DALLAS — Even with questions about the stability of the new-look Big 12 and the suddenly controversial Longhorn Network awaiting him at Big 12 media day, Texas football coach Mack Brown looked like his usual relaxed self in front of the microphones Monday.
A veteran of these events, he long ago mastered the art of commanding a room. Using insight and humor, he was prepared for every question — except one.
Are you going to have a good football team this year?
His answer, of course, was "yes." But the thought process felt odd. It's safe to say Brown has never faced lower expectations in Austin.
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"There is a certain motivation when you tell kids they're not any good," Brown said, "and they're not going to do anything and they're not in the top 10, the things they came to Texas for and that they've had, they lost this year."
Yes, the aura Texas has played with throughout most of the Brown era is gone. Coming off a 5-7 season in which it failed to play in a bowl game and lost at home to UCLA, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, opponents are no longer intimidated.
Texas players understand that better than anyone.
"We had a sense of entitlement last year, coming off a trip to the national championship," said senior safety Blake Gideon. "We learned the hard way you can't just roll your helmet out there and expect to be victorious."
"It was like one long dream that you never wake up from," senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. "What happened to us last season, that's not Texas."
The Longhorns say they are awake now, ready to put in the work and fight for their accustomed spot at the top of the Big 12 standings. Good thing, because it will take a lot more than effort and will to fix Texas.
A year ago, it turned the ball over 30 times, failed to produce a 600-yard rusher and didn't compete in several games. From top to bottom, it was a flawed team.
Those failures led to a slew of new position coaches and several new philosophies.
That means Brown will hold an open quarterback competition between incumbent Garrett Gilbert, Fozzy Whittaker and Case McCoy. That means Brown will ask his coaches to spend much more time developing a reliable running game. And that means Brown will demand his players be fundamentally sound.
"We have a new offense to figure out, a new defense to figure out," Brown said. "We have positions to figure out. Obviously the quarterback position has to be figured out. And we've got to figure out who we feature in all the different schemes with a lot of new coaches.
"There's some anxiety with it, but there's some excitement with it at the same time, and we've got to do a good job coaching this year, and we're aware of that. We've got to make some good decisions, we've got to make some hard decisions, and we've got to make the decisions work."
It won't be easy, but there is hope.
With the Big 12's new scheduling format, the Longhorns face more winnable games than ever. But will they be good enough to take advantage?
"I think we can be great," Acho said. "I'm just excited to see the fruits of our labor. We've worked really hard this summer, and we're ready to win."