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December 14, 2013

Mack Daddy or Macklash? What now?

The tweets saying Nick Saban had re-upped with Alabama raced through the Longhorns' football banquet Friday night, igniting a Game of Thrones power struggle among the mega-wealthy donors at Texas.

For a growing percentage of Texas fans suffering from Macklash, the news was devastating.

For Mack Brown and school president Bill Powers, it was reason to celebrate. (Although, I'm told Brown was upset Powers didn't make a more emphatic statement that Brown would be back for as long as he wants during the banquet. Probably because Powers saw his 2-year battle with UT regents flashing before his eyes).

Brown could be seen after the banquet smiling and laughing with his inner circle.

Had Brown gotten payback for losing to Saban and Alabama in the 2009 national title game? It's a game Brown is convinced he would have won if Colt McCoy's throwing arm hadn't gone numb.

What's now clear to a group of UT's wealthiest boosters who had targeted Saban as Texas' next coach is Brown and Powers did everything they could to sabotage their attempt to hire Saban for a second straight year.

One person involved in Texas' attempt to hire Nick Saban called Mack Brown's ability to thwart that effort, "The greatest upset of the college football season."

Now, Brown gets to stay on as coach at Texas despite a 30-20 record (18-17 Big 12 play) since burning the program to the ground in 2010, going 5-7 while alienating assistants and players, because of his "Alabama hangover."

Brown gave everyone a warning in November that he wasn't about to let Saban come to Texas to save the Longhorns after Brown's failed, four-year rebuilding plan.

"Nick is a friend and he's done a tremendous job at Alabama," Brown told the Tim Brando Show in November. "Nick's not trying to get my job. I mean, I know Nick. So I don't have to worry about that. And if I do my job, there won't be any job to be open to get, so I think that's the other thing."

Brown was well aware of efforts being made at that time by top boosters and a group of regents to land Saban for a second straight year. And Brown's ego was raging.

At the time of Brown's comment to Brando, Texas was on a six-game winning streak and in contention for a league title (although Texas would then suffer the worst home loss of the Mack Brown era in a 38-13 waxing by Oklahoma State).

Brown's UT tenure was on life support at 1-2 after giving up 550 yards rushing to BYU and replacing Manny Diaz with Greg Robinson, followed by a 44-23 home loss to Ole Miss. And he knew it. Saban might be coming.

Texas was a near-interception and a near-fumble away on the final drive from losing at 3-9 Iowa State and fourth-and-7 away from losing to 4-8 West Virginia. If any of those plays go against the Longhorns, Brown would have been Texas toast.

But in November, Texas was contending for a Big 12 title, and it didn't matter if Blackjack Mack was rolling out 9-card 21s to win games.

With 30 minutes left against Baylor, Texas was tied and still had a shot for Brown's third-ever conference title in 30 years as a head coach. His job could be saved. But Texas lost the game 30-10 (UT's four losses this season were by an average of 21.3 ppg), and UT's big-money Saban supporters were ready to accept Brown's playbook.

The sentiment of that group was revealed in an Associated Press story in September, when it was revealed current regent Wallace Hall and former regent Tom Hicks had a conversation last January with Nick Saban's agent.

According to the AP story, former Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks went to Mack Brown two days later and asked him if he wanted to keep coaching. Brown said yes. The drive for Saban was put on hold, until Brown's 8-4 regular season in 2013.

Brown knew all season if he didn't meet certain criteria - 10 wins, a BCS bowl berth or at least a share of the Big 12 title - he would be stepping down because it would be too difficult to claim progress with the fan base. And the negativity would be too much.

But Brown's saving grace was that Bill Powers never wanted Nick Saban, either.

Texas never schedules the best teams in the SEC in football because Brown had convinced Powers and former athletic director DeLoss Dodds the SEC benefited from an unfair playing field. Saban was often Brown's example. Yet Mack hired one former Saban assistant after another (Mike Haywood, Will Muschamp, Stacy Searels, Bo Davis, Patrick Suddes, etc).

