Posted: 2:00 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013
By Wescott Eberts
Rod Babers is a guy who has bled for the Texas Longhorns football program, having played cornerback for Texas at a high level from 1999-2002, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors and a spot as a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award in 2002 before bouncing around the NFL and eventually coming back to school to get a communications degree.
Since 2011, he's been the sideline reporter for the IMG-produced Texas radio broadcasts, in addition to co-hosting The Buffet on AM 1300 The Zone and contributing to Horns247.
So when Babers unexpectedly resigned from his position as sideline reporter for those radio broadcasts on Monday, Texas fans immediately began to wonder what exactly went down behind the scenes.
It didn't take long for the following rumor to start making the rounds on the message boards, apparently originating on Orangebloods before making its way to TexAgs:
After the Ole Miss loss, Mack called former All American Longhorn Rod Babers into his office and told him that he was to speak nothing but the company line in his role as UT radio guy or he would be fired. When Babers pushed back and told him that his job was to call things as he sees them, he was given an ultimatum by Mack.
When Babers told Mack that he was a Lifetime Longhorn and wanted the program to succeed, but wouldn't lie to other Longhorns if something was going poorly and it needed to be discussed. Babers told Mack that he bleeds orange, but he's not anyone's hired stooge.
Mack then fired Babers on the spot and told him he would not be returning next year in his role as sideline guy and would not be allowed back into the inner circle when he turns things around. Babers then told Mack that the mere fact that he had time in his day to have the meeting between the two of them when his team had been whipped the previous two weeks was proof that his focus was twisted and that he didn't have what it takes to turn it around. He was then told to leave Mack's office.
Assigning some credibility to such a report is extraordinarily difficult, especially because any such second-, third-, or fourth-hand report like this has gone through various filters and people with various agendas. Assuming that there was some truth to it in the first place, that is.
Gregg Doyel saw and heard some of those rumors as well, so he went to Babers to get the public version of the story, which isn't necessarily the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but it is the version that Babers wants to put out there.
Babers said the story "wasn't true," though it's not clear what exactly that story was as presented by Doyel. In all likelihood, it looked much like the story posted above.
Here's why Babers said he resigned:
He did in fact resign because he felt his desire to speak his mind was creating friction with people at the Texas athletic department. That stuff is true, Babers says. He did receive phone calls and emails from Texas athletic folks, complaining about the things he was saying in his gigs as sideline reporter and radio host [Babers has an afternoon show at KVET 1300 AM in Austin].
Babers said that he was the one who called the meeting with Mack Brown in order to discuss the things that he was saying about Texas football, things that he believed to be true about a program that is clearly struggling now, and that it wasn't nearly as adversarial as described:
And it was amicable. He told me he didn't like some of the things I've said, but he said I have a job to do and he respects that. We talked, and we agreed to disagree, and at the end we hugged it out.
The conflicting desire to do his job as a radio personality and to do his job in the Texas locker room after games was beginning to become a difficult balance to strike, leading to his resignation:
Because there's obviously some tension when I walk into the locker room. I have my opinions and the players know it, and it really is a conflict of interest. Texas has some problems right now, and I'm not part of the solution. I'm part of the problem.
With all that, I couldn't do both shows well, so I chose the radio show over the sideline show.
The tension that Babers is describing is one that many writers and public observers of the Texas program or any other struggling program face -- the tension between absolute honesty and access, with the former often clouding the ability to have the latter. In this case, honesty and access collided, and one had to give.
It's a position made even more difficult for someone like Babers because of his longtime relationship with Brown from his time as a player.
And it's also why the actual truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in between the two conflicting reports, though it's hard to put more credence in an anonymous rumor than in the words of Babers, someone who has to live with and stand by his words every day. Someone who was clearly driven by his integrity in both versions of this story -- none of this is meant to question that integrity, but once again to merely question his ability to tell the truth publicly, and this whole story is about truth in the first place.
Call his version much, much, much closer to the actual version of what happened, but even if the rumor was true, Babers would have to deny it to preserve his relationship with his former coach, right?
The deed having been done and with other gigs to protect, there seems no conceivable way that Babers could publicly admit that the rumors were the truth, if they were. And the fact that it's unclear precisely what Babers was denying makes everything a little bit more difficult to siphon through, too.
Clearly, it's easy to spin in circles with a story like this, eventually landing in the spot that best fits the narrative one would like to construct or reinforce.
Based on first-hand stories we've heard and numerous other rumors of unverifiable veracity, Brown is certainly the type of coach who likes to call members of the media into his office to express his dissatisfaction with their portrayal of events on or off the field at Texas -- that much seems indisputable at this point.
The other rumors are probably best left to the message boards, but suffice it to say that they also indicate a high level of concern for the things that get said in certain spaces, as much as Brown likes to say publicly that he isn't concerned with those things.
Access is control, and the Texas SID likes to exercise that control -- it happened to Babers, even if it didn't come from Brown himself.
The dead, stone-cold truth of what happened in that meeting -- and how exactly it was precipitated -- will probably only ever be known to the principals and perhaps a handful of other connected people.
It would certainly be nice to believe that Brown is the man that Babers wants him to be ("the Mack I know wouldn't send people to tell me he had a problem with me") and not the petty, vindictive man the rumors make him out to be. It's a lot tidier that way and forecasts less immediate doom for the program. It feels better to believe that.
Yeah, it would certainly be nice to believe that. And for it to be true. Maybe, just maybe, it is.