FOR WILL MUSCHAMP, the horde of construction workers responsible for the $176 million renovation of Darrell K. Royal Stadium was a source of inspiration. "I kept seeing all those hard hats out there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I noticed their work ethic," says Muschamp, the coordinator who was hired away from Auburn last January to fix a defense that ranked 109th in the nation in passing yards allowed in 2007.
"I want our players to roll up their sleeves like that and have a blue-collar attitude."
To further that cause, Muschamp created the Hard Hat Award during spring practice. Each day the tackler who delivered the most ferocious hit had his jersey number inscribed on a construction helmet. Longhorns defenders weren't known for such aggressiveness in '07; rather, they became notorious for yielding huge numbers, like the 41 points they gave up to Kansas State and the 38 they surrendered to Texas A&M. So as much as the players are excited about Muschamp's r�sum�—he coordinated the defense on LSU's 2003 national title team and later was an assistant with the Miami Dolphins—they are perhaps most in need of his limitless energy, which manifests itself in everything from pep talks to celebratory chest bumps.
Muschamp's plan is to put his best 11 playmakers on the field, rather than send out the best player at each position. For example, in the spring he moved 275-pound defensive end Lamarr Houston to tackle. By doing so, Muschamp hopes to create protection mismatches in the increasingly pass-happy Big 12. While he was renowned for his blitz schemes at LSU and Auburn, he asserts that "the best pass defense is a pass rush from your front four." Last season the Longhorns had 28 sacks, ranking 54th in the nation.
Junior quarterback Colt McCoy was on the other end of Muschamp's handiwork in the spring game, completing only four of nine passes for 20 yards while repeatedly coming under pressure. "I've gotten better by just going against his defense every day in practice," McCoy says. "It's a challenge because the stuff he's doing—dropping linebackers when you don't expect it, moving safeties at the snap, blitzing in new situations—comes from deep in the book."
McCoy has even sought out Muschamp away from practice to pick his brain on defensive strategies. The other quarterbacks in the Big 12 won't have that luxury.