Bill Little commentary: The air of confidence
Sept. 4, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
In the musical, The Sound of Music, the Julie Andrews character of Maria sings "What will my future be? I wonder." Maria must have known about the atmosphere in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday night.
For just less than a year, Texas football has been talking about moving forward. It has embraced its rich tradition, with the caveat that you respect the past--both the good and the not-so-good--and move toward the future. Conversations centered, not on the missteps or the championships, but on the "now."
And so the 34-9 win over Rice Saturday night was a blending, and a beginning.
All of the ingredients were there. The new Longhorn Network launched its inaugural game with class, in a continued showing of what has been a series of rave reviews of those who have had a chance to view it. As Texas-based Grande Communications jumped on board on Friday, 140,000 homes in Central Texas were added to the more than four million viewer base already developed for the fledgling UT exclusive network.
The season opener had been described as the most anticipated in years at Texas, and the packed house of over 101,000 fans got what they came for. The youth movement - both on the field and in the coaching staff - reminded us all that youth is served best, not by the "what has been" but by the "what can be."
Now, here's the connection to Maria's song: while to some Saturday may have been about tradition and trick plays, touchdowns scored and those not allowed, most of all it was about confidence. Mack Brown has said over and over again that his program is built on "communication, trust, respect and a common purpose."
The quest for a new beginning had been forged by a winter of discontent after the 2010 season ended. Good coaches and great people left the program for a variety of reasons. Mack was left with the challenge of reconstructing a staff and redefining his mission. And as the first game for the new staff approached last week, the learning process was an interesting one. The challenge for the staff on Saturday became blending the divergent experiences and ideas from a bushel basket of respected universities and professional teams, with those worthy standards which have reflected the Mack Brown era at Texas for the past 13 years. Everything from pre-game to bench operation would be new in this initial contest of the new version of Texas football.
And that was before you ever got to the game.
Maria, you see, sang of "wonder," but she sang most about "confidence."
And that is really where our story begins.
First, Mack had to have confidence in his new hires, and the coaches had to have confidence in their boss and the UT establishment. Then, the staff had to have confidence in each other. That is how Bennie Wylie had begun the important summer work with the counseling of his friend Jeff Madden. It is how Manny Diaz took the knowledge and wisdom of the veteran Duane Akina and blended it with the youth and ideas of Oscar Giles and Bo Davis, both of whom had coached defensive linemen who were part of national championships.
History tells us that James Street, who was one of the winningest athletes in Texas Longhorn history, used to walk away by himself before games, just to focus his thoughts. Saturday night in the DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium press box, I saw Bryan Harsin do the same thing. And then, he went to work.
Collectively, they had to believe in themselves. Most of all, however, they had spent a spring and a gruelingly hot summer trying to get their players to do the same thing. If Saturday night were Christmas morning, 7 p.m. meant it was time to open their packages.
With a theme of unity and a mantra of "brick by brick," the first phase had been to get the players to understand the meaning of the poker term "all in." They had to do that. They had to be that.
Diaz had promised an attacking defense which would protect its end zone at all costs, and with Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson and Kenny Vaccaro leading the tackling, they did that. Both sides of the ball promised to play a lot of players. The defensive statistics chart (which does include special teams plays) included 26 different players who made at least one play.
Offensively, Harsin's innovative attack included seven players with rushing statistics, four different players who threw passes, and eight who caught at least one. Of all the reclamation efforts from last season, however, Harsin's bench mark was at the quarterback position. That had begun with the instilling of the final piece of the confidence message.
You can have confidence in your head coach, you can have confidence in your position coach, you can believe in faith, family and friends, but in the end, your success will be determined by your belief in yourself. In the summer work when the NCAA rule prohibits coaches from instructing players on football business, the quarterbacks who hoped to play checked their egos at the door and accepted the responsibility of learning the fundamental principles of the offense Harsin and Applewhite had melded from Boise and Texas. In learning together, they also bonded together, and the friendship that developed between Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy and Davis Ash has permeated the "brick by brick" philosophy. Under Harsin's tutelage they each have a critical role in the position, and they have each other's back.
That same trait is spread throughout this team that is an interesting blend of a few veteran seniors and juniors and a host of sophomores and freshmen. Seventeen freshmen played Saturday night. "Unity" has been a major emphasis. That is why you won't find a lot of conversation about rankings or opponents. For this team to continue to grow, it cannot be about "them" and "outside influences." What you saw the beginning of Saturday was a team that has been forged on the simple principle of being about "us." Admittedly, they have a long way to go, but you get the feeling that whatever their final destination, they are going there together.
Just as young people are pieces of adults, Maria's song in The Sound of Music has pieces that will be a part of the determination of what this team learns, and where it may actually go.
"Face my mistakes without defiance"..."with each step I am more certain"...
So it was Saturday. The defense shut Rice down in the second half, and the offense scored on three straight touchdown drives of 72, 99 and 94 yards in a ten-minute span in the middle of the second half. What it all came down to was Maria's final line in The Sound of Music song: "I have confidence in confidence alone! Besides which you see, I have confidence in me!"
And though there is a long way to go and opening games are far from perfect, that's a great place to begin.