ARLINGTON — Texas fans want more than top 10 rankings and bowl victories. They would like to win some Big 12 titles and be in contention for national championships.
While the Longhorns are still the last Big 12 team to win a national title, that was long ago — the 2005 season with Vince Young at quarterback. Their last conference crown came four years after that in a league where Baylor and Kansas State have since both been champions twice.
That is why Steve Sarkisian is already the third Texas coach in eight seasons since Mack Brown’s departure in 2013. Tom Herman won four consecutive bowls and got the Longhorns into the top 10 during each of the past three seasons, but never won a Big 12 title.
“I haven’t been focused on what happened before. I’m putting all our energy in what we’re doing now,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “I do believe in, at the end of the day, teams win championships. Locker rooms, facilities don’t win championships, big stadiums don’t win championships, bright lights don’t win championships, recruiting rankings don’t win championships.”
Sarkisian is one of two new coaches in the Big 12, and both were part of the second-day wrap of the league’s football media days. New Kansas coach Lance Leipold appeared via Zoom after the Jayhawks’ charter plane got grounded because of inclement weather in the Lawrence area.
Texas is routinely the richest college athletic program, has all of the necessary modern facilities and its own ESPN-backed television network.
“We can’t sit back and relax and think because we’ve got a great stadium, because we’ve got great resources, because we’ve got the five-star, four-star players, that we just sprinkle a little magical fairy dust and all of a sudden we’re a really good football team,” Sarkisian said. “Winning is hard, and winning takes work, and winning takes perseverance. Winning takes grit. Winning takes great teamwork and great leaders and great teammates and an awesome culture.”
In the Big 12’s preseason media poll, the Longhorns were picked third behind six-time defending champ Oklahoma and Iowa State, which lost to the Sooners in the league championship game last December.
Gundy more patient: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy described himself Thursday as a more patient person, changed in part by a difficult summer last year.
There was the death of his mother, a soft-spoken and easygoing soul who had always told her son to just relax. He also ran into problems last summer with his players who were focusing on racial injustice, and were upset with him being photographed wearing a shirt promoting a far-right news channel. The coach had also criticized mainstream media coverage of the pandemic.
“The one thing with all of the stuff that’s gone on over the last 14 or 16 months that’s had an effect on me, our culture in our program is pretty much the same,” Gundy said at Big 12 media days. “I think it’s all of us having the ability, and I include myself, to listen and be patient and think things through. Usually I wanted to make a decision now, we move this direction, this is what we do, that’s the way it is.”
Gundy took a $1 million pay cut and had his contract shortened by a year after an internal review prompted by sharp criticism from former star running back Chuba Hubbard, who is Black. The administration said the contract adjustments were Gundy’s idea and that the review found “no sign or indication of racism” in the football program.
Gundy, a former Oklahoma State quarterback, is going into his 17th season as head coach of the Cowboys. There’s a name familiar to Kilgore fans on his roster: former Kilgore High School wide receiver Jonathan Shepherd suits up for the Cowboys, and hopes to see playing time this year.
Only two current FBS coaches have been at their schools longer than Gundy: Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and TCU’s Gary Patterson. Ferentz’s first season with the Hawkeyes was 1999, and Patterson was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach of the Horned Frogs after the 2000 regular season before they played in a bowl game.
Healthy Bernard: Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard was the Big 12’s leading tackler, with 55 tackles through five games, before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Now he’s back for another season after deciding not to enter the NFL draft.
“I’m thankful for Terrel coming back. It was a choice that he made. And we’re all better for it. I’m a better coach because of it,” said Dave Aranda, going into his second season as Baylor’s coach.
Aranda expects Bernard to be improved this season, with a better understanding of the defense that Aranda initially installed primarily through Zoom and remote learning because of the pandemic that wiped out spring practice just weeks after his hiring.
“His understanding of the defense, while great and probably the best on our defense, was still at a level much to be desired,” said Aranda, the former defensive coordinator at LSU. “His full understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and where his help is, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”