COLUMN: What the image of Sam said about the Longhorns

1) What the Ehlinger image said about Texas…
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Between the columns, tweets, e-mails, and Facebook and message board posts, the Longhorn universe, including those covering the program, hit the over a long time ago.

By now you’ve seen it. Sam Ehlinger nearly put his team and the entire Texas program on his back and carried them to an improbable win at the Cotton Bowl against despised nemesis Oklahoma. In the fourth overtime, he came up short. Dejected and drenched with sweat and every ounce of mental and physical juice he could give, he collected himself, begrudgingly congratulated the Oklahoma players nearby, and slowly carried his dead legs and battered body to the sideline closest to the Texas fans.

Surrounded by coaches told they had to be there by the fast-talking athletic director in the loud suit no longer able to shield him from criticism, Ehlinger, basically, stood there alone during “The Eyes of Texas” with another player or two nearby and coaches in the shot. During one of his most heartbreaking moments at Texas, Ehlinger had all the reasons to get deep into his feelings and think about himself. He could have soaked up those last minutes in the Cotton Bowl selfishly. Instead, he thought of those in the seats and the name across his chest. Because that’s the type of thing a leader does.

As Ehlinger gripped his helmet and raised an exhausted right arm in the air, the image created made a couple things crystal clear: the leadership nearby he’s helped earn extensions and millions failed him totally and completely, and the Texas Longhorns are not a team.

Sure, the Longhorns compete until the final whistle and give good effort. They might win some more games too. But teams don’t leave Sam freaking Ehlinger after that freaking effort out there on his own for the entire world to see.

Yes, there are complicated, stirring historical layers to “The Eyes of Texas,” layers I didn’t know existed until 15 years after I proudly graduated from The University of Texas. Failing to place that in 2020’s context and acknowledge its possible impact on young people would make all these words ring hollow; to put it another way, it would be a bunch of disingenuous bullshit. Who am I to tell student-athletes how to act or feel, especially after all that’s happened in 2020? It’s impossible for me to even imagine a day in their shoes.

But the bond created by being a part of a team is supposed to put the people inside that locker room above all else. When a person is at his lowest, teammates are supposed to be there to pick him up. After a four-overtime loss to a rival, the senior who took the biggest beating and accounted for six touchdowns was basically left alone (besides Cameron Dicker, Zach Edwards and perhaps a couple others) while burnt orange fans stood to show their appreciation. No one had to raise any horns or sing any words. All they needed to do was be by a teammate. And maybe acknowledge those fans, those FAMILY MEMBERS of players, and the name across their chest instead of practicing 40 times back to the locker room. People want to see a team that cares about the name across the chest like they do. What they saw was the dejected, exhausted leader at the center of a ring of coaches who wanted to be elsewhere.

A football team is supposed to reflect its head coach and its leadership. On Monday, Tom Herman spoke about how unified this team is. C’mon, man. The same quarterback pictured in the viral photo just called out the team’s discipline and desire to win last week. And they went out and proved him right Saturday against one of the worst Oklahoma teams of the last decade because that’s the predominant culture created.

Because the leadership failed Ehlinger moments after the football team failed again, it created the type of shitstorm – let’s be honest that’s exactly what it is – that almost always results in change.

2) The only thing unified about Texas Football right now…

Back in the offseason when Tom Herman was saying and doing all the right things and the Longhorns were a unified brotherhood, the most powerful image worth a thousand words was a Texas team marching arm-in-arm to the State Capitol.

Now, the only thing unified is how much the Longhorn fan base wants change. And it’s for that reason I’m not ruling anything out. Anything.

Before the Oklahoma game, I didn’t think the frustrated talk from fans about making a change at head coach was much more than a remote possibility, and that’s almost entirely because of the current financial climate. I thought the chances of Texas making the biggest change to its football program were slightly above zero…


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