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December 6, 2012

Mack Brown's legacy ...

When Mack Brown was asked Thursday at an Alamo Bowl press conference if there should be concerns about the program after three straight years without a BCS bowl appearance, here's what Brown said:

"The proud thing about Texas is we are at a point, where there's such a high standard that unless you win all the games, there's concerns.

"The process started three years ago - 2010 was a very poor year. I thought we coached poorly and played poorly in most of it. There were some changes made, at that time, and last year we really stepped up defensively and did well.

"I was proud of that. We were inept quite often on offense, but we started running the ball better.

"This year, we've been much better on offense, and we were inept on defense. And the last five weeks, we've played much better defense.

"I really believe we're headed in the right way. We're headed in the right direction. This will be a fun challenge for us with Oregon State coming in.

"Just about everyone is back (next year), and we'll have some older guys on the team with only three seniors starting.

"The future looks very, very bright. Football coaches don't look back. You don't want to sit back and talk about all the things you didn't get accomplished. I'm fortunate to be at a place where the standards are very high.

"And we're going to fight to make sure we get back to those standards. If you're asking me if I'm happy with three years of no BCS games, I'd say no. And that's for me, much less for everybody else."


LEGACY ON THE LINE: Mack Brown wants to go out on top. Or is it that he wants to make sure the program is back on solid ground for the next guy?

No matter how you answer that, Mack Brown knows you're unhappy. He has a sense of the negativity out there right now. All the stuff about being 11-15 in the Big 12 the last three years. About being 1-10 against AP-ranked opponents in his last 11 games.

All this stuff about the coach who redefined recruiting losing his fastball by missing on Texas high school quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. All the stuff about being overexposed on the Longhorn Network.

So when Brown said he hearsonlythe positive from Texas' big-money donors and from former players, it's spin.

PR MACHINE: Mack is great at spin. No one has put more into shaping and trying to control the message of his program to sell hope to recruits and fans the last 15 years. But he knows you're not buying it right now. He knows you're tuning out. So now Mack has to decide if it can just be about his players and football.

He can't worry about what people think anymore. He can't spend all that time worrying about what's being said on message boards or on the radio.

Every moment he spends on football has to be about football. It has to be about player development. Pull back on the CEO stuff. Increase the tough love. If his assistants cuss or jump a player outside of their position, let them. Make practice uncomfortable when physical contact is involved. Really uncomfortable. Get the wives, cameras and boosters out of the locker room.

Make it about really coaching football. Or move on.

Because if the concern is about legacy and what people are going to think of Mack Brown, then it's already too late.


WHO'S IT ABOUT?: If Brown comes back in 2013 because he is determined to end his career in a BCS bowl, and it's about how HE finishes, the players will see through it.
His words will ring hollow, just like they did in 2010.

If everything Brown says is about instilling toughness and making sure his players don't go to sleep at night until they know they are going to whip the guy in front of them on Saturday, then Brown is coming back for the right reasons.

And if he comes back for the right reasons, he might just get those 10 wins next season, reach a BCS bowl game and be able to go out on an uptick. Maybe Brown rides off into the sunset with athletic director Deloss Dodds at that point.

If Brown reached a BCS bowl in 2013 and then handed things off, the next coach would have a veteran team led by the recruiting class of 2011 and a few redshirt seniors (Jaxon Shipley, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Josh Cochran, Quandre Diggs, Jordan Hicks, Cedric Reed, Desmond Jackson, Tevin Jackson, Mykkele Thompson, Josh Turner, Greg Daniels, David Ash, Kendall Thompson, Steve Edmond, Dominic Espinosa, Bryant Jackson, etc.)
Someone could win with that group.

It would be reminiscent of Brown's mentor Darrell Royal retiring after the 1976 season, knowing Earl Campbell and a talented team would be back in 1977 with a chance to win big. And the Longhorns nearly won the national title that year, losing to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.


