February 27, 2006

Time for Texas to get back to work

AUSTIN, Texas Whenever Mack Brown rolled up his sleeves, someone wanted to shake his hand.

When he tried to talk shop, someone requested a speaking engagement.

When he wanted to sink his teeth into work, there was always a dinner to attend even one with the President.

The weeks since the Texas football team defeated Southern California 41-38 in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship have been a whirlwind for the Longhorns coach, but he's anxious to start working toward another national title.

That process officially began Monday when the Longhorns opened spring football practice. No. 1 on the list of things to accomplish is finding a quarterback to replace Vince Young. Other areas of importance are patching up some spots in the offensive line, looking to bolster the defensive front and filling holes in the secondary.

The last two months Brown has been looking for time to address those issues.

"It's been a wonderful whirlwind," Brown said, looking more relaxed than in any of his previous eight years at Texas. "It was so much fun to watch the players feel so good about themselves and for the coaches going to the national convention. It's been exciting to see high school teams (in Texas) excited about the team and for our state."

There's been plenty of excitement. About 3 decades worth. Young's fourth-down touchdown run with 19 seconds remaining ensured Texas would wear a national crown for the first time in 35 years. Long-suffering Texas fans soaked up the moment like parched earth absorbing the first drops of a drought-ending rain.

More than 50,000 turned out for a victory celebration at Royal-Memorial Stadium. For two weeks, the Texas tower was bathed in orange light that featured a great white No. 1. Thousands drove for miles to have their photo taken in front of it.

A local radio station pre-empted its regular programming and continuously replayed the Rose Bowl broadcast for two weeks. Then there was the trip to meet the President, whose year just wasn't as good as Brown's.

The Longhorns coach enjoyed the kind of season that brings legendary status, if not sainthood, in Austin.

It was fun. It was exciting. And it is as Brown points out over.

"We've got to go back to work," he said. "This is closure to the national championship."

Closure, perhaps. But that doesn't mean the Longhorns aren't closer to another crown than many would like to believe.

Although Young left for the NFL, seven starters return on offense and defense, including three from an excellent offensive line that will block for three dangerous running backs Selvin Young, Ramonce Taylor and Jamaal Charles who will likely become the focus of the offense.

"The neat thing about coaching is watching players develop," Brown said. "Now, it's who do you feature? One of the things they'll fight for is to be that guy."

There also will be fights for positions in the defensive line. Junior Frank Okam is a rising star and sophomore Roy Miller may be one, too. There will be fights for playing time in the secondary and at tight end. A key guard spot also must be filled.

Of course, the most obvious position up for grabs is quarterback, where the Longhorns have youth but not Young. Redshirt freshman Colt McCoy and true freshman Jevan Snead will vie to step into Young's enormous shoes.

"I will tell them the same thing I told all our quarterbacks, including Vince," Brown said. "Learn to manage the game first. You probably won't be the guys to win the game. You have good players around you, use them. Learn the system. We can punt and play defense.

"We'll find out what they're comfortable with so they can have confidence."

Confidence is in vast supply at Texas. No wonder Brown is so eagerly looking forward.

"I'm so excited. I can't wait," he said. "I can't wait to watch (freshman linebacker) Sergio Kindle. I can't wait to see how Colt is going to respond. There's not any part of me that's not excited about looking at next year."

But don't blame him if he indulges on occasion and takes a good look back at 2005.

This is the first article written by Olin Buchanan for Rivals.com. Buchanan will be covering the national college football scene, traversing the country on a regular basis for the very latest in college football news.


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