Edith Royal, who has watched the rites of summer that lead into the legends of the fall for a good number of years, has an operative description for the period of time from now until the first week in January. She calls it, "the roller coaster."
And for Mack Brown, it began last Sunday (July 27).
Fresh from a couple of weeks in Western Carolina, where he hit a few golf balls and hoped a lot of fish hit his lure in the scenic waters below Grandfather Mountain, Mack Brown hit the ground running, or flying, if you prefer, two Sunday's ago.
First, Brown and his staff took off for the annual gathering of the Texas High School Coaches Association, where 11,000 folks began their "Coaching School" in Fort Worth on Sunday, July 27. And it didn't take long to get busy.
Sunday night, there was a reception honoring Eddie Joseph, who is retiring as Executive Director of the coaches' association. From there, Brown and the staff hustled out to The Ballpark in Arlington, where David McWilliams and the "T" Association held a letter winners reception later Sunday evening.
Monday, July 28, it was meetings and visiting on the floor of the convention, until 5:30, when he spoke to about 300 Longhorn Foundation and Texas Exes members at the Fort Worth Club. The evening concluded with a reception for Ken Dabbs, the former Longhorn coach who was being inducted into the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
Brown closed out his Fort Worth visit with a press conference featuring the media attending the Coaches' school on Tuesday (July 29) morning, and then met Longhorn players Roy Williams and Nathan Vasher for a flight to Kansas City and the Big 12 Media meetings. The event has signified the unofficial start to the football season since the Big 12s inception in 1996.
On Tuesday night, the evening before the two-day press event began, Brown took time to meet and greet with the media at a media reception hosted by the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. A dinner with UT's media day representatives Williams and Vasher followed.
Brown followed three and a half hours of various interviews with the several hundred media members on hand Wednesday (July 30) morning at the downtown Marriott with a quick trip to the Adam's Mark Hotel where he was the featured speaker at the Kansas City Sports Commission's inaugural coaches seminar.
Brown and the players arrived back in Austin Wednesday evening, in time for the sixth-year Longhorn coach to re-pack and head off to a retreat with his staff that took them to South Texas until Saturday, Aug 2. There, the football brain trust at Texas set in place the plans for the 2003 season
This week will begin with several radio and television tapings on Monday (Aug. 4) morning, and Wednesday the Longhorn squad reports for fall practice, which begins Thursday. Somewhere in the hills of Barton Creek, Edith is smiling, knowingly. Kansas City was chosen as the site for the Big 12 Media gathering because the Championship game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium (which Brown ironically drove by en route to the KC Coaches' Seminar) in December.
Williams and Vasher were excellent representatives as spokesmen for the team, and as Brown shook hands with media and fellow coaches such as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, it was obvious there was a different mood surrounding the Longhorns. For the first time in a while, the questions didn't center on Chris Simms or Major Applewhite. And while the interest in UTs QB trio of Chance Mock, Vince Young and Matt Nordgren was one of anticipated curiosity, this particular session was about the Texas team, rather than just the Texas quarterback.
One of the more significant points concerned a growing change in attitude that seemed evident about the Texas-Oklahoma game and rivalry. It was clear that more and more of the media seemed to be getting the message that the game isn't about one team "losing," it is more about two great teams battling in the showcase arena of the national college football spotlight.
"This has been a great football game between two really good football teams for the last two years," Brown said. "I don't think we have gotten enough credit for the way we've played in the game, and I don't think Oklahoma has gotten enough credit for winning the game. People have seemed to be focused on us losing, rather than recognizing that Oklahoma has done a great job in winning."
Where the Oklahoma game was once dropped from the top tier of games televised by national networks, it has returned to the highest of profiles. It's among the featured games by the network of college football's Bowl Championship Series (ABC) and has been a stop on the popular touring show ESPN GameDay the past two years.
There were, of course, the usual varying approaches from the wide-raning media outlets at the Big 12 media day. Some pointed out that Williams and the Texas seniors were 0-3 against Oklahoma, and others noted that the Oklahoma juniors had never beaten Oklahoma State with an 0-2 mark against the Cowboys.
Such is the balance of the best football conference in the country, the nation's only league that features three teams ranked among USA Today/ESPN preseason Top 10 (all among the Top Five) released last weeki. But on the days in Kansas City and leading up to the season, everybody was unbeaten, and hopeful of staying that way.
Brown, for his part, brought two key themes to the meeting. First, the Longhorns have been focused on "finish." Fact is, Texas has the third-best record in the country over the past two years, and the Longhorns have lost two games in each of those years in the fourth quarter. Last year, Texas led both Oklahoma and Texas Tech going into the final period. Thus, "finish" has become a significant reminder that tops a "to do" list for 2003.
In that vein, Brown emphasized the importance of building depth. What was clear from the conference meetings was that the first five years of the Mack Brown era has done what he intended for it to do: it has put the Longhorns in a position to contend for a National Championship. And to do that, teams in the Big 12 now have to battle out of two tough divisions and a league championship game. But as much as the emphasis has been on "finish," it is now time to change that as practice begins this week and the season opener is less than a month away.
There is an exciting new word in place of "finish."
It's time to "start." In just a few days the Longhorns will begin with their combined sights firmly set on finishing.