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Catch-up Football

I posted my last column before Tom Herman was fired and Steve Sarkisian was hired so we have a lot of catching up to do in a short amount of time. Here we go.

Steve Sarkisian           

I’ll bet I’m not the only one whose first reaction to the news that Texas had hired Steve Sarkisian was, “Huh, what?”  UT’s fallback from Urban Myer—the winner of multiple national championships and theoretically a sure-fire sure thing to bring the Longhorns a national championship within three years–was an offensive coordinator? Steve Sarkisian? The guy who was fired by USC for conduct unbecoming because of alcohol abuse? On the job? 

Then I caught myself.  I was being hypocritical for judging Sarkisian on what had to be the worst period of his life. I was leaning in the direction of believing, in terms of being qualified to be the head coach of a major college football program, Sarkisian was not redeemable.  I knew from personal experience that was wrong and not an analytical assessment of the quality of the hire and Sarkisian’s qualifications.

When I looked at Sarkisian’s qualifications I saw that he had been the head coach for five-and-a-half years of two power five conference football programs, Washington and USC. In 2008, he took over a Washington program that had been 0-12 in the previous year. In his first year, his team went 5-7 followed by three straight 7-6 years before finishing 8-4 in 2013. He took over USC in 2014 and went 9-4 finishing the season ranked 20th.  It was in 2015 that Sarkisian had his infamous inebriated public meltdown at a USC booster event and was fired about six weeks later after USC’s fifth game. 

For a fired college football head coach, the first step up from rock bottom is often as an analyst—whatever that is—for a college or NFL team.  Tom Herman is currently an offensive analyst/special projects for the Chicago Bears.   If memory serves, these jobs typically pay about $30,000 per year. You read right, $30,000 per year. Of course, recently fired head coaches don’t take these jobs for the money. In September 2016, Nick Saban hired Sarkisian as an analyst for Alabama.

In December 2016, while Alabama was preparing for the national championship game with Clemson, their offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin accepted the head coaching position with Florida Atlantic. On January 1, 2017, eight days before the National Championship game, Saban fired Kiffin and elevated Steve Sarkisian to replace him.  Remember this event because it illustrates what Saban’s opinion of Sarkisian is and what Texas has in the character of their new coach. Clemson beat Alabama 35-31.

In February of 2017, the Atlanta Falcons hired Sarkisian to be their offensive coordinator replacing Kyle Shanahan that had taken the head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers.  This was just days after the Falcons had blown a 28-3 third quarter to lead and lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  It had to have been a tough time for the Falcons organization and under Sarkisian, in 2017 the offense declined significantly. Sarkisian was fired by the Falcons at the end of the 2018 season.

In 2019 Sarkisian went back to Alabama as the offensive coordinator. That year, Sarkisian’s Alabama offense was second nationally in total offense averaging 568 yards and 48.4 points per game. Alabama went 11-2. They scored 41 points in a loss to LSU and 45 points in a loss to Auburn.

In 2020, Alabama won the national championship and averaged 541.8 yards and 48.5 points per game.  Sarkisian won the Broyles Award awarded to the nation’s top coaching assistant and he won the FootballScoop Offensive Coordinator of the year voted on by previous winners of the award. When Nick Saban tested positive for Covid 19, he appointed Sarkisian interim head coach for the Auburn game.

Sarkisian was hired by Texas on January 2, 2021, 11 days ahead of Alabama’s appearance in the national championship game. In contrast to the way Saban handled the situation when Lane Kiffin had accepted a head coaching position before a national championship game, he did not let Sarkisian go. Sarkisian stayed and at the Frink household, we cheered on Coach Sark as his offense scored 52 points in a route of Ohio State for the national championship.

I think the most impressive lines on Steve Sarkisian’s resume are that Nick Saban hired him twice, chose him to be the head coach of his football team in his absence, and trusted him to remain on and prepare his offense for a national championship game. I’m sold.

I think a case can be made that Steve Sarkisian is the most qualified coach to ever be hired by Texas. Before becoming Texas’ head coach, he had six + years of head coaching experience at major college programs, he was an offensive coordinator in the NFL for two years, and he coordinated offenses at Alabama that finished first and second nationally in total offense.

