AUSTIN (AP) — It was a rough summer for Mack Brown.
Six of his Texas players were arrested — the most recent on Monday — and close wins against teams most considered big underdogs have left many wondering if his team is overrated.
Still, the No. 7 Longhorns are 3-0 heading into Saturday night’s game against Rice (0-3). A comfortable win there could ease a lot of the anxiety around campus.
The talk of Texas right now is not about football. It’s about a rash of felony and misdemeanor arrests, suspensions and what Brown can do to minimize the damage to the reputations of coach and school.
Fans are complaining, national sports columnists are taking pot shots and “Book’em Horns!” jokes are zipping around the Internet, leaving Brown trying to rein in a wave of bad publicity.
“I’ve spent 33 years of my life coaching young people and trying to be a great role model for young people and prepare them for life after football,” Brown said. “It has been very, very important in my life that we have a team with character and that they act responsibly. When someone is accused of trouble or has trouble, it’s devastating to me personally.”
University President William Powers went public this week with his support of Brown and the program.
“I strongly endorse the penalties he has imposed on this player and others who have been arrested for various offenses. I know Coach Brown feels accountable for the conduct of his team and that these players must be held accountable for their own behavior on and off the field,” Powers said.
Brown this week reinstated sophomore linebacker Sergio Kindle and junior defensive end Henry Melton, both suspended three games for drunken driving arrests over the summer.
“It’s going to be good for us to have those guys back,” linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said.
Anything that allows Texas to concentrate on the playbook rather than the police blotter is welcome right now. Senior defensive tackle Derek Lokey said playing Rice helps the team put the arrests in the past.
“Instead of dividing the team, it’s going to unite the team,” Lokey said.
Things have been rocky on the field as well.
A close win over Arkansas State was followed by a blowout over then-No. 19 TCU. But even that came with a blemish as the offense was shut out in the first half.
Last week’s trip to Central Florida gave Texas a scare before the Longhorns finally got out of Orlando with a 35-32 victory.
Quarterback Colt McCoy, who tied an NCAA freshman record last season with 29 touchdown passes, has only four this season, with five interceptions.
“I think it’s easy for a lot of guys to get frustrated because there are so many expectations,” McCoy said. “I think we need to relax. We’ve got to have fun.”
There could be lots of laughs Saturday night. Texas was won 37 of the last 38 meetings with Rice with average score of 43-12 in the last six.
The Owls are struggling under new coach David Bailiff, who took over a program that was 7-6 last season and went to its first bowl game in 45 years.
The season opener was a loss to Nicholls State of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) followed by blowout losses to Baylor and Texas Tech.
Bailiff tries to remain optimistic.
“Great programs are built, they don’t just happen, and we're going to build something great here,” Bailiff said.
NCAA FOOTBALL, Rice (0-3) at No. 7 Texas (3-0), 6 p.m. (FSN) — DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium