August 5, 2007

Mack sends a message

Honestly, you could hear a pin drop.

As the media sat around waiting for Texas head coach Mack Brown to address them on Sunday, there was a chilly feel in the air. Usually the first official press conference of the season is a highly anticipated event, if for no other reason that it signals the beginning of the football season.

But this wasn't any ordinary press conference and this wasn't any ordinary day.

Perhaps you haven't heard, but the Texas Longhorns have suddenly fond themselves in a bit of an image crisis. With a series of arrests over the course of the last 15 months, including two of the program's top young defensive players in the last week, a school that prides itself on its clean image was suddenly embroiled in a different kind of spotlight that it is used to in early August.

So, a day that is usually reserved for high hopes, big smiles and a lot of slaps on the backs, was suddenly the closest thing to a non-conference basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center as you're going to find in the middle of the summer.

Everyone on hand knew what questions were going to be asked. It was simply unavoidable. The fact that Mack was 10 minutes late for the start of things only made things feel a little more uneasy.

Yet when Mack Brown walked up to the podium to address the entire Longhorn Nation, he had a sparkle in his eye that was undeniable. Then he turned to his right, looked over at a few of us that had offered a "hello".

At that moment, he looked me right in the eye and gave a wink.

I'll admit that my first thought was that Mack might not know what was coming in store for him. Perhaps he had underestimated just how big of a story these incidents have become in the city of Austin.

After his comments to a San Antonio Express-News reporter earlier in the week, perhaps it was possible that he had lost touch with his program.

The truth? Could Mack handle the truth?

The truth is the wink was probably his way of saying either indirectly or directly to me, "You know what big boy, you should never doubt me."

The truth?

He's right.

In the aftermath of the most recent legal problems facing the football team, I'll be the first to admit that I wondered out loud this week whether Mack understood the gravity of the current situation and whether he would take the needed steps to ease the concerns of his concerned Longhorn community.

What I had forgotten…what a lot of people had forgotten over the last few weeks is that Mack isn't the best program builder in the game for nothing. For all of his faults, when has Mack ever not done the right thing?

When has he ever represented the University of Texas in nothing but absolute class?

So there Mack sat, with everyone wondering what he was going to say, and literally after two minutes, any concerns that anyone might have had were put to bed.

Mack meant business and if those words don't resinate with you, he made sure that the following ones did.

"I would like to apologize from our staff, our players and our coaches to the administration at The University of Texas, the athletic department, our student body and our fans for the incident this summer," a humbled Brown said. "It's not what we have worked so hard for 9 years to portray in our program of class, integrity and character. It's something that we are not proud of, but I can also promise you that it is not indicative of who this team really is. This team is as good of a group of young men as we have ever coached. They will continue to move forward after today and prove that on and off the field."

With an apology out of the way, Brown stepped forward and announced his plans for Henry Melton and Sergio Kindle, two of the four players that were arrested this summer that still have the privilege of calling themselves Longhorn football players.

"What they will be involved with is community service. They will be involved with a lady who works with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who had her son badly crippled in an accident and then later lost his life very early. The first few days of practice these young men will be sitting down with her and letting her explain to them how dangerous it is to be in a car when you have been drinking," Brown stated.

"In any of these cases, we're not 're the law. We're not saying that they are guilty, but we're also having disciplinary action outside of whatever the legal process might do.

Boom goes the dynamite.

For those that can't quite understand the significance, think of it this way.

It's the equivalent of a four-game suspension in the NFL, a 20-game suspension in the NBA and a 40-game suspension in MLB.

For a college football player, a three-game suspension might actually mean more than any of those sit-downs in the professional ranks because it will make things very difficult for young players like Kindle and Melton to become significant performers this season.

Perhaps if these guys were All-Americans or perhaps a returning starter, things might be different. But for two players without certain roles on this year's team, it could signal the beginning of a wasted calendar for both.

Understand that most college coaches would have been content with a one-game suspension for both. Hell, it would probably have been the protocol for Brown before this month, if not for a surge of untimely incidents.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy and we had it into the summer, and that's one of the reasons the young guys are missing three games for a DUI, where as in the past it might have been one. We're sending a very, very strong message," Brown said.

You got that right.

As Brown continued throughout the afternoon, he reminded everyone on the 9th floor of Belmont Hall that Brown will never take the wrongdoings against his program's image.

Over the course of 25 minutes, he talked about the hurt he felt for the parents of the young men involved in the legal issues. He reminded us that nine of these situations were as painful to deal with as the hand he was dealt on the day that Cole Pittman was taken from our lives in a car accident.

He said all of the right things and he meant them. It's what separates Mack Brown from many of his peers in the college coaching profession. While some might sell their soul for a victory, this future Hall of Famer looks to touch lives.

Even with everything that has occurred, Brown looked for the positive and hopes that these unfortunate incidents will serve as a lesson for everyone, not just college athletes.

"We thought it was a great opportunity for our team to stand up and take a strong stance against both of those actions, and help get the attention of not only young people in our society, but also adults," Brown said.

Once the string of questioning had been completed, Brown jumped out of his seat with that sparkle still in his eye. Even on a day when it was announced that running backs coach Ken Rucker had been diagnosed with cancer, Brown couldn't help but feel positive.

He's seen far worse days than these last few and with a fresh season approaching, he's not going to let anything take the attention off of a group of guys that he genuinely feels good about.

Not just as players, but as people.

As he walked away, I couldn't help being somewhat embarrassed for having questioned whether he would have the answers that everyone needed to hear.

Of course, he did. Only a fool would think otherwise.

Perhaps that's why he winked at me. He already knew what I was about to be reminded of.

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