AUSTIN, Texas -- Greg Robinson is neither elusive nor evasive, but he does remain something of an enigma.
He’s met with reporters a few times in his nearly 45 days on the job as Texas’ new defensive coordinator. When the 62-year-old speaks, he rarely talks specifics about his defense, focusing more on the simple concept of hard work.
That ideal makes it difficult for Robinson to explain why the Longhorns have enjoyed a defensive turnaround since he replaced Manny Diaz on Sept. 8. He makes it sound as if this would’ve happened eventually, as if it didn’t take much to produce better results.
“It’s easy to say a lot of things. The proof is in the pudding. Time will tell,” Robinson said. “But I just know this: We’re going to work very hard. Come Saturday, we’ll be able to evaluate. But I don’t know that there’s any magic wand that this is what does it. It’s a matter of just working and focusing in. That part of it, I believe that’s what we’ve got around here, guys who can do those things.”
This is essentially Robinson’s argument. The players got more reps every week. The coaches did some fine-tuning. Together they had a positive experience in a 31-21 win over Kansas State. They gained confidence. The puzzle pieces came together against Oklahoma.
He’s selling this process short, of course, and doing so rather humbly.
“I wasn’t real interested in revolutionizing anything in the defense or things like that,” he said. “There might be a twist here or a twist there, but I think it was just trying to help them do certain things and techniques they were doing and do them better. Maybe there’s a little something I can give that can add something to it.”
Ask Texas’ defensive leaders what changed since Robinson arrived and they’ll give mostly similar accounts. His imprint on the defense, while understated, is clear to them.
He brings energy and passion to every practice. He demands technicians. Do a drill right or you’ll do it again.
He’s taking a hands-on approach with every position on defense, not just the linebackers. He gets his point across without being a rah-rah guy, defensive tackle Chris Whaley said.
With 30-plus years of experience under his belt, he can easily spot a flaw, big or small, and explain how to get it fixed. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said Robinson is specific and precise in those moments.
He also puts trust in Texas’ veterans. Cornerback Quandre Diggs says Robinson has a selected group of starters -- Diggs is one of them -- that he knows can get the defense going at any moment. Players respond well to that.
“He’s always wired up before practice,” Diggs said. “He has his guys that he talks to and he lets those guys know that we’ll have a great practice and we can’t settle just because we had a great practice the day before.”
He’s a positive influence. He gets guys to buy in and believe. And doggone it, people like him.
These are the little touches Texas needed. Its early-season struggles were not a product of inexperience or a lack of talent, and he hasn’t steered the defense too far away from what it intended to be under Diaz.
“Coach Robinson, he basically kind of reiterated what Coach Diaz was trying to get across and I think as a unit, as we saw how things happened, we took it upon ourselves that we were going to get this changed around,” safety Adrian Phillips said.
It’s hard to fairly compare the results Robinson has coaxed out of his players with Texas’ performances in Diaz’s two games of 2013. The first came against a New Mexico State team that’s now 0-7. The second was one of the worst performances in school history.
But throw out Robinson’s debut game against Ole Miss -- he had just three practices to prepare for the Rebels and zero time to make meaningful changes -- and the three-game progress is evident.
Since Sept. 21, Texas’ defense ranks No. 44 nationally in total yards, 52nd against the run and 53rd against the pass. This unit forced as many turnovers (seven) as it allowed touchdowns during that span, with 13 three-and-outs.
If those fairly average national ranks aren’t impressive, don’t forget that Texas had the third-worst run defense in the country and the 10th-worst total defense when Robinson came back to Austin. Back then, the Longhorns’ confidence could’ve crumbled.
It’s sky-high now that Texas has finally shut down the Sooners, and that victory seemed to be clear proof of progress not only in execution but also attitude.
“If everybody brings that type of energy to each game, we’ll win all the games,” Diggs said.
Robinson, meanwhile, is sticking to cautious optimism. He’s comfortable with this team. He senses confidence will continue to grow. But the answer for TCU this week is no different than his goal any other week: More hard work.
“You know what? There are no guarantees,” he said. “The moment you kind of think you’ve got it, you better look out.”