Chemistry is tricky, especially in football. The old cliché is that you need ’11 players’ to work together, meaning the players who are on the pitch at any given time.
The reality is that you need A LOT more players than that for it to work. Starters, backups, third strings. Creating that chemistry is an art, frankly, and in college football, it encompasses everything from recruiting to offseason practices to actual games.
Nick Saban from Alabama has a “process” because it works, but it also makes it look like a paint-by-numbers canvas that anyone can use. Saban’s talent is to paint outside the lines in a way that doesn’t even look like what he does.
Part of the reason the Longhorns hired Steve Sarkisian was because he worked for Saban, and lately Saban’s former apprentices seem more and more willing to give their own masterclasses.
Jimbo Fisher already has a national championship with Florida State, and with Texas A&M, he’s created a 2022 recruiting class that could completely change that program.
Georgia, led by former Saban defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, has just won its first national title.
For every Smart, of course, there’s a Jeremy Pruitt. Not all of Michelangelo’s apprentices got bigger and better.
So at a time of year when you rely on the scoreboard as a guide, you’re looking for signs that the chemistry a team like Texas badly needs is simmering.
Sarkisian offered some insight on Saturday night when asked what has improved between last offseason and this offseason.
Lots of talk about quarterbacks, of course.
But Sarkisian then revealed an offhand comment from one of his players during training earlier this spring.
This player told Sarkissian that no one on the team wanted to let the others down.
“That’s one of the coolest things a player has said to me since I’ve been here,” Sarkisian said.
He called the comment a “big step” from January. It could also be a huge step up from last season when this team seemed to be collapsing collectively, at least on the pitch, as they finished 5-7.
It’s a small thing, of course, but it’s encouraging. Sarkisian admitted that the other area where his team has improved is football IQ.
The Longhorns have emphasized situational football during training, although he made sure to stress that “everything is situational football”, but some situations are more special than others. In fact, Sarkissian went through almost all of these special situations on Saturday.
But football IQ can be taught, trained and honed. Chemistry? It’s much more tricky.
Coaches can do everything they can during the recruitment process (and the re-recruitment process in the case of transfers) to find like-minded players who share their vision and values.
But, ultimately, there’s a degree to throwing some 90 disparate people into one room and watching what happens when people stop being polite and start being real.
We are not past the polite phase of the offseason.
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But, according to Sarkissian, if you build lasting chemistry now, it can help you get through those times when things start to get real. You know, maybe early September against Alabama?
“When you have a real team and you rely on each other and you can rely on each other, that’s a positive sign,” Sarkisian said.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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