Longhorns.
The schedule, which includes non-conference games with Florida Atlantic, Arkansas, Rice and at UTEP, as well as a Big 12 North Division rotation with Missouri, at Kansas and at Colorado, will have the potential to be the overall toughest the Longhorns have faced in recent years.
The Longhorns of 2008 will be a young team, and probably will be in the rare role of the underdog in some of the games. It has excellent young talent, but doesn't have players whose names have become household words.
That is why Brown has made it clear that energy, excitement, talent, passion and commitment will be the driving forces for those who get on the field as Texas Longhorns next fall.
In a stable full of really good football players who are just waiting for their chance, this fall will be about several things. It will be about who you are, rather than whom people say that you are. It will be about what you are willing to do, rather than what you have done.
In other words, it is simple:
Just show me that you can play.