Who’s to blame for recent losing streak? As questions surround Texas football program, locker room divide comes to forefront

Nathan Han, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the November 16 flipbook. 

Keondre Coburn hasn’t had this bad of a losing streak since middle school. The senior defensive tackle said his worst season of football ever was when his seventh grade team went 0-7.

“They still kept (the middle school coach),” Coburn said. “I was mad.”

After last Saturday’s 57-56 loss to Kansas, similar questions are being asked of the Texas coaching staff, albeit on a slightly bigger scale.

New head coach Steve Sarkisian inherited a 7-3 roster that lost its three combined games by 17 points. So, when a program like Texas loses to a program like Kansas as part of a five-game losing streak in his first year, there are bound to be questions about the coaching staff.

Chief among them: Have players tuned the new head coach out already?

“I don’t know,” Sarkisian said. “You’d have to ask them that question. I feel good about our messaging. I think we got great leaders on the team. But you’d have to ask them that question.”

When players, including leaders like Coburn and redshirt junior quarterback Casey Thompson, were asked in the Monday media availability, they all backed up their head coach.

But Thompson and standout freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy were also clear: Some players have not fully bought in.

“Like Coach Sark said, we’re going to find out who’s really down to earth about this stuff,” Worthy said. “We’re going to find out this weekend.”

“Obviously I think that we need to have everyone bought in,” Thompson said. “That has not been the case.”

Two remarkably candid answers from the two offensive leaders after the loss to Kansas, which saw a third, sophomore running back Bijan Robinson, suffer a season-ending elbow injury. 

But signs of locker room tension, if not a locker room divide, have been festering for the past two weeks. The biggest flashing neon sign of them all? The now infamous leak of defensive line coach Bo Davis chewing out players on a team bus after the Week 9 loss to Iowa State.

As Thompson and other defensive players pointed out, the problem with the video wasn’t Davis’ tone or language. It was the fact that the video leaked in the first place.

“He wasn’t purposely doing it,” Thompson said. “I actually think that he was already recording a video on social media on his phone and just happened to catch that. Somebody shared it at the end of the day, and that’s how it got out.”

Thompson called the mistake an “unfortunate situation.” The quarterback also indicated he knew who the person was, although he obviously didn’t share who publicly.

“Eventually, I think that whether it’s public or not, people will find out once Coach Sark decides to handle that the way he wants to,” Thompson said.

But no matter what ends up happening with the video, Sarkisian’s sway with the locker room, along with the influence of assistant coaches like defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, will be under questioning until Texas can stop losing. 

Both Sarkisian and Thompson described the locker room as split into three groups: group one, all in, totally committed; group two, still trying to figure it out; and group three.

“And we’ve got a few guys in group three, who frankly, that really don’t know,” Sarkisian said. “My job is to continually try to bring those guys up one level.

Thompson quantified the third group of players, “guys who don’t care, guys who don’t want to be in the program,” as 10% of the team. He also said it was fairly typical of any football team to have 10% in that third group.

But, as the losses keep piling up and the hot seat gets as hot as it can get for a first-year head coach with a six-year coaching contract, questions will continue about that last 10%, and whether Sarkisian and his fellow coaches can bring them up for Texas to win.

Thompson said his worst football season was his freshman year of high school, when he started at quarterback for the varsity squad but went 4-6, ironically, the same record of the Longhorns currently.

And while these last two games won’t change if history books call this season a failure, the matchups against West Virginia and Kansas State will determine one thing: who’s in, and who’s out.

“We’re at a point right now where we have to figure out what we got,” Thompson said.