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September 21, 2013As soon as Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press hit the send button on a story outlining a phone call involving Texas regent Wallace Hall, former UT regent Tom Hicks and Nick Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton back in January, it might as well have been the thermonuclear red button on UT athletics.
Suddenly, the whole world knew that Tom Hicks, a man who used his private plane to fly himself and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds across the country in hiring Mack Brown, was working outside the bounds of Dodds to possibly find Brown's replacement last January.
Several people close to the situation think it was Texas regents Alex Cranberg and Wallace Hall who leaked the story to the AP.
Cranberg and Hall have been two of Texas president Bill Powers' most vocal critics. Hall, who tried to get a vote to oust Powers in August, is about to go through an impeachment hearing for abusing his authority as a regent.
So what better way for Hall to potentially say goodbye than a confetti and blow horns party of embarrassment for UT leadership?
Attempts to reach Cranberg and Hall Saturday were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Mack Brown didn't even get to conference play before UT faithful were teased with the idea of Nick Saban in Austin and all the crystal footballs that could fill the crystal balls in their minds.
Now, Texas fans don't know how to feel about Brown, because the AP story said two days after Hicks talked to Saban's agent, Hicks had lunch with Brown and told him about the call. Brown said he wanted to keep coaching. End of story.
Instead of seeing Brown as the coach who brought Texas its first national title in 35 years, some fans now see him as the reason Nick Saban isn't already in Austin clearing trophy case space.
Support for Brown appears to be dropping faster than the ticket prices for Saturday night's K-State game. In the last Texas home game until November, which also happens to be the beginning of Big 12 play, there are tickets going for $11 at TicketCity.com.
Lots of them.
The AP story moved the discussion past Brown. Texas fans are now more worried about if the revelations in that story killed any chance Texas had to land Saban.
And even though Saban said, "I'm just too damn old to start over somewhere else," in response to the AP story, Texas fans want to believe there has to be a price to get him.
Is it $8 million per year? $10 million? $12 million?
What's realistic for the top revenue-producing athletic department in the country, which made $78 million in profit during the 2011-12 school year (the last year statistics have been made available)?
And if all of Texas' current drama has taken Saban out of the equation, then who?
Who could come to Austin and unify the fan base? Because the next Texas coach will be judged against the possibility the Longhorns could have had Saban - no matter if it was ever plausible or not.
Dodds once said of Texas, "We are the Joneses." Ever since, Texas fans believe they can have whatever they want.
They want Saban. So now what? Who?
And who will make the call on the next coach?
High-ranking sources have told Orangebloods.com it will not be Dodds making the call on the next football coach and that Dodds will be stepping into a consultant role at Texas in December.
But sources close to Dodds say the 74-year-old athletic director may be bunkering down to try to stay on as AD after 32 years on the job.
Sources said Texas president Bill Powers has been told that even though the athletic department may still be cashing big checks, the infrastructure of the department is broken.
That morale in UT athletics is at an all-time low - from the poor performance of football, men's and women's basketball and baseball to the impending discrimination lawsuit of former Texas women's track coach Bev Kearney (due to be filed the first week of October).
Sources say Dodds is now being blamed by high-ranking officials for talking Powers into keeping Texas in what they see as a lackluster Big 12 instead of a robust Pac-12.
With the alumni unrest, there will be increasing pressure on Powers to make changes and sever ties with Dodds and Brown, two of his closest allies, before the UT athletics' stock market crashes.
Most of the financial success, including the 20-year, $300 million contract with ESPN for the Longhorn Network, can be attributed to Mack Brown's success on the football field, especially a 69-9 run from 2004-09.
But it's now apparent to everyone, except maybe Powers, Dodds and Brown - at the moment - that Brown's revival of the Texas program beginning in 1998 is over.
In most fans' minds, even victories against K-State and Iowa State the next two games would only be prolonging the inevitable, baby-seal-type clubbings Texas is likely to take from OU, TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
Why wouldn't they think that about a team that has shown no ability to tackle and has given up an average of 411 yards rushing the last two games in blowout losses to BYU and Ole Miss - unranked teams at the beginning of the yea?
And this is a roster with 19 starters back from a 9-win team last year, including the most experienced QB in the Big 12.
The real question for Powers is how to get the infighting to stop.
It's clear Powers has survived several runs at his job by regents such as Hall and Cranberg, who are loyal to Gov. Rick Perry. Powers and Perry have been at odds over several issues, most importantly the direction of higher education at UT.
The school's biggest of big-money donors have lined up behind Bill Powers, widely seen as one of the most effective presidents in school history.
So does Powers savor his survival by sticking with Dodds and Brown?
Or does he celebrate the incredible, 15-year run they just finished, thank them and bring in fresh blood as soon as possible to re-energize a Texas athletics program that drove past stale 100 miles ago?
Whoever makes the call on a new football coach better have aces. Because Texas fans now think they could have had Nick Saban if Mack Brown had stepped away last January.
Would Will Muschamp be a big enough hire to satisfy/unify the fan base? David Shaw? Charlie Strong? Gary Patterson? Kirby Smart? Mike Gundy? Art Briles? Larry Fedora? Jim Mora Jr.?
Or do you go try to hire an NFL coach like Mike Tomlin?
Or a former NFL coach like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden?
Who would satisfy the fan base?
Because if Texas doesn't hire the right guy, the Longhorns stand to suffer the same fate Tommy Tuberville experienced at Texas Tech.
On paper, Tuberville was a solid hire at Texas Tech. But the fan base was so divided over the dismissal of Mike Leach that Tuberville was never truly embraced in Lubbock.
Texas has been through this before.
In 1976, when Darrell Royal retired as football coach after a 5-5-1 season, Royal was also the athletic director and wanted to hire his defensive coordinator Mike Campbell as his successor.
Regents Frank Erwin and former Texas Gov. Allan Shivers decided Royal had too much power (and didn't care for Royal hanging around the likes of Willie Nelson) and took over the hiring process, naming Fred Akers the new football coach.
The Texas fan base remained largely divided the next 22 years - under Akers, David McWilliams and John Mackovic - until Mack Brown was hired in 1998.
With all the infighting currently going on between regents, a former regent, Bellmont Hall and Powers' internal battle of whether to keep Dodds and Brown around, the University of Texas had better not allow history to repeat itself.
The $11 tickets for Texas-Kansas State on TicketCity.com are merely the beginning.
The UT faithful, who now think they could have had Saban, are rushing the exits on the Mack Brown Era.
How Bill Powers chooses to handle what happens next will determine how quickly they come back.