Before I close on Steve Sarkisian, one of the many things I like about him is that he has stated flatly that he is calling the plays. Not his offensive coordinator, not a committee. The play-caller is Sarkisian. The buck stops with him.  Period. Have I mentioned that I’m sold?

SEC

My initial reaction to the move was that Texas in the SEC would be further away from a conference championship and playoff appearance than they already were. Heck, the Horns are consistently finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, so what would become of them in the SEC? 

Not sure what to make of the move myself, I asked Professor John Butler—the most qualified person on the subject I knew to write a guest column for this here blog.

I envisioned his column to be about UT’s decision-making process and the business reasons for the move to the SEC. Professor Butler went in a different direction writing a full-throated endorsement of the move and a preview of fun and excitement to come with membership in the juggernaut conference.

The column helped me crystalize my thoughts. Moving to the SEC was a no-brainer for Texas and few tears if any will be shed for the Big 12.  After all, how dumb could the Big 12’s leadership have been a few years ago when they decided to stand pat with 10 teams. The Big 12 has 10 teams. It’s goofy and goofy has a limited shelf life.

How soon can we get to the SEC?

Louisiana Pre Game

What do these teams have in common?

  1. Iowa State
  2. Georgia State
  3. Georgia Southern
  4. University of Alabama Birmingham
  5. Arkansas State
  6. South Alabama
  7. Central Arkansas
  8. University of Louisiana Monroe
  9. Appalachian State
  10. University of Texas San Antonio

Give up? They were all beaten by Louisiana in 2020.  As a Texas fan, boy I’m scared.

I have never seen a UT opponent so overhyped as Louisiana. Oh, they were 10-1 last year. They’re preseason ranked #23. They return 20 starters.  Look out!  I’m not buying it. The game opened several weeks ago with Texas as a 16-point favorite. The line is now 8. If I was a betting man . . . .

Hudson Card

Remember back at the beginning of the 2003 season when Mack Brown went through the motions of starting junior Chance Mock for the first six games over redshirt freshman Vince Young?  Chance Mock wasn’t a bad quarterback but come on. Brown and Greg Davis had to know what they had in Vince Young but chose to start Chance I guess out of some unwritten rule about going with the experienced guy over the superior talent. In Vince Young’s case “superior talent” may be the understatement of the century. Vince Young took over as the starter in game seven of 2003. Remember when Vince Young was the quarterback?  That was great.

The reasons l like Steve Sarkisian keep on coming. I love it that he’s dispensed with any aforementioned rule and is going with Hudson Card, the superior talent, right out of the gate. If nothing else, Sarkisian knows quarterbacks and offense.

Kind of Interesting

That Dicker the kicker will start the season handling field goals, extra points, kickoffs, and punting. Erxlebenesque.

Prediction

Steve Sarkisian will prove early in his tenure that he’s not Tom Herman. The Louisiana game will be no repeat of the Maryland debacles. 

Texas over Louisiana 45-16.

Introducing

“One of My Favorite Songs for Various Reasons” A new weekly Wille Earl column segment.

“This ‘Cowboy” written by Toy Caldwell and performed by The Marshall Tucker Band
I gotta get back to Dallas
And tie up a few loose ends
I’m gonna work a week make a hundred dollars
Aw and hit the road again

I was in my brother Clayton’s living room hanging out late on a Sunday afternoon circa 1976 the first time I ever heard “This ‘Ol Cowboy.”  I had never heard anything like it.  I was thinking, this is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Eventually, I figured out it was the fiddle and flute playing along with great lyrics that tell a great story that made me love the song.

Here’s what I found online about the song from the Monahan Song blog

We remember Spring days in the north when you were finally able to open the windows in your dorm because the sun had arrived and the snow was gone. Parties erupted on the sunny dry lawns and music blared from those dorm windows.

This Ol’ Cowboy was one of those songs. While it will no doubt come across to you as country, it was considered mainstream Southern Rock and The Marshall Tucker Band was in the forefront of that movement. Their infusion of jazz elements is obvious and this set them apart in our opinion. The flute playing by Jerry Eubanks takes the song to another level and the guest fiddle playing by Charlie Daniels and Andy Stein (Commander Cody), makes this an irresistible tune.

