Putting a frame around the Mack Brown era at Texas
After 16 seasons and one very awkward week, the Mack Brown era at Texas is over.
This was truly an era in every sense of the word. From the Ricky Williams Heisman Trophy season of 1998 to the Simms-Applewhite quarterback controversy of 1999-2001 to the 15-year Red River War with Bob Stoops to the Big 12 South three-way tie of 2008 to slow burn of 2010-13, books will be written about Brown's time as the head 'Horn. Look at it this way: when Mack left Chapel Hill for Austin in December 1997, you logged on to the Internet by way of an AOL compact disc if you logged on at all. Brown took over in an era when every snap started under center and survived through the first, second and third incarnation of the spread offense. For today's high school recruits, Mack Brown is literally the only Texas football coach they've ever known. (On a personal level, I was nine years old when Brown took over at Texas. Today I hold a degree from the University of Texas, two kids and a mortgage.)
He claimed wins over future College Football Hall of Famers Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, Lloyd Carr, Nick Saban, Les Miles, Pete Carroll, Bill Snyder and current Hal of Famer R.C. Slocum, but a new crop of coaches - Art Briles, Mike Gundy and Kevin Sumlin - were his ultimate undoing. Brown was 2-6 against Briles and Gundy since 2010 - two losses in 2013 cost Texas a Big 12 championship - and Sumlin's 11-win, Heisman Trophy-claiming debut campaign in the SEC changed the recruiting landscape in the Lone Star State.
His teams had a Houdini-like talent for pulling wins out of nowhere - 2005 over Michigan, 2006 over USC, 2009 over Nebraska and 2011 over Texas A&M immediately come to mind - and were an almost impossible 26-7 in games decided by four points or less. It was the not-so-close games Brown struggled with, the infamous four Red River Shootout blowouts, and 11 losses by 17 points or more since 2010, including all four of Texas' losses this season.
Brown won one national championship, played for another, won three BCS games, took home two Big 12 titles and claimed a share of three Big 12 South championships. He leaves Austin as the 10th-winningest coach in college football history. But it was the conference titles Texas left on the table under Brown that keep him on the outside looking in at any Coach of the Decade discussions; Texas dropped the 2001 Big 12 title game as a heavy favorite and came within one win of reaching a conference or division championship in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2013.
Brown revolutionized recruiting in Texas, often wrapping up three-fourths of his class by the end of April. Texas was a fixture at the top of the recruiting rankings, but his inability to land a quarterback capable of carrying his team following Colt McCoy's departure proved to be his ultimate undoing. It feels somewhere between ironic and fitting that, as word of his resignation leaked half an hour ahead of the Heisman ceremony, a third consecutive Heisman-winning quarterback was crowned - plus 2012 No. 1 NFL Draft pick Andrew Luck - either hailed from Texas or linked themselves to the Longhorns, and Brown signed none of them.
Brown completely redefined how the nation views the Texas job and how Texas views itself. He won at a high level on the field and annually taught a master's class in public relations through his handling of the media, Texas high school coaches, alumni, donors and former players. Under Brown, the Longhorn emblem became a burnt orange dollar sign. Texas now makes more money than any program in college athletics, and the university's endowment grew nearly $7 billion under Mack's watch. But it will be his off-the-field accomplishments that will earn the top line status of any biography of Brown's 16-year tenure in Austin.
That the Texas job is thought of as one of the absolute best jobs in college football is a sign of respect for Mack Brown. It wasn't that way when he got to Texas. "The standard is set really high here and I'm darn proud we were a part of setting that standard," Brown said.
In the end, Brown new he became a victim of his own success. And he's okay with it. "We used to win 12 and 13 and we won eight....We set a standard at this place, you better win all of them. That's the expectation, and I understand that. I'm a big boy. I understand that you better win all the games or people are unhappy. Other people love eight wins, this place isn't that way and I agree with them. I do not think that we lived up to the standards that we had set since 2010."
Texas is 30-20 since the beginning of the 2010 season, the first time Texas has lost at least four games in four consecutive seasons since 1991-94. "It's time for Texas to get back in the mix like we were from '04 to '09. That was a wonderful run and it was a lot of fun, but we haven't lived up to those expectations since 2010," Brown said. "There are great young players on this team and the future is very bright."
Brown said that he met with Texas president Bill Powers and athletics director Steve Patterson Friday afternoon and again Saturday, and the group mutually agreed for him to step down. "There was still a divided fan base and that's not fair for Texas, that's not fair for our players, that's not fair for our coaches because they continued to be under undue pressure. It was time for me to move on and let someone else come in and restart the program.
On the subject of someone else, Patterson is now charged with handling what may become the mother of all coaching searches. A list of names tossed out by the media just in the past week: Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Richt, Gus Malzahn, Dabo Swinney, Les Miles, James Franklin, Charlie Strong, Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, Bill O'Brien, Todd Graham, David Shaw, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Jim Mora, Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh, Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin. That's the type of hoopla Patterson will wade through in coming weeks. The eyes of the entire nation will be upon this search.
No one will watch with more amusement than the man being replaced. "Steve and Bill will get them a new, exciting coach Everybody will be pumped," Brown said. "He's undefeated already. He hasn't lost a game at Texas. The most successful run I had was from the time I took the job 16 years ago until the first game. After that it gets tougher."
"We're going to go out and find the best football coach we can for the University of Texas. I think the key is setting the criteria, getting some clarity around that and moving as expeditiously as possible to hire the best coach we can as quickly as we can," Patterson said.
But the new Texas coach is a drama for a different day. Sunday was about saying goodbye to the old Texas coach, and Mack was never more Mack than Sunday afternoon. When asked if he had any regrets in 16 years, Brown cited the Texas A&M bonfire tragedy of 1999 and Longhorn defensive end Cole Pittman's fatal car accident in 2001.
"If you asked me what I would want to be remembered for, it would be pretty simple," said Brown. "I would want to be remembered for bringing some joy to Texas, getting us back on track. The standard is set much higher now than it was when I was here, so that should help us have to live up to that standard from now. I would think the second thing would be that I did it with integrity and class. And I would think the third thing is the wonderful young people that have gone through this university that have good lives and are better citizens."
Sunday was about waving goodbye to an era, to a time that will be remembered in books someday.
One person who may pen a book about the Mack Brown era? Mack Brown himself. "Being the head football coach at Texas is very interesting," he said.