AUSTIN, Texas -- Bringing Manny Diaz back was better than bringing in a stranger.
That, in a nutshell, was Mack Brown’s mentality this offseason when he opted to retain the maligned Diaz amid the worst defensive season in Texas history.
He could’ve sent Diaz packing last December, and a large faction of the Longhorn fan base would’ve been satisfied. But he was convinced that Diaz, a young defensive guru who’d succeeded everywhere he went, was still the right man for the job.
Brown would joke that Diaz hadn’t gone dumb overnight. In the end, it took only one night to end his tenure as Texas defensive coordinator.
Two games into the season, Diaz was officially relieved of his duties and reassigned within the UT athletic department on Sunday, clearing the way for recently hired football analyst and former Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to take the reigns and try to fix the mess BYU exposed on Saturday.
There were absolutely no signs this move was coming before Texas kicked off in Provo. This was a panic move by Brown, one that conveys just how concerned he is about Texas’ next 10 games.
That’s not to say this wasn’t the right move. The faith he’d put in Diaz to get Texas’ defense back on track was badly burned Saturday. BYU did exactly what Diaz had expected and prepared his defense for, and they still rushed for 550 yards -- nearly 100 more than a Texas defense had ever given up -- en route to an easy 40-21 victory.
Diaz was red-eyed and seemed shaken by what he’d witnessed when he sat down for his postgame interview. He was asked if he was confident he’d still be coaching for Texas’ next game against Ole Miss.
“Yeah. That’s not even a topic,” Diaz said.
Mack Brown did not say yes. He said he wanted to watch the game film. And the film didn’t lie: Texas did not make adjustments on defense. Diaz had no answers.
But one game, one terrible night, didn’t really do Diaz in. Add up the 15 games Texas has played since the start of the 2012 season and the Longhorns ranked No. 111 in FBS in run defense, No. 101 in yards per rush and No. 85 in yards per play allowed.
But Brown trusted him, at least publicly. When Texas announced the hiring of Robinson on July 17, as analyst who scouted UT opponents, Robinson made sure to include this quote in the press release: “In Manny [Diaz's] case, I don't want it in any way for him to feel like he has someone looking over his shoulder at all. That's not what I'm there for. I don't want to in any way inhibit him or any of the coaches. Mack and I talked about that, and that was important to me.”
Whether Brown brought in Robinson as his contingency plan if Diaz failed is debatable, but the selection of Robinson is no doubt a curious one for this reason: He is, essentially, the stranger.
Robinson last coached at Texas in 2004. He had no hand in assembling this roster. He didn’t plan to live in Austin as an analyst, instead commuting from Los Angeles for meetings, fall camp and home games.
Texas’ defensive players, the ones who insisted they 100-percent supported Diaz on Saturday night, are familiar with Robinson but hardly know him well. How will they react to the new leadership?
A fresh start might be just what they need, and Robinson could be the right guy needed to simply the scheme and put a Texas defense on the field that’s far better prepared. But there’s no guarantee this will be enough.
This is a gamble by Brown, no question. His gut feeling wasn’t wrong -- enough was enough. Manny Diaz couldn’t get the job done.
But there’s nobody else left to scapegoat and no room for excuses. Now Mack Brown has to get the job done.