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September 10, 2013
Mack Brown Era on the line Saturday vs Ole Miss
The answer landed somewhere between perception and reality, which is where Mack Brown has been living the last three-plus years.
"You can look at it either way. You can look at it as there's enough good players that he thinks this will fix it, or you can look at it as panic," Brown said Monday of his decision to fire Manny Diaz as defensive coordinator and replace him with Greg Robinson. "I'm trying to fix it."
It doesn't matter what radio talk shows, Twitter or college football pundits think of Mack's view - only what his coaches and players think of it.
And after giving up 550 yards rushing in a 40-21 loss at BYU with plenty of sideline drama between Mack Brown and his defensive assistants, that answer is unknown.
If they buy in, Mack Brown has a chance to hang on in what has become a week-to-week episode of Survivor.
If they don't, the end of the Mack Brown era could, for all practical purposes, come Saturday night against Ole Miss in DKR if it's another ugly, BYU-style loss.
In the past three-plus years, Mack Brown's program has gone from an incredible run of 69-9 stretching from 2004 to 2009, including a crystal football and two other BCS titles, to being the target of criticism, negative recruiting and insert-punch-line-here second-guessing.
Last week, a 2-year-old story was retweeted that included a quote from Florida State QB Jameis Winston to a Texas-based reporter a week before signing day in 2012 saying he wanted to go to Texas.
After being blamed for misjudging or miscasting or just plain missing on every QB to win the Heisman or to go No. 1 in the NFL Draft the past five years, this was an easy Twitter dagger at Texas' increasingly beleaguered coach.
Forget the fact the kid had never included Texas on a recruiting list the previous year and a half.
The point is, no one used to make fun of Mack Brown when it came to recruiting. It was the one area Brown seemed untouchable.
Brown was the recruiting pied piper, selling players and parents on a family atmosphere provided by he and wife, Sally. The four- and five-star recruits flooded in.
Fish jumped in the boat, in part, because Brown constantly catered to Texas high school coaches, who in turn, seemed to encourage their student-athletes to head to Austin.
But those days are long gone.
The blood is in the water. The sharks are circling.
I was on ESPN's Outside The Lines Monday for a show titled "Trouble at Texas and USC." Mack Brown and Lane Kiffin are being lumped together as coaches on life support.
That's where things are.
Brown, who is 16 victories from replacing Darrell Royal as the winningest coach in Longhorns' history, is being lumped in with the toxic Lane Kiffin, who hasn't won a thing as a head coach.
The theme of Outside the Lines was how far Texas and USC have fallen since meeting for the national title in 2005.
The reason Texas was being featured on OTL, of course, was the pulverizing in Provo and Brown's subsequent decision to fire Manny Diaz and replace him with Greg Robinson.
As I listened to Brown on Monday, I heard a man trying to impose his will on a desperate situation.
Players said they were shocked.
Who knows if they'll see the dismissal of Diaz as Brown sees it?
It could lead to the answer Brown hopes for. Or it could be the reason the players check out on Brown in what would probably be a fatal blow.
Brown hopes Saturday's game against Ole Miss could be the dawn of a new day. But it could just as easily be the beginning of the end of a 16-year run at Texas for Mack Brown, one of the best and most important coaches in Texas Longhorns' history.
Mack united a Texas football program in 1998 that had been fractured for 22 years - ever since Darrell Royal stepped down in 1976.
Royal was not allowed by regents Frank Erwin and former Texas Gov. Allan Shivers to name his defensive coordinator Mike Campbell as his replacement, because they thought Royal had too much power.
Instead, Fred Akers was named coach, and the Texas fan base was divided.
Akers nearly won two national titles in 1977 and 1984 and won 72 percent the games he coached at Texas. But after his first losing season in 1985, he was canned because the Royal loyalists finally got their way.
Akers was replaced by David McWilliams, who played for Royal on the 1963 national championship team.
But McWilliams' tenure had just one season up to Texas standards (1990), and he was seen as disheveled and disorganized. So he was replaced by the OCD, pressed-and-cleaned John Mackovic.
Six years later, after high highs (3 conference titles) and low lows - the 1997 season included Rout 66 (UCLA's 66-3 win in Austin) and the opponent goal-post tear-down tour, Mackovic was gone.