HITTING THE BOTTOM: Sources with direct knowledge of the situation say Brown was so despondent after Texas' loss to TCU that for the first time, it caused him to think out loud about if he should keep coaching. But Mack has been thinking for the past two years that his roster is built for success in 2013 and 2014.

He made himself believe it because he's won a national title and played for another, and once you've been there, you always believe you can get back. Heck, Brown did get back to the title game in 2009. It's the mindset of a gambler, who wins big and always believes that next run is right around the corner. Too much is left to chance to really know, though.

And when a coach thinks he has a roster he can win big with, he can't let go. Because what if another coach came in next year and won big and then everyone would say it really was time for Mack Brown to go?


THE HAUNTED RAINMAKER: Brown doesn't want to go out now. Not like this. Not when in his mind he put the Texas program back together 15 years ago and helped build the North End of DKR, the suites and all of Texas' athletic facility upgrades. Not when in his mind he's responsible for the record $163.3 million in athletic revenue, licensing and even the $300 million for 20 years from ESPN for the Longhorn Network.

Even though he and his wife, Sally, a millionaire real estate developer before Brown met her, probably have $30 million in the bank with incredible houses in North Carolina and the Bahamas, Brown doesn't want it to end like this. Not full of questions, negativity and doubt.

The demonic element to the Mack Brown Story is the 2009 national title game loss to Alabama and what could have been his perfect exit.

In Brown's mind, if Colt McCoy would have stayed healthy in that game, Texas was going to win it. When Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com said to Brown after the post-game press conference, "Well, Mack, we'll never know how it would have turned out."

Brown glared at Dodd and said, "It wouldn't have been close."


WHAT IF?: What if? What if Texas had won that game and Brown decided to retire right then, 2-0 in national title games with his second over the all-mighty Nick Saban?

That's probably the image Brown had, and if Texas had won, every day in retirement would have been a parade for Brown in Austin. He would have gone on to do television as a two-time national title coach with scoreboard against his nemesis Bob Stoops.

Brown would be bigger than life, because if there's one thing Brown has shown he can do, it's work the camera. But that didn't happen. Not only did it not happen, it crashed and burned in one of the most dramatic flameouts in college football the last five years.

Brown may finally be starting to see that now.

WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG: Much of 2010's meltdown was self-induced - by Brown's own admission. He said he let the 2009 BCS title game loss continue to bother him, and that he didn't handle the 2010 season as well as he could have.

He lashed out at his assistants and players publicly. When that year was over, the unthinkable - 5-7 - had happened. And seven assistants went out the door, including one of Brown's best friends, Greg Davis, as well as one of his most trusted allies, Cleve Bryant.

Bryant was Brown's bad cop. He was the one who told everyone no for the coach who finds it hard to say no to anyone. Bryant was the guy the players truly feared, because Bryant didn't care what anyone thought of him. And he was the guy the assistant coaches could talk to if they had a problem with Brown, and Bryant would somehow convey it in a way Brown would listen.

When Bryant was forced out of the program after a sexual harassment complaint in 2010, some of the edge in the program went with him.

And then there's Greg Davis. That one was particularly hard because Brown had begged Davis to leave Georgia after the 1995 season and join him at North Carolina after the two worked together at Tulane in the 1980s.

That relationship soured after that loss to Alabama when Brown ripped Davis for not having a running game to fall back on when Colt McCoy got hurt. It got to the point where Davis and then-offensive line coach Mac McWhorter were going to take jobs with then-Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, a former Longhorn assistant to Brown.

But Brown talked Davis and McWhorter into staying, then fired both at the end of the 2010 season.

The last three years have taken a huge personal toll on Brown.


TEXAS LOSES GROUND: So consider all of that when you consider Brown then losing two in a row to schools like Baylor and Oklahoma State - schools he had owned. Consider three straight losses to OU, including the last two by an average of 40 points.

Brown has tried to be patient yet tough with a roster clearly built around the recruiting class of 2011 and a new cast of assistants, including two new coordinators. Every step of the way has been documented by the Longhorn Network. It has become the worst kind of exposure, because every day it reveals the mediocrity in which Texas is mired.

