DALLAS — Cheerleaders from Iowa State and TCU and Baylor and OSU strolled down the aisle and took their position flanking Mack Brown as he addressed the Big 12 media Tuesday.
The Texas football coach said he invited the ladies to accompany him so “if I had any hard questions … we'll just ask them to step up and answer.”
And then Mack talked about toughness. Making his Longhorns meaner and grittier and heartier.
You can't make this stuff up.
The curious case of Longhorn football's malaise continues on the eve of the 2012 season. UT is 13-13 since the calendar flipped to 2010, and Mack still is doing goofy things like not picking a quarterback and using coeds from rival schools as an uncomfortable media prop.
It's getting harder and harder to buy the idea that Mack is the new Darrell Royal.
The Longhorns are picked third in the 2012 Big 12 race, which is awfully generous since UT has gone 3-5 and 4-5 in the league the last two years, and David Ash and Case McCoy remain Mack's quarterback options.
And now the 'Horns want to toughen up. Run the ball better. Hit harder. Don't be so soft.
Left unsaid is how Texas can run the ball better without the threat of a passing game, which doesn't figure to change, considering Ash and McCoy combined to throw 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.
But that's what Mack has prescribed.
“I want us to get so we are a more physical football team from top to bottom,” Mack said. “And I also don't want to have it where the success of our football team is totally on one person's shoulders for him to have a great day, not a good day, or for him to be healthy, and to do that we've got to get better around the two quarterbacks.”
Texas insiders say UT indeed hasn't been physical enough the last several years, not just the two un'Hornlike seasons since Texas played Alabama for the 2009 national title.
Us outsiders see a quarterbacking problem in Austin. But Mack says the 'Horns' woes go much deeper.
“You go back and look at our BCS games, we haven't run the ball as well as we needed to,” Mack said.
He blames himself. Colt McCoy played a superb quarterback for Texas from 2006-09, but Mack says UT got away from smashmouth football during those days. Colt was so efficient, Texas never needed to run the ball on 3rd-and-3. A Colt throw could always pick up the yardage.
Mack even trotted out a self-critique that would make any football coach cringe. Texas became “softer.”
Of course, that's been a theory in Longhorn Land for years. That the UT football culture fosters a softness. That the Longhorns have an entitlement attitude.
I don't know if I buy it; I don't know if I buy the current lack-of-toughness claim. But Mack is stressing it and selling it to his team.
“That's the identity we want to have,” said UT guard Mason Walters. “The physical play at times, we could be better at.”
OK. Maybe. Can't really tell it from the games we pay close attention to in Oklahoma. Neither OSU nor OU pushed around the Longhorns on the line of scrimmage last autumn, though the Cowboys won 38-26 and the Sooners 55-17. Both OSU and OU just had better ballhandlers, who made fewer mistakes.
But even the Texas defense, which last season stood tall despite little help from the offense, is talking toughness.
Cornerback Carrington Byndom said the 'Horns need to “physically beat people down. It all comes down to becoming mentally and physically tougher.”
Now that, I'll buy. In the last two years, Texas has lost to programs that clearly have inferior athletes: Iowa State, Kansas State twice, Baylor twice.
So sure, that's a toughness problem. And the toughness problem might be a cultural problem. Perhaps emitting from the head coach.
The first question of the Mack press conference, I posed. To the cheerleaders.
“Who do you guys think should be the Texas quarterback?”
And just like years ago, when during another period of Texas softness Mack interceded and answered a tough question for quarterback Chris Simms, Mack didn't let the cheerleaders respond.
“They would want the worst one,” Mack said.
Like I said, you can't make this stuff up.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.