And the Texas fan base was still fractured.
In came Mack Brown, who took Texas on what seemed like a magic carpet ride in his debut season in 1998.
There was a historical win at Nebraska, ending the Cornhuskers' nation-leading, 47-game home winning streak; a Heisman Trophy for Ricky Williams; and a Cotton Bowl victory over former Texas A&M villian Jackie Sherrill (then coach at Mississippi State).
The wins and money piled up from 1998 through 2004. Mack's first ever conference title and a national title came in the same year (2005).
The Horns missed out on another Big 12 title (and most likely a shot at a national title) in 2008, losing a BCS computer tiebreaker with OU .9351 to .9223 and then won the Big 12 and played for a national title in 2009.
That was then. This is now.
Today's Texas fan started truly checking out on Brown after last year's 63-21 loss to Oklahoma. It was the third straight loss to OU and the second straight by an average of 40 points.
At least when Bob Stoops paddled Brown 63-14 in 2000 and 65-13 in 2003, the Sooners went on to play for national titles.
The last two years, OU finished the year in the Insight Bowl and Cotton Bowl (where the Sooners were trampled by Johnny Manziel).
Texas' blasting by BYU was a warp-speed return to those OU beatdowns, and fans can't seem to take it anymore after three years of 5-7, 8-5 and 9-4 and an 11-15 Big 12 record.
Mack Brown won't be fired by athletic director DeLoss Dodds or school president Bill Powers. Brown's made their jobs too easy the past 15 years as record athletic department revenues poured in ($163 million last year, including $100 million from football).
Mack and Jerry Jones have long shared the ability to convert hope into cash.
But if the Texas program goes completely on tilt this season, Brown would probably walk away and spare Dodds and Powers any more grief from Longhorn Nation.
No matter how critics and disgruntled fans feel about Mack Brown right now, they have to remember and respect where he started and how he won the school's first football national title in 35 years.
The end of that tenure seems to be on the line on Saturday against Ole Miss.
Quarterback David Ash's availability for the game is in doubt because of a head and shoulder injury.
The team's most explosive player Daje Johnson is out with an ankle injury.
And defensive players need a nametag for their new play caller.
So there is an ominous feel to what could play out Saturday night at DKR.
As I listened to Brown talk Monday, I saw his timeline at Texas flash through my mind.
I thought of all the do-overs Mack would probably like to have, and here are 10:
#10 Don't let Colt McCoy carry the ball near the goal line, against a stacked box.
This is totally unfair and utterly ridiculous to include on this list, and no one could see coming what played out at Kansas State in 2006.
But when McCoy suffered that game-ending stinger on a sneak in Manhattan in the first quarter after a red-hot start, it ultimately cost Texas the Big 12 South title and, most likely, a Big 12 title that year.
No one needs to explain the cost of McCoy's option run near the goal line against Alabama in the BCS national title game and the subsequent, game-ending collision with Marcel Dareus.
Mack is convinced if Colt stays healthy in that game Texas wins it. When Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com said to Mack after the post-game press conference, "We'll never know how it would have turned out (if McCoy had stayed healthy."
Mack snapped at Dodd: "It wouldn't have been close."
And if Texas wins that game and Mack retires with two national championships at the end of a 70-8 run from 2004-09 and then hands the program to coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, we are talking about an immortal Mack Brown and not the coach desperately trying to hold his team together with dental floss in the 11th hour of his legacy as coach of the Longhorns.
#9 Stick with Major Applewhite at quarterback over Chris Simms.
Oklahoma won a national title with spaghetti-armed Josh Heupel at quarterback. In college, you don't need a QB who can make all the throws (although that's nice).
You need a quarterback who can read defenses, and Applewhite could do that and probably would have delivered a Big 12 title and shot at a national title (against Miami) in 2001.
Even Brown admitted in 2003 he should have played Applewhite more over the final two years of Applewhite's career.
#8 Do a better job of scouting quarterbacks.
The quarterback can be 75 percent of the reason your team wins or loses in college football. That's how important the position is. Just ask Mack Brown about Vince Young or Colt McCoy.
Let's just take one recent example, Texas had David Ash, J.W. Walsh and Johnny Manziel in the same camp after their sophomore years in high school.
