Commentary

Fiery Muschamp has turned around Longhorns defense

Originally Published: October 8, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

BOULDER, Colo. -- Texas had the game won, having beaten the hide off the Colorado Buffaloes. But on the way out of Folsom Field and on to the big game against Oklahoma in Dallas, the Longhorns' second-string defense surrendered a late touchdown that made the final score 38-14.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
James D. Smith/Icon SMIWill Muschamp has brought fire and passion to the Texas sideline.
It was a meaningless touchdown. Unless you're Will Muschamp.

Headset pulled down around his neck and brown eyes smoldering, the Texas defensive coordinator was 5 yards onto the field and fuming.

"Jog off the field!" Muschamp bellowed at his defenders. "Jog your ass off the field, goddammit!"

Once the Horns jogged off the field, Muschamp lit them up even more.

"At that point, you would think as a coach he'd be very lenient," said first-team defensive end Brian Orakpo, who watched the scene unfold. "But he was still coaching. He was getting on them for not tackling."

Muschamp's simple explanation of his urgency: "Every opportunity on the field is an opportunity to stop people."

Every opportunity to coach defense is an opportunity for Will Muschamp to hug, holler, congratulate, castigate, slap hands, slap helmets, teach alignment and preach hustle. He is perpetual passion. Defensive coordinators tend to be among the most intense members of the football coaching profession, and Muschamp is at the far end of the intensity curve.

If you screw up, you're going to hear about it. Loudly.

Stats are for losers. I like winning games.

--Will Muschamp

If you make a big play, you're going to hear about it. Loudly.

"He is not allowing anyone to take a lazy step at any time," head coach Mack Brown said.

One thing is certain: The Longhorns never have to wonder where they stand with their first-year coordinator. They know he cares. He's constantly bathing them in animated feedback.

"We love him to death," Orakpo said. "He gets on us but he praises us, too. When we make a great play, he's out there chest-bumping us.

"Muschamp is the guy who carries the torch."

Through five games, Texas has been torching the offenses it has faced. Stealing Muschamp away from Auburn this past offseason ranks among the best personnel moves Brown has made in his accomplished career.

The Texas defense dwindled in effectiveness as last season went along. In the final five games, the Longhorns surrendered 25, 35, 43, 38 and 34 points. Unable to stop teams, the traditionally stout Horns were reduced to outscoring them.

That's why Brown reached out to snag Muschamp. The former Georgia player and coach at Auburn and LSU left his SEC roots for a new challenge in the Big 12.

He's been up to the challenge so far.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
John Rivera/Icon SMIAs quick as he is to yell at a mistake, Muschamp is right there with praise.
Last year, the Longhorns were fourth in the league in sacks. This year, they lead the nation (3.8 per game) and have thrown opposing offenses for more lost yards (222) than anyone else. They've lived in the offensive backfield.

The Horns are third nationally in rushing defense (51.8 yards per game) and fourth in scoring defense (11.4 points per game). Texas has allowed 14 or fewer points in each of its first five games for the first time in 17 years, and has been particularly tough in the red zone. Opponents have scored on only eight of 15 possessions inside the Texas 20, the second-best defensive percentage in the nation.

None of which dazzles Muschamp.

"Stats are for losers," he said. "I like winning games."

He's won plenty over the years. Muschamp was Nick Saban's defensive coordinator when LSU won the national title in 2003 and followed Saban to the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. After one year there, he returned to the college game, where his pyrotechnic personality is a better fit.

"I like what I do," Muschamp said. "It's my job to get these guys to play well and play physical. I play through them. When they make plays, I make plays. When they make a mistake, I make a mistake."

Muschamp's job has been made much easier by the return to full health of Orakpo, who is having an All-America season so far. The 260-pound end has been a terror off the edge, racking up 5½ sacks, 8 tackles for loss and 6 quarterback hurries this season. He hobbled through the first half of last season after injuring a knee in the season opener.

"It's made all the difference in the world," Brown said. "We saw this in preseason last year. When he got chop-blocked against Arkansas State, it just killed us. Boy, is he bringing it now. In fact, they're having to hold him to slow him down."

For Orakpo and the rest of the Texas defense, there was an adjustment period in the spring and in August camp. Not just to their fourth coordinator in four years, but to the new coordinator's expulsive persona.

"They thought I was nuts," Muschamp said.

Orakpo took one look at the manic Muschamp and thought, "It's a new day and era."

Change is good. But now comes the hard part.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesHealthy once again, Brian Orakpo has been a beast on Texas' defensive line.
Beginning Saturday with Oklahoma's explosive offense, Texas will face four straight teams averaging at least 48 points per game -- Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech follow the Red River Rivalry. All four rank in the top five nationally in scoring.

If the Horns hold up through that gauntlet, they'll have more than just an impressive record. They'll have a hot head-coaching candidate in Muschamp.

You can already find Tennessee fans clamoring for regime change: www.muschampforut.wordpress.com. There assuredly will be other enamored fan bases, although perhaps not more Web sites devoted to his hiring.

But that's a long way off in football time, and Muschamp knows it.

"It's a week-to-week profession," he said. "You can be a real good coach one week and an idiot the next."

Hugs one week, heat the next. That mirrors the way Will Muschamp mingles with his defense on a play-by-play basis.

"He's just like one of us, but he's got the headset on," said linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy. "If you give him a helmet, I believe he'd run out there."

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.