Commentary

Muschamp, Applewhite bring new ideas to the Longhorns

Updated: February 25, 2008, 12:52 PM ET
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- Like most of his teammates, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo has watched new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's celebrated YouTube video with equal parts of astonishment and excitement.

Muschamp's expletive-laced exclamations after a big stop by his Auburn defense last season against Arkansas have made him a folk hero for many cyber viewers - particularly those Texas fans who have fretted that the Longhorns have lost some of their defensive passion and swagger since their 2005 national championship squad.

"When I first watched it, I thought I had never had a coach like that at UT," Orakpo said. "He's jumping on players … I hope he brings it over here. It's good to see a coach so emotional and enthusiastic about his job."

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
UT PhotographyTexas hopes Will Muschamp's intense style will point to an improved defense.

Whether Orakpo will be quite as excited about his new coach after spring practice remains to be determined. But the arrival of Muschamp is a sure sign that times are changing on the Forty Acres.

Coach Mack Brown was proactive after last season's uncharacteristic defensive lapse. Both coordinators from that unit are gone after Larry MacDuff resigned and Duane Akina was demoted to coach the secondary. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Brown's four offensive assistant coaches received pay raises after the season, while Brown recommended that the defensive coaches not receive any -- despite the Longhorns' 10-3 record that placed them in the top 15 of the final rankings for the eighth straight season.

The arrival of the 36-year-old Muschamp and 29-year-old former Texas icon Major Applewhite as running backs coach is an indication that Brown is interested in shaking some of his team's recent lethargy with a double shot of youthful coaching enthusiasm.

That moxie was noticeable at UT's first practice. Muschamp was in his players' faces, screaming and exhorting from the first whistle.

After linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy returned an interception for a touchdown against Texas' first-team offense, Muschamp excitedly sprinted along with his defense down the field after the pick and jumped into the middle of the celebration.

"Your intensity sometimes has to overcome your talent," Muschamp said. "I wasn't very talented when I was a player and I had to overcome that with my intensity. As a coach, I don't have a lot of experience, but I try to overcome it with intensity. We've got to get the guys to play that way."

Applewhite appears to be the same way, sometimes cajoling his troops with audible blue language that was a little foreign -- and maybe even a little unsettling -- from his ways as a player. It was almost like seeing Lassie turn into an attack dog.

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"I think youth is a good thing," Brown said. "They are very aggressive and both have very good experience. They bring enthusiasm and confidence. You can't play and coach at the level they've done without confidence. And they bring credibility."

Players detected that change soon after they were hired. Muschamp oversaw many of the team's 6 a.m. offseason workouts as he inspected his new talent.

"At first when he got here, he was just like any coach who was monitoring and not saying too much," Orakpo said. "But as things started, you could see his personality come out with all of his emotion and his enthusiasm."

That happened at the Longhorns' second spring practice, when projected starting cornerback Deon Beasley was pulled from the lineup for a busted assignment. After an impassioned tongue-lashing from his new coach, Beasley returned to make several big plays later in the practice. Muschamp was the first person on the field to congratulate him for the turnaround.

"Some people look at him like they're kind of scared of him," defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "He's just very intense. I really like it. Hopefully, we'll mirror that in the games."

The defense is the first concern. The Longhorns ranked 109th nationally in pass defense, allowing the highest opposing pass completion percentage and over 500 more yards passing than any Texas team since the school began compiling complete team defensive statistics in 1951. Their slide was particularly noticeable late in the season, when the Texas defense permitted 37.5 points and 482.5 yards per game over the final four games.

And the Longhorns' erratic defensive performance was most frustrating. Texas limited five opponents to less than 300 yards, but looked overmatched against Oklahoma State (594 yards allowed) and Texas A&M (533) down the stretch.

"We were just inconsistent last year," Orakpo said. "There were times when we played great, there were times we played terrible and there were times when we played mediocre. That's something we're going to start working on as soon as we get back out there this spring."

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It will start with trying to create a more forceful pass rush. The Longhorns produced 28 sacks and often appeared to be conservative rather than proactive. No Longhorns defensive back notched a sack last season until the Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State.

Muschamp plans to implement a system with multiple pass coverages and formations. He's also promised a clean slate with no preconceived notions about a depth chart until after spring work concludes with the Longhorns' annual Spring Jamboree scrimmage on March 29.

"We've got to generate pressure with four guys rushing, but we've also got to get better up front," Muschamp said. "You can't make a living pressuring by blitzing all the time. We have to be multiple defensively and you'll hear me say that a lot. You've got to be able to do that because everybody can protect and throw the ball well."

But he has hinted at some changes that could bring more speed to the defense. Among the ideas he's toying with include moving defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Aaron Lewis inside to tackle to boost the unit's speed and playmaking abilities. That would also address one of the Texas defense's biggest personnel needs after the departure of starters Derek Lokey and Frank Okam.

"We're going to get the best 11 we have on the field," Muschamp said. "If it means moving a linebacker to end or an end to tackle or a corner to safety, we're going to get our best out there."

His hiring marked the second time in four seasons that Brown poached Auburn's staff for a new defensive coordinator. In 2005, he hired Gene Chizik, who helped the Longhorns claim a national championship in his first season. Chizik left for the head coaching job at Iowa State before the Longhorns' 2006 Alamo Bowl victory over Iowa.

A similar fast track to a head job could materialize for Muschamp, who already has earned a share of a national championship while a coordinator at LSU. He then followed Nick Saban to the Miami Dolphins as his assistant head coach for defense.

Brown understands that Muschamp might not be a coaching lifer in Austin, but merely another step to a head coaching job in a few years.

[+] EnlargeMajor Applewhite
UT PhotographyFormer Texas QB Major Applewhite returned to Austin to coach the running backs.

"We need more young coaches like Will to become head coaches," Brown said. "He's honest. He's tough. He's aggressive. The kids like him and he gets it. His long-term goals are to win a national championship here, and I would hope that would present an opportunity for him to become a head coach at some point."

The same might be expected one day for Applewhite, who also has quickly progressed in coaching after a legendary playing career at Texas. Despite being involved in a celebrated duel for playing time with Chris Simms, Applewhite still holds school records for career passing yards and touchdown passes.

After starting his career at Texas as a graduate assistant, Applewhite left for coaching stints at Syracuse, Rice and Alabama. He was one of the nation's youngest offensive coordinators while working at Rice and Alabama the past two seasons.

"It's tough to leave a great place like Alabama, but the opportunity to come home is one that you can't pass up," Applewhite said. "I'm excited about the opportunity and challenge because it's always here."

And he appears comfortable to be back on Brown's staff, despite not having any direct play-calling responsibilities at his new job.

"It wasn't about a title and it wasn't about a role," Applewhite said.

But he is positioned to receive a lot of scrutiny this season as the Longhorns attempt to replace Big 12 rushing leader Jamaal Charles, who declared early for the NFL draft. The early favorite is Vondrell McGee, a sophomore who rushed for 207 yards and eight TDs last season. Foswhitt Whittaker and Chris Ogbonnaya should provide the biggest challenge. And Tre Newton, the son of former Dallas Cowboys lineman Nate Newton, also could push for playing time after enrolling early in college.

But the biggest transformation this spring will be due to the arrival of Muschamp and Applewhite.

"If it's working, good. But at the same time, you need new ideas," Brown said. "Will brought some new ideas … Major got new ideas over the past three years and brought them back in. So we feel like that's a win-win for us. Our guys are pumped."

Tim Griffin is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.