The trademark Houndstooth hat, the signature cigar, the menacing stare and
gravelly voice … no, I’m not referring to Bear Bryant, but to my high school
head coach, Shannon Suarez. Coach Suarez introduced me to Alabama football in
Sulphur, Louisiana. Practices at Sulphur High were patterned after Coach
Bryant’s Alabama practices, peppered with Coach Suarez’ experiences in
discipline he’d gleaned from his time with the Marines. It was quite the
combination for the young men playing for the Golden Tors in the late 60’s and
Even today you can’t call Coach Suarez at his home when his beloved Alabama
is playing; he won’t take the call. His daughter, Kristi, will tell you he’s too
focused on the game to talk at the moment. I was the head coach in Marble Falls,
Texas in 1988 the last time our two teams met and it wasn’t me on the
smiley-face side when that game was over. In fact, the only time A&M has
beaten Alabama was on New Year’s Day in 1968. The following season Coach Suarez
took the Golden Tors to the state championship game, losing a close one to
former Buffalo Bills star quarterback, Joe Ferguson, and Woodlawn of
Coach Suarez, an anecdote-creating machine of a human being, is the main
character in my book, “I’ll Tell You When You’re Good!” These words, with the emphasis on “I’ll” while pointing to his chest, are what he would tell us to keep us from getting too full of ourselves because of our success. It allowed us to realize there was always room for improvement and that we were either getting better or getting worse, and never staying the same.
Speaking of continuously getting better, I get a chuckle occasionally from
fans who assert the A&M coaching staff needs to reduce Johnny Manziel’s
running and insist he stand in the pocket and deliver the football downfield.
This primeval mindset reminds me of my first start for Texas A&M. It was
long ago … in primeval times. I was a skinny 17 year-old kid starting my first
college game just out of high school, when I ran with the ball 19 times in a
35-16 win over TCU at Amon Carter Stadium. It was the first win for the Ags over
the Horned Frogs in five tries and evened our SWC record at 1-1.
We were running the Wishbone for its devoted Father, coach Emory Bellard. For
you who are not familiar with this formation, it was an option offense with a
full-house backfield in which I faked to the fullback and zipped to the corner
to isolate the defensive end, strong safety or cornerback for either a pitchout
or a keeper.
It was fast and lightning-quick and a blast to run. We set school records for
scoring, rushing yardage, first downs — you know, all that stuff. Incredibly,
the first thing I heard after returning to College Station was that the staff
was going to discuss changing things up offensively so I wouldn’t have the
“burden” of carrying the ball so often. My reaction was, “Hey, if you want to
change something, how about throwing more than three times a game?”
After all, I had a five-yard per carry average and had executed everything
just as they had drawn it up, and now after a huge win for our program in a game
that was error and turnover-free, I suddenly had the coaches wanting to limit my
opportunities. I mean, wasn’t this the whole idea behind option
football? You had to think quickly, run fast and go score; end of
story. The game really hasn’t changed since then because the requirements and
the goals are all still the same.
For those fans bent on reducing our offensive capabilities for the sake of protecting our quarterback, you can henceforth forget about it.
I don’t think the coaches have any more intention of restricting the talents
and instincts of Johnny Manziel than they do of apologizing to “Old Army” fogies
for wearing those cool jet-black uniforms last Saturday. In fact, those guys in
the white Hail State jerseys who were honoring Jackie and their once-upon-a-time
Independence Bowl victory were looking for some serious shelter immediately
after the first couple of drives.
The Black Knights devoured them on defense and dissected them like skilled
surgeons on offense, and it was our man Johnny who was wielding Excalibur. It
was not only a huge win, but one of the most artistic I’ve ever seen — well,
until you drop back a week to the Auburn game.
I refer to the Texas A&M Aggies in tweets and posts now as the Texas
“Football” Aggies. This of course has its precedents, such as the “New York
Football Giants” and our current Heisman Trophy candidate, Johnny “Football”
Manziel. Viewing our players’ heads adorned with proportionally perfect emblems
of the state of Texas boldly painted on those Black-streaming-Maroon helmets
further emphasized this new direction.
The Aggies’ Stun Gun assault with its quick-witted sharpshooter at the helm
has redefined football in the Lone Star state. Texas A&M can now be seen
steamrolling talent-wise, recruiting-wise and P.R.-wise like never before as the
Home of the 12th Man grows even more massive.
As we once said as kids, “The one who laughs last, laughs loudest.”
Now we even get to say it as adults.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles pinpointing this A&M season,
you’ve noticed my grading system is not all sunshine and roses. I coached the
“Spread” offense mixed in with other multiple formations for years in high
school, and after much tutoring would hand the offense over to my quarterbacks
come game time.
My quarterbacks had complete autonomy to audible into anything they
recognized as a better call while at the line of scrimmage. A large percentage
of the time we just went with “Check with Me” as our huddle call. This gave our
team confidence and produced results and was taking place some 25 years ago.
Then, like now, the key was execution.
Once in a tied ball game with less than two minutes left, on fourth and one,
our quarterback decided the deep fade route was a better call than the dive play
that came in from the sidelines. Of course, while everyone was yelling, “No,
no!” and the receiver’s mom was in the stands saying, “Oh, please God, not my
boy,” the long pass dropped in perfectly over his shoulder and we picked up a
huge first down at the opponents’ five yard line. This, mind you, was high
I’ve heard a little personal criticism on occasion about my fondness for
Johnny Manziel as a quarterback, like, since the very first time I saw him play
the game. I said then, even on a day when we didn’t come out the winner, he’s
the best there’s ever been — at this university, anyway. I’ve noticed recently
that the naysayers have somehow either vanished or are out in the fields
somewhere hunting crows.
