The Texas Longhorns are Learning to Fly but can they land the plane?

Eric Nahlinby:Eric Nahlin11/19/23

For many of you, Learning to Fly is a classic Tom Petty song. For others, it’s your favorite Michael Jordan video, narrowly edging out Come Fly With Me. Personally, I’ll take the Jordan video because it includes the Petty song. 

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Maybe the title should be Learnt to Fly because Texas is 5-0 on the road after last night’s victory in Iowa. While some programs can’t buy a win on the road for $76 million, Steve Sarkisian‘s Longhorns just cruised to a perfect record when at their opponent’s house. The Longhorns waltzed into Tuscaloosa, Waco, Houston, Fort Worth, and Ames, and sat down on the couch and clipped their toenails.

Since going 5-7 in his first year, Sark has exorcised demons left and right — never with the rapidity some fans would like but nevertheless. Think of all the slain narratives since 2021. Whether it was recruiting or addressing on-field shortcomings Sark has made his executive honey-do list his b****. 

What I like about this Texas team is even though it hadn’t previously won at a relevant clip, it has won this year despite increased expectations. Normally expectations follow success. This Texas team had expectations prior to success. It has not always been pretty, but this team has been its best when situations were the most difficult, when the team was forced to live up to those expectations. 

Learning to Fly goes beyond the players and extends to the coaches. Sark and Pete Kwiatkwoski have reached amazing heights at previous stops but not at Texas and not together. Sark has often had the crutch of a coach or two who belong on this century’s Mt. Rushmore. PK has had another great to lean on in Chris Petersen and also Jimmy Lake, who did some heavy lifting as a co-coordinator for PK’s best defenses.

Since you’re a Sicko and follow the team incrementally, it’s harder to see the improvement the defense has made. That incrementalism is why diets fail. Results aren’t happening fast enough, make a change! But Sark and PK have maintained patience to their process and the results are showing. Take a transformation pic from 2021 to 2023 and tell me what you see. I see a jawline, abs, confidence.  

This is Steve Sarkisian’s 10th year as a head coach yet it’s the first year he’s won 10 games. I wonder how many coaches have had that many seasons without reaching the 10-win plateau. Either coaches win or get Peter Principled. Even some pretty average or even bad coaches have won 10 games. 

But, context was always on Sark’s side when it came to the simple trope. He was well on his way to winning 10 games at Washington before moving to USC where his career derailed before he had time to win 10 games. Ask Chris Petersen if he thinks Sark would have won 10 games had he stayed at Washington. Or ask PK for that matter.

With 10 wins in the bag, what now? With one goal down it’s time to play and win a trophy or two. The external goal has been to win the Big 12. The hushed internal goal has been higher. While some fans are reluctant to talk about the playoffs, expectations should always be set on the highest achievable mantle. 

Up next for Texas is Texas Tech. If the Longhorns win Friday they’ll likely face Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship.

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Win that game and it’s into the great wide open.

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