And when Brown even complained about aspects of LHN 10 days after getting throttled by Oklahoma, it became national news. Texas' own coach was now complaining about the entity blamed by others for nearly breaking up the Big 12 … twice. And the rest of the country was laughing.

But UT administrators weren't laughing. They sent an email to the entire athletic department talking about why LHN was important to the school financially and why everyone should support it.

So if Brown really was thinking of retiring after a second national title in 2009 as a coach emeritus on par with Darrell Royal, then every day, at this point, would seem to get longer and longer.


TCU TIPPING POINT: Flash forward to the TCU loss on Thanksgiving. It was the game that would have allowed Texas to claim progress. Everyone would have forgiven a loss at Kansas State. Texas always loses to K-State. And this year, the Wildcats are actually good.

With a win against TCU, Texas probably would have been 9-3 heading into a bowl game with a chance to get to 10 wins. And 10 wins has always been the magic number for Mack Brown.

They aren't conference championships, but in Brown's mind, 10 wins means success. Ten wins in the regular season at Texas usually means BCS bowl eligible, and that's where the big boys finish the season.

So after questioning everything after the TCU loss, Brown talked to his good friends, who also happen to be two of Texas' biggest financial boosters - Joe Jamail and Red McCombs - and after hearing their full support, Mack has decided to make that push in 2013.

Is there anything that could make Mack change his mind? Maybe if his assistant coaches started taking other jobs and he had to rebuild a staff again.


WHAT QB CAN BEAT OU?: And surely crossing Mack's mind in all of this is the quarterback position.

Look at Texas' loss to Oklahoma, the near-death experience at Lawrence, Kansas, and the TCU loss. All of them involved shaky quarterback play by David Ash, a kid who was playing at an elite level the first five games of the season.

In the game Brown needed most, against TCU, Ash had three red-zone turnovers. And then Case McCoy made a horrible decision, when he could have run for 15 yards, by throwing a ball up for grabs in a crowd for an interception as the Longhorns were trying to tie the game in the final minute.

A big part of the K-State loss was two near pick-sixes thrown by McCoy.

That position got worse - not better - as the season went on.

No one knows more than Brown the importance of that position. Vince Young helped him go to the BCS in 2004 and win a national title in 2005. And Colt McCoy helped cover up some huge shortcomings on the offensive line and at running back to go to the BCS in 2008 and play for the national title in 2009.

So where is Texas at the quarterback position?

Well, Bryan Harsin was in Arizona this week talking to 6-5, 215-pound Tanner McEvoy of Arizona Western Community College. And Texas has an eye on Garden City Community College dual-threat QB Nick Marshall.

So after eschewing the JUCO route at QB last year, when Texas had only two returning scholarship players at the position, Texas is back in the JUCO market when it already has four scholarship quarterbacks coming back.

What does this say about Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet?

They'd be in their second year in the program in 2013, and we've seen second-year quarterbacks have all kinds of success this season: Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M; Marcus Mariota at Oregon; Braxton Miller at Ohio State and Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville.

Is Brown giving up on those young guns too quickly? Texas has certainly had its share of quarterbacks leave because they felt unwanted: G.J. Kinne, Jevan Snead, Garrett Gilbert, Connor Wood.


IT'S ABOUT OU: And if that position is still a question for the Longhorns going into 2013, is Brown truly in a position to make a run at a Big 12 title or BCS bowl game next season?

If he falls short of those targets with another loss to Oklahoma, where would Brown's legacy be?

It's really about OU for Brown right now. Brown said before the TCU game that he really needed to go back and look at why Texas has been blasted the last two years by the Sooners.

"We've played poorly against Oklahoma the past two years, and we have to go back and look at why," Brown said. "That's not the players. That's on the coaches if it's two years in a row."

Brown had better figure it out because his legacy, more and more, is becoming about his failures against Bob Stoops. The record is 5-9 with seven of those losses by double digits; four by 38 points or more; and Texas' only shutout loss (12-0 in 2004) since 1980.