Somehow the Polls make you feel cheated when you’re
doing well and the team chemistry is exactly where it needs to be. The Super
Bowl and the World Series always boil down to the two teams that have fought
their way through the season and then the playoffs. In other college sports it’s
the same format, even in the smaller classifications of football. You get the
nod and you have a chance.
Seeing this outstanding football team ranked only 15th this week in the BCS is somewhat of an injustice. I know every Aggie feels this way. A 5-0 road record and two close losses by a total of eight points to the No. 6 and No. 7 teams in the country should give the Aggies a little more street cred than we’re getting. But we’re not alone.
At this point in the season there are really only three schools with legitimate chances at the championship: Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon. Three others are on the outside looking in and these teams, in my estimation, are Notre Dame, Georgia and Florida. Even Major League Baseball saw the logic in adding another Wild Card team for each league this season because so many more people out there can maintain hope. It holds your interest.
The good news is there will
be a Final Four coming soon — to be chosen by a committee.
The Texas Aggies travel to Tuscaloosa this weekend to play Team USA Number
One, the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Aggies like to talk about the historical
relationships between the two schools, many of which most Roll Tide fans are
totally unaware of.
I ran into A&M’s only Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, at the post
office the other day. When the Wishbone offense came up in our conversation,
John David told me a great story about his coaching days under Bear Bryant at
He said Coach Bryant made his decision to go with the Wishbone offense just
before two-a-day practices were to begin. Having no time to put together an
actual playbook, they went the entire season without one, eventually winning the
national championship. John David said Coach Bryant decided from then on not to
put a playbook together after they’d had so much success without one. Now that’s
This fast-forwards me to Nick Saban. If there is indeed a formula for
surrounding yourself with the best and then getting the very best out of all of
them, then Coach Saban owns it. We all know how the Crimson Tide floundered for
years after former A&M head coach Gene Stallings led them to a national
championship. They were as desperate as any former iconic football program had
ever been to get its resurgence going and Coach Saban, via LSU and the Miami
Dolphins, was the ticket.
He has a quarterback there, AJ McCarron, who already has one championship
ring and has been in the Heisman conversation all season. He’s led the nation
most of this season in passer rating. Right now McCarron is the third choice to
win the Heisman behind favorite Collin Klein of Kansas State and Kenjon Barner
of Oregon, the talented running back now making a big late push. McCarron led a
beautiful game-winning drive in his first real test of the year to beat the
Tigers 21-17 last Saturday. It was epic.
Still hanging around in the Top 7 is the redshirt freshman phenom from
Aggieland, Johnny Manziel. While Johnny Football is virtually destroying his
Heisman Trophy competition statistically, his “freshman” status and playing for
a school that only recently burst onto the national scene are preventing him
from scrambling into this esteemed end zone as well. Unlike former counterparts
of the system he amazingly runs so efficiently, Johnny has innate talents the
others could only dream of possessing. Fortunately, in my estimation, Johnny
will never be accused of being a product of the system. He creates astonishingly
within the system, an ability which only a select few can boast about in such
In fact, the top two total offensive guys in the country just happen to play
football ninety miles apart. They’re Texas A&M’s Manziel (383.2)and Baylor’s
senior quarterback, Nick Florence (412.25). Florence is responsible for 95.2% of
the Baylor quarterbacks’ passing and rushing attempts thus far this season,
while Manziel has only 90.2% of the Aggies’. A similar percentage of plays for
Johnny would place him at 404.4 yards per game. Regardless, this dude can
Now, how do we beat the Alabama defense the way we did Auburn’s and
Mississippi State’s? It’s simple; we keep our second down conversion rate at
51%. That’s right, second
down conversions were key in whipping Auburn and the Bulldogs. Stay
away from third down conversions, but when these do pop up, convert them at our
nationally third-ranked 54.3-percent rate. And do it so fast there’s no time for
the television guys to even show instant replays.
Get in the Game, TV dudes!
This approach produces focus, momentum, keeps drives alive and puts points on
the board, provided we convert all of our scoring opportunities. Just ask Bobby
Bowden if a field goal here and there can’t win a few close ones for you.
Escape and separation abilities by our receivers will be the key to winning.
We have the talent and the experience to do this.
Until last week’s scare in Death Valley, the Crimson Tide led the country in
Red Zone offense AND Red Zone defense. They’ve dropped to third in each and now
face the fourth-highest scoring team around. With A&M feeling like it let
LSU escape with back-to-back turnovers five minutes before halftime, combined
with Alabama’s equally close call with the Tigers, the Aggies should enter
Bryant-Denny Stadium very confident they can earn their second win in the
school’s history in the state of Alabama.
It’s apparently going to be a tall order with the handicappers installing the
defending national champions as two touchdown favorites, but fortunately,
underdogs such as us win football games every weekend of the season. Just ask
former Alabama star, Joe Namath. His New York Jets were given no chance against
the behemoth Baltimore Colts of the National Football League. The Jets were
“I guarantee we win,” said Johnny, uh, Joe Willie Namath before the big game.
The Aggies have soared high above expectations both offensively and
defensively in its previous two SEC road games. Should we win, it will be our
first sweep of a three-game road trip since 1975 when the Aggies had its
all-time best defense. Ours this season isn’t No. 1 but it’s certainly going to
fight you tooth and nail to the very end. They also got the big turnover last
Saturday to quell any hopes of a comeback by Mississippi State. That play was
When it’s all said and done, I’m very much looking forward to seeing who’s
wearing the smiley face after this showdown is completed.