This song is the story of a guy who has been around the block, and one more ended relationship is not going to devastate him.

Hook ‘Em,

W.E.

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The Longhorns to the SEC

Guest Commentary

By John Sibley Butler

As social media goes wild with opinions and tweets, it looks like that The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners will join the Southeastern Conference.  For decades, these two teams have staged one of the most intense rival games in college football.   Now that the Longhorns are going to the SEC, every game will be an OU game with the intensity on steroids.   Imagine that the Longhorns first two games are smaller schools looking for exposure; then we get into conference play and the Horns are in the SEC West.   The teams on the schedule could be Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Florida (a cross-over from the SEC East) and Texas A&M.   If the Horns win the SEC West, Georgia could be the opponent in the SEC Championship game.  The Longhorn nation will simply have to have a great team and wait until the end of the game, as most great games in the SEC are won by a small margin, usually as time runs out.

It is important to understand that simply because a team is in the SEC, it does not mean that it is all big and bad.  I attended LSU and have watched how over the years winning streaks have come and gone in the conference.  Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, and Auburn all strut big time football traditions, as measured by winning “recent” national championships.   Mississippi, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M are excellent programs that do not hang a big-time tradition, but certainly have had their spot in the national spotlight.  Texas A&M, for example, has come in no higher than fourth in the SEC West (Let’s not count last year’s Covid Year) and Arkansas has almost disappeared from the national spotlight since leaving the old Southwest Conference and joining the SEC.  Traditions tend to get on a roll, each dominating the conference for eight years or so.   Recently it has rolled from Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Alabama.   Remember that as good as Bama has been, most of their victories came in games where one play decided the victory. 

Here are some things to keep in mind as Texas rolls into the SEC.

Put on your Big Boy Pants

This conference is no joke when it comes to players getting beat up in big time games and then have to strap it on again and get beat up the next week.  This means that the teams that do well have the “next man up” attitude.  Excellent teams tend to be stacked with good players and it is a player’s league.   If you take a break with a non-ranked team like a Mississippi State or Kentucky, you still need to keep on your big boy pants.  In recent years Alabama lost to Ole Miss (two years in a row) and Florida was spanked by Kentucky in the Swamp. When LSU won the national championship in 2007, they lost in overtime to Kentucky and Arkansas. Florida was on a roll last year with over 26 seniors, ranked in the top ten, and lost to an LSU team made up of freshmen.  There is no letting up and help us all if Tennessee regains its top form that it sported until 2001, when they were rolling to a spot in the BCS Championship game and got blindsided by an average LSU team in the SEC Championship game. 

Big Stadiums and Big Time Atmospheres

Since leaving college, I have seen my Alma Mater play for the National Championship four times.   None of those games compared, in spirit and atmosphere, to home games at LSU. In the SEC, every game is like a Bowl Game with all the hype and traditions.  There is a concentration on the stadiums, which takes on a life of its own; and I can say as a graduate of LSU, I have never seen any stadium, college or pro, like Tiger Stadium.  My brother went to a Big Ten school, and I have visited college stadiums all over America (https://youtu.be/RQOpSTX8Td8).  The Aggies have also done a great job with their atmosphere (https://youtu.be/Y0_s9Hd26tY) and Tennessee does a good job.  (https://youtu.be/3nQnoEQH2x4).  The worst fans are as follows: Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Arkansas.  Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas A&M tend to be more “civilized,” especially after a loss.   LSU has the worst fans after a loss and Florida fans are right behind.

The Cities

The best trip is to LSU and staying in New Orleans before the game is an option.  Add tailgating before the game and it is a good time.   I always make the LSU/Alabama trip and Tuscaloosa is a tough place to get into.  I stay in Birmingham and when the traffic is bad, it can be a long trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium.  Eating at Dreamland BBQ makes the hassle worth it.  I also tend to make the LSU/Auburn game by flying into Atlanta and renting a car to make the hour and a half drive.  Ole Miss is worse; I usually stay in the Las Vegas of Mississippi, Tunica, and drive to Oxford and park my car literally near the interstate.  I don’t get to Florida (because Texas usually plays OU that weekend) but it is also interesting to get to.  There is nowhere to land a plane in Oxford MS, College Station or Starkville (or Stark Vegas) MS.  Austin will be the charm of the SEC in the future, and I can envision SEC fans staying in Austin when they have a game scheduled in College Station.

