With his time at Texas winding down, senior John Chiles sat in front of his locker, head buried in his hands, wondering what has gone so miserably wrong.
“A lot of things in life don’t go your way,” Chiles said. “That’s what I’m learning to try to take from all of this.”
He had forgotten the submerged and suffocating feeling of being on a losing team. In the midst of Texas’ monumental fall from grace, Chiles might be the biggest victim of Texas’ stubbornness on offense.
“We’ve taken everything for granted for a long time, and now those little things are starting to come back to bite us,” he said.
If there’s anything or anyone that has been taken for granted, it’s Chiles. Being mishandled and misused is nothing new for him.
“We want Chiles, we want Chiles,” Longhorn fans often chanted in 2007 during his freshman year. As the backup quarterback to Colt McCoy for his first two seasons, Chiles was a popular guy. McCoy struggled at times, and when Chiles had his chances, he shined. For fans still hung over from the 2005 national championship, the dual-threat quarterback was much more like Vince Young than McCoy would ever be.
But McCoy’s stardom took off, and Chiles was forced to rummage for opportunities. He was far too talented to sit the bench, so coaches used him as quarterback, running back and receiver in his sophomore season. In everything he was asked to do, he excelled.
Chiles was always an anomaly for Texas coaches. Despite his success at quarterback in high school, Chiles was a five-star recruit at receiver out of Mansfield Summit. By most accounts, he was a better receiver than current NFL rookies Dez Bryant, Golden Tate and Joe Haden. He was a more heralded recruit than current Heisman candidates Cam Newton of Auburn and Kellen Moore of Boise State.
“He’s a heck of an athlete,” said Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis when Chiles arrived in 2007. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
So what has gone wrong for Chiles at Texas?
Texas head coach Mack Brown told him that he would have a chance to play quarterback. But McCoy’s success foiled that, and after his sophomore year, Chiles had finally had enough.
“I talked to my family, the coaches and everyone close to me and came to the realization that I can really help the team at receiver,” Chiles said at the time. “I’m willing to do anything to help us win games and make another run at a championship, which is the ultimate goal.”
Chiles had no bitterness about the move and had finally found a way to emerge from the shadows to. His 34 catches for 319 yards in 2009 helped Texas reach the national championship game.
Enter Garrett Gilbert.
With Chiles no longer McCoy’s successor at quarterback, the coaches put all of their faith in Gilbert. But now Texas is 4-5, and digging a continuously deeper hole with Gilbert at the helm. Human nature would presumably instill discontent in the man who was meant to be the star.
But that’s not the case for Chiles. Instead of hounding coaches for his right to win at Texas like he had envisioned, Chiles is there to mentor Gilbert. He experienced the same head-swirling side effects of the position.
“I talk to him almost every series to make sure he’s not getting frustrated,” Chiles said. “When he’s flustered, our whole offense is shot.”
In a few weeks, Chiles will wear the Texas uniform for the final time. It has been a turbulent three years of moving, watching from the sideline and making a lot out of a little. It’s impossible to predict his future and whether there’s a place for him in the NFL. But the biggest curiosity is not what he could become but rather what he could have been.
“Losing really frustrates me at night,” Chiles said. “Most of the time, I don’t get much sleep. But whatever happens, we have to hold our heads high.”