AUSTIN (AP) – Texas coach Mack Brown has turned to friend and former assistant Greg Robinson to reboot his defense and save the season.
But is a coach a decade removed from his last success on the field the right architect to rebuild, or simply a retread?
Robinson last coached at Texas (1-1) in 2004, when the Longhorns went 11-1 and won the Rose Bowl. As coordinator, his defense ranked No. 23 nationally. The Longhorns allowed only 107 yards rushing per game that season, far below the 550 piled up last week by BYU that helped get Manny Diaz fired the next day.
Robinson parlayed his one season at Texas into a head coaching job at Syracuse, where he was 10-37 in four seasons, including the only two 10-loss seasons in a program that dates to 1889. Robinson landed as defensive coordinator at Michigan under then-coach Rich Rodriguez. In Robinson’s two seasons at Michigan, the Wolverines ranked No. 82 and No. 110 nationally in total defense.
In 2010, the Wolverines were last in the Big Ten in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense.
None of that dissuaded Brown from calling on Robinson to replace Diaz in hopes of rescuing a season that started with so much promise. And if he fails, the growing unrest among Texas fans could hit a fever pitch.
“I think Greg has a track record that’s as good as anybody in this country. The guy has won Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator, won Rose Bowls as a defensive coordinator. He’s a veteran. He’s a seasoned veteran,” Brown said.
“When he went to Michigan, they weren’t very good. We have good players on defense. We just have to play better,” Brown said. “I’ve seen Greg. I’ve watched him, been in meetings with him, watched how he works on the field. He has a knack of making guys work hard and get in the right place.”
Robinson’s biggest success came 15 years ago in the NFL. He was the defensive coordinator when the Denver Broncos won the 1997 and 1998 Super Bowls. He also was fired by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003.
Robinson’s one season in Austin clearly impressed Brown, who initially brought Robinson back in July as a $62,500-a-year analyst charged with scouting opponents and reviewing video of Texas practices.
Having Robinson on staff gave Brown an insurance policy he cashed after the BYU debacle. Brown stuck with Diaz after the 2012 defense was one of the worst in school history, but with Robinson already on the payroll, Brown could afford to make a drastic move.
Brown said his defensive coaches knew they were on a “short leash” this season if he sensed a repeat of last season, and he pulled it tight after just two games.
“I didn’t bring him in to look over Manny’s shoulder, the defensive staff’s shoulder,” Brown said. “That was not part of the deal at all. I thought our defense would be much improved. I thought Manny would do great. That is not what I brought (Robinson) in for … I didn’t think this was going to happen.”
Brown said Robinson would not speak with reporters before Saturday night’s game against No. 25 Mississippi (2-0).
Brown described Robinson as a “players coach” who was demanding of his assistants and would challenge them to pay attention to detail. Texas fans also remember him as a fiery personality on the sideline in 2004.
The Longhorns started that season with a 65-0 win over North Texas that included Robinson yelling at his players later in the game to preserve the shutout. In a 12-0 loss to Oklahoma, a fired-up Robinson exchanged some colorful language with Sooners fans in the Cotton Bowl.
The Longhorns lineup that season was peppered with future NFL talent in All-America linebacker Derrick Johnson, defensive tackle Rod Wright and safety Michael Huff. The defense that season was known for playing aggressive and making big plays.
“He’s confident. Kids gravitate to him. He just makes kids play better,” Brown said.
Texas’ current players, the oldest of whom were still in middle school the last time Robinson wore burnt orange, met their new coach in a short meeting Sunday night.
“We know whatever he says it has worked before. Two Super Bowls and the Rose Bowl win. Just continue to keep working, that’s the biggest thing for us,” senior defensive back Carrington Byndom said.
Robinson has little time to prepare for Mississippi. But the sudden change also forced the Rebels to consider about adjusting their game plan as well. As soon as the news of Diaz’s firing broke, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had his staff scouting old game film on Robinson.
“It’s certainly an uncomfortable feeling. We already had a shell of a game plan together based on what they had done last year and early this year. Is that still a good plan? I don’t know,” Freeze said.
Robinson has to quickly learn everything he can about the defense, from the players to the terminology and signals Diaz had put in place.
“He’s behind, so we have to continue to teach him the things we know,” defensive back Quandre Diggs said after practice Tuesday night.
Brown admitted he’s put Robinson in a tough spot, but says he’s confident Robinson can deliver the kind of playmaking defense he expected when the season began.
“I think so,” Brown said, “or I wouldn’t have brought him back.”
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