If Texas lost badly to OU next year and Brown walked away from the job, would he be the guy who stayed too long, like Bobby Bowden, whose last six years at Florida State were 4, 5 and 6-loss seasons with the fans resenting a guy who won two national titles? Or would Brown be given the chance to come back again in 2014?

Would athletic director Deloss Dodds, who is 73, and school president Bill Powers, who is 66, still be around or retired at that point?

That's how important the quarterback question is right now.

Because whoever lines up under center in 2013 has to go into the Cotton Bowl next October and try to end the Longhorns' three-year nightmare against Bob Stoops, who just claimed his eighth Big 12 title in 14 years - even if it was shared.

Those last two Red River Bloodbaths are what have left indelible scars on the UT faithful who used to hang on Brown's every word and always bought his hope, believing all those top-five recruiting classes would turn into championship trophies.

Losing to OU and allowing the Sooners to have recruiting scoreboard over the Longhorns in the state of Texas was always sort of manageable for Brown, because, at the end of the day, most Texas kids wanted to go to school in Texas. And Mack always had the family atmosphere thanks to his wife, Sally, that had been attracting NFL talent since his days at North Carolina.


THE MOMENT OF TRUTH: But yet another rout by OU, then nearly losing to conference doormat Kansas followed by the loss to TCU in a year when Texas A&M is already claiming recruiting scoreboard over Texas was a blow to Brown's psyche.

The TCU loss came in Austin. On Thanksgiving. In the game normally reserved for the Aggies. On Senior Night. In TCU's first year in the Big 12. At a time when Brown knew he was fighting to hang onto the fan base one week at a time.

After that game, Brown was forced to decide if he should chase one more hurrah, convinced the roster is there to get to a BCS bowl game next year? Or give up his $100,000-per-week job and help Texas raise money, maybe do some television and turn it over to someone else?

Brown has always seen himself as playing a role in naming his successor, just like he played a role in Texas' decision to name Will Muschamp the Longhorns' coach-in-waiting.

If he left now, he'd probably have that role. If he waits too long, and things continue to slide, he may not.

For Mack Brown, who deeply cares how he is perceived, in part, because he has always given so much of himself to the job, to charity, to the fans signing autographs, to the media, to his players and their families, it's a decision that plays tricks on your mind.


CAN HE REMOVE THE CLUTTER? Football coaches and players are always trained to believe only what's in their locker room and to block everything else out. Remove the clutter, Nick Saban always says.

But Brown has always paid attention to the clutter, the noise, the static - from the fans and media. And Brown, a coach's son and grandson, has always wanted to be remembered by Texas and college football as one of its greats.

With only two conference titles in his 30-plus year career as a head coach, Brown needed that national title in 2009 to jump to the head of the class and go out on top in a profession where you rarely go out on top.

Now, Brown is surrounded by doubt. If you're supposed to win up front, no Texas offensive lineman has been drafted by the NFL since 2008. For the third straight year, Texas has failed to put a single player on the first-team, All-Big 12 offense. Will Muschamp, who would probably be Texas' coach right now if the Longhorns had beaten Alabama to end the 2009 season, is 11-1 at Florida.

The one area no one ever questioned Brown - recruiting - is now being questioned constantly, because of a current senior class with only four starters (10 players - half the class - have left the program).

Mack Brown has erased doubt before. In 2003, when it seemed the fans were starting to turn on him and Adrian Peterson picked OU over Texas because he "wanted to win championships," Texas went to the Rose Bowl the next two years in a magical run.

In 2007, when things appeared to be slipping, Texas went to BCS bowls the next two years.

Brown has been convinced it's going to happen again starting in 2013. Is he fooling himself? Or can he do it again?

The stakes have never been higher for Brown, whose relationship with the UT fan base right now appears to be week to week.

With each loss at this point, his legacy as the ultimate CEO, program builder, recruiting trailblazer and philanthropist, is threatened by doubt and resentment from the people who once loved him the most.






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