Commentary: A Royal Decision

Inside Texas’ lead writer Bill Frisbie says it’s a bit quick to start comparing Will Muschamp to legendary UT head coach Darrell Royal…but then again, there are some notable similarities.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is one heartbeat away from the head football coaching job at The University of Texas. And that’s why it’s a magnificent day for the Burnt Orange nation.

In January, I wrote that Will Muschamp was the best hire of the Mack Brown era. I believed that Muschamp came closest to personifying the young, firebrand assistants that populated Darrel Royal’s earliest staffs at the Forty Acres. Today, Horn fans are assured that Muschamp’s Texas tenure isn’t one-and-done when he accepted the opportunity to become Brown’s heir apparent.

“It’s the best job in the country,” Muschamp said Tuesday, “and that’s why I’m staying. You don’t get an opportunity like this every day. You come to a place like this, and you find out how special it is. It’s the elite job in the country, and that’s no disrespect to any other program…I’ve had opportunities to be a head coach, and I was waiting for the right one. This is the best one.”

In short, the hottest rental property in Austin has found a home. From Seattle to South Carolina, Muschamp’s name was on the short-list of every head coaching vacancy that popped open.

“If I had left Austin,” Muschamp quipped, “my wife would have stayed here.”

It’s probably premature to compare Muschamp to Royal, even though the 37-year old coordinator is the same age as was Royal when he began transforming the program in 1957. But there have been times when Muschamp has sounded and acted so much like the way former linebacker Pat Culpepper has described Royal that I had to pick up the phone and dial Cleburne (where Culpepper resides).

Like Royal in his early years, Muschamp is passionate, intelligent, driven, intense, youthful, hard-working and yet genuinely humble. Like Royal, there is an emphasis on fundamentals, attention to detail and repetition, repetition and more repetition during practice. Like Royal, he understands the importance of attitude, toughness, discipline and the fact that a team needs to out-work on Tuesday and Wednesday the foe it will face on Saturday. Muschamp’s players have a healthy respect for him off-the-field, and they have a healthy fear of him on-the-field.

Obviously, Muschamp’s designation as heir-apparent is for the long-term but it should have an immediate benefit for a team that has a legitimate shot at a BCS National Championship berth. Other programs had begun to show “some interest”, Muschamp acknowledged. And the current bye-week in Texas’ schedule would have been an optimal time for those programs to come courting, Brown said.

“Will had to make a decision if he wanted to go through the interview processes somewhere else like Gene (Chizik), Greg (Robinson) and Dick Tomey did. The ‘open date’ is the week where (other teams) start wanting you to come. It becomes a really big distraction.”

Tuesday’s announcement keeps the rumor mill from torpedoing what has been a splendid season for No. 4 Texas (No 3. BCS). The last time the Horns were ranked this highly, the poorly-kept secret that Chizik would accept the Iowa State job surfaced just before Texas’ upset at lightly-regarded Kansas State. Rather than distracted, Muschamp’s decision has energized a Longhorn team that, frankly, had been feeding off his energy since the off-season.

No line-of-succession was promised Muschamp when he was hired from Auburn in January. But, by the end of spring football, Brown recognized that Muschamp was an exceptional find who had the potential of someday coaching anywhere he wanted. It’s just that the day had already arrived, given the coaching carousel within the collegiate ranks.

Men’s athletic director DeLoss conferred earlier this month with Brown and University President William Powers to assess all potential candidates who would be an ideal fit for the Longhorn program.

“We looked at what’s out there,” Dodds said. “We decided that what we had inside is better than what there is outside.”

Muschamp didn’t have to think about it long.

“There was no thought-process at all,” Muschamp said. “When Coach Brown presented it to me, I don’t think he even got the words out of his mouth before I said ‘yes’.”

There are eight years remaining on Brown’s contract, who reiterated that he does not intend to become Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden by coaching for several more decades. Nor does Brown intend to leave any time soon. In other words, there is no timetable for the transition but, suffice it to say, Muschamp gets the job before his 65th birthday.

“I’m going to be here a long time,” Brown said. “I’m going to be here as long as it’s working and as long as I’m having fun. I fully plan on being here (for eight years), and I think it’s exciting. Will would wait for the right time to move forward. Not many people would be patient and trusting like that. I don’t see this as anything but a positive. I don’t want anyone to see this as the twilight for me. It’s not. It’s an exciting day for Texas.”

Brown also has to hope Jamarkus McFarland is listening. The Five-Star DT announced this week he has narrowed his choices to Texas and Oklahoma. Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables has been linked to several coaching vacancies but, now, any recruit Texas signs during the next four or five years has been assured that the most highly-courted assistant in the country will be his coordinator and possibly his head coach.

Muschamp is Texas’ fifth defensive coordinator in six years. That’s why when the team convened at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, many players expected Muschamp would be leaving, Brown reported. The news that Muschamp would remain indefinitely with the program was, initially, greeted with disbelief and then by a vigorous ovation.

But the applause should extend to Horn fans everywhere. Sure, Muschamp’s defense is far from optimal. The pass coverage would make John Mackovic blush, but no small part of Tuesday’s announcement had to do with sparing Texas fans the embarrassment of 4-7 seasons punctuated by Route 66. It sought to ensure that there would be no house-divided characteristic of the Fred Akers era, nor would there be the growing pains of when likable David McWilliams suffered through three losing seasons in four years. Not now, and not in most of our lifetimes.

“We’ve had some dips here,” Brown said, “and we don’t want to have those again. We want to be a consistent winner forever.”

Forever, he said.

Or, at least ‘til Gabriel blows his horn.