Forget about Manziel. A bunch of schools passed on Manziel, including Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury, when they were at Houston.
But Walsh looks like he's going to be a star, while Ash is showing signs of a glass ceiling.
#7 Don't promise recruits you won't recruit behind them. Keep recruiting.
There are too many examples of this to single one out.
#6 Let Manny Diaz go after the worst statistical defense in school history, and hire the best defensive coordinator available.
Brown knew in his gut it was time to move on from Diaz after last season, but he didn't want to ruin Diaz's young career. There was too much at stake for Brown this season, a year in which his survival with the fan base was going to be week to week, not to make that move.
Gene Chizik was a free agent, and Jerry Gray (currently DC for the Tennessee Titans) has always wanted to come back to Texas, even as defensive coordinator.
In fact, after Gray took the secondary coach position at Texas (after Duane Akina left to join Mike Stoops at Arizona), Gray told Mack he'd turn down the Tennessee Titans DC job if Mack would promise to consider him for the UT defensive coordinator job down the road.
Mack reportedly told Gray he needed Gray to be the defensive backs coach, and Gray took the Titans' job. And Akina returned.
But the decisions about his defensive coordinator position since Will Muschamp left are now blowing up on Brown.
#5 Failing to create a player personnel department until 2013, when others such as Jim Harbaugh at Stanford hired a player personnel director in 2007 and Nick Saban hired the position in 2009.
Even though Mack Brown admitted in 2011, while explaining the collapse of 2010, that he and his staff had missed on player evaluation in recruiting and had done a poor job in player development, in certain situations, Brown was one of the last to take advantage of the player personnel director opportunity.
Brown even said while announcing the hire of Patrick Suddes earlier this year that Texas had been "mom and popping it around here" as it pertains to recruiting.
Those words should never come out of the mouth of a coach at the first school ever to generate $100 million in revenue from football alone (as part of $163 million in athletic department revenue last year).
#4 Once you identify a prospect at a position, keep looking and recruiting that position - prime example Garrett Gilbert.
Texas decided so early that it was going to take Gilbert for the class of 2009 from UT's backyard, it didn't do a good enough job comparing Gilbert to other QBs including two in the 2008 class - Andrew Luck and Landry Jones.
Other schools, such as Alabama and Michigan, watched Gilbert, Luck and Jones compete at the same time in all-star camps and walked away convinced Gilbert was third on that list.
Luck showed up at Texas for a junior day and never had a meaningful conversation with a Texas coach, because UT had already shut down recruiting at the QB position.
Forget Robert Griffin III, who was never going to come to Texas and sit behind Colt McCoy.
Forget Johnny Manziel. Texas was never going to recruit him as a QB.
Inviting Luck to a junior day and then basically ignoring him is maybe the biggest sin of Brown's entitled view of recruiting at that time.
#3 Not allow the loss to Alabama in the 2009 national championship to cloud your thinking for the entire 2010 season.
Brown burned the program to the ground after that loss by moving to a power-running mindset on offense (because Bama whipped him with it) without the personnel to run it.
Texas ultimately abandoned it two games into the 2010 season. As Brown's frustrations mounted that year, he would go on to rip his assistant coaches and players publicly as they eventually quit on Brown in a 5-7 season.
#2 Have a new wrinkle for the Oklahoma game every year and coach that game like it's your last.
Bob Stoops has a 9-5 record against Mack Brown in the Red River Shootout, including four of the most lopsided victories in the series (2000, 2003, 2011 and 2012).
Unless Brown has had a record-setting, Heisman-caliber QB leading the way (Vince Young in 2005, Colt McCoy in 2006, 2008 and 2009), Brown has been largely smoked in Texas' biggest rivalry game.
Meanwhile, OU has almost always had a new wrinkle it works on all fall camp and saves just for Texas. Last year, it was throwing to fullback Trey Millard, who destroyed the Longhorns as a receiver (5 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD).
Stoops has always seemed to be more prepared for the Red River Shootout, which has a totally unique atmosphere with the fans divided at the 50 of the Cotton Bowl and produces sound that lifts up the team with momentum and drowns the team without it.
#1 Instead of talking about being physical, coach a team that's physical.
As much as Mack Brown talks about wanting to be a physical team that other teams fear, it hasn't happened.