Brown and Powers knew what was coming. And that's when they began trying to delay any resignation announcement (UT's Saban supporters wanted Brown to retire/resign Sunday after the Baylor loss).

No one ever wanted it to look like Brown was being fired. Texas was used to coddling Brown's ego after extending his contract from 2016 through 2020 after an 8-5 season in 2011. That was done to stop rumors of his demise and negative recruiting.

This year, it had to look like Brown was ready to step away because the negative recruiting and constant job security questions had simply become too much. But Brown was taking too long to step down in some minds, and that's when sources started talking about Brown stepping down in my report and other reports.

Brown knew Texas was going to accommodate his ego once again, and it gave him the power to control when any such announcement would come.

If he waited long enough (I'm told there was a deadline of Monday, Dec. 16, for any Saban offer), Brown could kill the UT Saban supporters' efforts a second straight year.

By waiting until after Powers had received a vote of continuance as UT president from the board of regents on Thursday, Brown and Powers successfully filibustered themselves into having all the control.

In a meeting Friday with his attorney, Joe Jamail, as well as Powers and new athletic director Steve Patterson, Brown threatened to go public with behind-the-scenes efforts to take him down, including press leaks.

That word got to Saban's camp almost immediately, and within an hour Saban had agreed to a new contract at Alabama that will pay him more than $7 million per year, according to reports.

That news hit Texas fans suffering from Macklash like a stock market dive. That it was released in the middle of the Texas football banquet was no accident.

Saban was already going to be seen as a bad guy if he left Alabama after saying he'd stay. He wasn't about to leave that situation to succeed a bitter, scorned Brown at Texas - no matter how many houses in Austin Terri Saban looked at.

UT's dysfunction had already caused numerous athletic director candidates to take themselves out of consideration for the UT job.

What's become clear is UT may have all the money, but it also has a football coach whose ability to manipulate through public relations could fill a trophy case.

So on Friday night Mack Brown's camp immediately started telling reporters he was going to step down except for press leaks.

Press leaks not just to me but to Brett McMurphy, Joe Schad, Bruce Feldman, Jenn Engel and others.

Brown's blaming of press leaks as to why he didn't step down was a lie, according to the UT Saban supporters. They now think Brown would have stopped at nothing to block Saban. But Powers made everyone believe Mack was going to step down, the UT Saban supporters say. Now they think Powers and Brown played everybody.

The regents and big-money supporters have been driving changes in the athletic department and led the hire of Steve Patterson as athletic director.

Patterson called himself Powers' "subordinate" during the banquet. What must Patterson be thinking after being hired under the premise his first hire was intended to be Nick Saban as part of an athletic department overhaul?

When it comes to coaching, Brown has always put controlling the message above all else -for recruiting purposes. He and wife, Sally, and other family members scour fan message boards to see what's being said.

Brown spends as much time, if not more, courting boosters and people in positions of influence as he does recruits.

One of his masterstrokes was hiring UT booster billionaire Joe Jamail as his lawyer, who even threatened tortious interference lawsuits against any regent trying to oust Brown.

Behind closed doors, Brown has dragged numerous reporters who cover the program into his office for tongue-lashings, including former Texas linebacker Brian Jones of CBS.

"Mack Brown is more politician than football coach," Jones said.

Brown has even chastised Longhorn Network anchor Lowell Galindo, who named his son, Mack, after Mack Brown.

Mack takes everything personally. Everything. And, right now, his fragile ego just cost a group of powerful billionaires at Texas another shot at landing Nick Saban.

The battle lines are being drawn among the school's wealthiest supporters, who may take aim at Powers again.

But at least for now, Powers, fresh from his vote of support from the regents, is saying Mack Brown can stay ... as long as he wants.

There is suddenly a whole lot more pressure on Brown to beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl or the Macklash will intensify.



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