New football hires generate optimism at Texas

New Texas football hires Manny Diaz and Bryan Harsin waited about three minutes into Friday’s lunch with Mack Brown to start talking business.

Barbecue took a back seat to strategy and serious planning of spring practice. Ideas bounced around the table between Diaz, the incoming defensive coordinator, and Harsin, his offensive counterpart.

The youthful energy was exactly the byproduct Brown envisioned when he overhauled his staff after a 5-7 disappointment in 2010. People who wondered if Brown still retained the will to do what was necessary received their answer.

The departure of defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp for Florida was an unexpected blow. Other moves were Brown’s answer to a season that stunned people around the program. Many familiar faces of the last 13 seasons, including offensive coordinator Greg Davis, are gone.

If the staff overhaul were a screenplay, it would be No Country for Old Men II.

Nothing exemplifies the change more than Diaz and Harsin. The combined age of the two is 70, or one year less than Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has spent on the planet.

Each was on Brown’s short list when he began the search process. Details have begun to emerge on how things came together.

Other names were more experienced and better known than Diaz, who had toiled in relative obscurity for four years at Middle Tennessee State before becoming the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State this season.

Everywhere Brown turned for advice, Diaz’s name surfaced. His rapid rise was similar to Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas high school coach five years ago.

Soon into his interview Tuesday, Diaz, 36, had already shown the qualities needed in Muschamp’s successor.

Harsin’s journey to Austin was different, although it carried common themes. As offensive coordinator at Boise State, he had been in the public eye since that memorable Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma in 2007. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and Harsin were always options 1A and 1B for Brown, who had already decided that running backs coach Major Applewhite would be co-offensive coordinator.

While Chryst interviewed first, he wanted to pursue the Pittsburgh head coaching job.

Brown turned quickly to Harsin, who might have been a better fit anyway. The well-respected Chryst would have been bringing the ghosts of Woody and Bo with him from the Big Ten. Three yards and a cloud of dust, anyone? While Harsin, 34, utilizes the run more than people realize, his offense is definitely grounded in the 21st century.

Message boards exploded with optimism. If Harsin could turn anti-prospect Kellen Moore into a Heisman candidate, he should be able to rebuild Garrett Gilbert.

Throughout the process, Brown had nearly worn out his iPhone texting players and parents.

The message: Yes, the season was nothing anybody expected, but the program wasn’t broken. He planned to hire the best coaching staff in America, he explained.

Time will tell if he succeeded. He still has an offensive line coach to hire. While Diaz and Harsin are undeniably impressive, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Baylor defeated Texas this past season. Each figures to be as good or better in 2011.

For better or worse, the new staff is the next generation, handpicked by Brown. The Longhorns have taken the first steps beyond 5-7.