Coach's Corner

Like Moses in the desert; two voices crying out for years. Voice number 1: Robert Heard, the little-known publisher of the caustic Longhorn newsletter, Inside Texas. Since early in John Mackovic's tenure, Heard has preached loudly, to a largely unhearing choir, two maxims, as of last Saturday now accepted (though never properly attributed) as fact. Maxim 1: Mackovic's not a good motivater of young men. In typical Heardese: "Mackovic," he observed years ago, "couldn't motivate a homeless person to pick up a $20 bill." Years before anyone noticed, Heard noted another disturbing trend. "A Mackovic team can be counted on, every year, to lose at least one game, probably two, it should flat out, ten times out of ten, win." I won't go through the historical litany. They do. The Top 10 Longhorns, a 12-point favorite over unranked UCLA, believed -- because they were Texas and were supposed to win, and because these poor West Coast pussies from the weak-ass Pac-10 were going to wilt like a spring tulip in the 106 degree heat, and because the Bruins couldn't play defense (they read it in the paper) and, because these kids, used to only playing volleyball on the beach, were going to be puking after chasing the high-powered Texas offense (they read that in the paper, too) all over the field -- they believed, before the ball was kicked off, that this game was won. They thought these things, because the coach did nothing to dissuade the impressionable collegians otherwise. When reality struck, in the form of a punch in the nose, things got pretty ugly, pretty quick.

Maxim 2: Mackovic would rather lose a 50-45 shoot-out, where he'll be called an offensive genius, than win a 14-7 game and be called lackluster. This explains why UCLA tailbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, centers, and mascots absolutely kicked the living shit out of the Longhorns. Texas, you see, doesn't really have a defense. They have four freshman defensive backs and, to quote Jeff Ward (voice #2), "two big, slow fat guys on the line." Heard's been so hounded, exposing these views in Austin, he's basically resigned from doing much writing in his own newsletter. "My readers," says Heard, "think I'm too negative."

Ward, more Teflon-coated than Heard, due to a less confrontational nature and his UT All-American pedigree, has been saying for years, "3-4, 4-3, who cares? What difference does it make? Texas can't play defense." Why can't they play defense? See Heard Maxim #2. The coach doesn't give a shit about defense. He wants to be the genius here, not share the spotlight with some stupid defensive coordinator. So, as James Brown (the singer, not the quarterback ) says: Please, please, please, let's put to rest forever the five-year debate about how many men Texas should have on the line of scrimmage. Mack's last defensive coordinator was ripped for his "soft" defense. "Give us a hard-ass guy," the Longhorn Bobs from Waco inhabiting the strange, twilight world of talk- radio land say, "who'll be a man and put four men up front. Then we'll whip ass." Can we put that debate to bed?

All these factors were at work on this lamest day in Texas football history. In a most destructive 20 seconds, UCLA rang up 14 points in the time it takes Michael Johnson to run 200 meters, ballooning a bad start to a 24-0 crisis. Backup quarterback Richard Walton really had not played that badly. Star receiver Wayne McGarity, setting the tone for an awful day (sometimes the language just flat-out fails us), flubbed two perfectly thrown touchdown bombs, both rendered moot anyway because of Texas penalties -- one of which, to compound his misery, was on him. So Mackovic, having an off-genius day, pulled a strange and stupid move. He benched his junior QB, when the game was still in a manageable place -- 24-zip is not insurmountable for an offensive machine like Texas -- in favor of a 19-year-old fourth stringer named Marty Cherry, causing a frenzy in the press box, as everyone flayed about trying to find this heretofore unheard of fellow on the depth chart. In 14 minutes, Cherry was responsible for three turnovers, each resulting in quick UCLA points. By halftime, a workable deficit was now 38-0. In the process, Mackovic told his next year's starter he better not make any mistakes (who else was to blame for those 247 UCLA halftime yards?) and may have destroyed the confidence of both of his future field leaders. This was not a good day for "genius."

And so, on a brutally hot September afternoon (Longhorn weather!), the bloodiest Saturday ever seen on these ancient grounds finally came to an end. Only a few thousand remained from the sell-out mob of a few hours earlier to see third-string defensive back Allan Damiam apply the last gash in the slashed, gouged, hammered, and beaten-senseless hide of poor Bevo, as he returned another errant Cherry pass 40 yards for a touchdown. Did this kid ever imagine, in his most lurid nightmares, as Mackovic sat at his kitchen table waxing philosophic on his offensive concepts, he'd soon have a day like this?

To give the benefit of the doubt, I suppose even Einstein had a bad day... though he never lost 66-3.

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