The Longhorns and the Move

At this time, I have Texas going undefeated next season.  As Coach Sarkisian recruits, the Longhorns should be stacked at every position with great athletes in the coming years.   I think that he understands that players win games, and he is concentrating on recruiting pure talent.  Texas will take a big-time college tradition to the SEC, a tradition of national championships and winning big time games and producing Heisman Trophy winners.  The Longhorns are no “Johnny-come-lately” and should compete extremely well.  The new stadium is now an SEC stadium (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqkKCgSug0k) and I expect that the atmosphere will be like the Notre Dame game and the LSU game of recent years.  A typical SEC team will bring a ton of fans to Austin and if they do not have a ticket, it might be 20 thousand of them in the city, just following their team, camping out.  Get ready to host those Arkansas fans again.  The SEC network does a great job with covering the teams and the overall content is great.  Willie Earl’s blog will have a heyday.

Remember also that Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Florida and LSU, have great baseball traditions.  Kentucky is the prize of the SEC in basketball and everyone else is just hit and miss with LSU, Alabama trying to make a national presence.  Texas could do extremely well in baseball and OU should do well in women’s softball.  A great sport that the SEC has that Texas does not have is Women’s Gymnastics, and the arenas are packed.

Looking forward to a great future in the SEC.   It will be great to see the Purple and Gold in Memorial Stadium every other year.  The talk shows will be off the scale and a great time will be had by all.  It is time to take the Eyes of Texas and Hook ‘Em Horns to a great competitive conference.

John Sibley Butler is the J. Marion West Chair in Constructive Capitalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He has served three terms on the Athletic Council at Texas and was the faculty representative to the Texas Exes. He was the LSU Alumnus of The Year in 2012. He has served as President of the LSU Austin Alumni Association and as a member of the LSU National Alumni Association. He now serves on the LSU National Foundation Advisor Board. During college he was a walk-on to the LSU basketball team and played in the LSU Tiger Band for four years.

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Colorado Over/Under Results

There was a nice “Holiday Season” turnout for the Colorado Over/Under with 15 players entering.  Jeff Otto scored a most impressive nine correct answers and wins the final contest of the season. I kind of think this is Jeff’s second win all time.

In a fine performance that in many weeks would have earned first place honors, Mark Stephan finished second with eight correct  

Reed Ramlow took third by himself with seven correct.

David Bergstrom, Steve Holstead, Greg Swan, Mike Frank, and Andy Garrod finished in tie for fourth with six correct.  

The question “More total yards from scrimmage, Bijan Robinson or Jake Smith” turned out to be a gimme as every player picked Robinson.  What was I thinking when I came up with that question?  I don’t think the question, “6.5 points scored by Texas in the first quarter” was a gimme but every player astutely got it right. Only four players went “over” for total points scored in the game.

The average score was 5.67.

All things being equal, Willie Earl’s Over/Under will be back Friday September 3, 2021. Looking forward to it.

W.E.

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Alamo Bowl Questions

1. Which Team wants to win more?

2. If Texas loses will it increase the chances that Herman will be fired before the 2021 season?

3. Do we really believe that Sam Ehlinger is considering returning to the Horns in 2021?

That plus a real brain drainer Over/Under is the best I can do during this busy Holiday Season.

Cheers and,

HooK Em”

W.E.

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Championship Week Over/Under Results

In a lightly subscribed Championship Week Over/Under Contest, Helen Frink, with eight correct answers, came away with her third win of the year. Can you say domination?

Reed Ramlow and Clayton Frink tied for second with seven correct.

The average score was 6.17, the highest of the year. All but one player got the first three answers correct.

I trust you all are as excited about the Alamo Bowl as I am and the turnout for the Over/Under Contest will be near a record high. 

But seriously folks, what else is there to do next Tuesday night? You skiers can’t ski at night and you hunters can’t hunt at night. Can you?

Cheers,

W.E.

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