It was a weird night. I was taking defensive driving at a comedy club and I as pulled up I see my friend Nikki waiting outside to go in the same class. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew in there, much less someone I was friends with. We were waiting outside to go in and I see another face I recognize, but this person I don’t know. We have a few minutes to kill and we are all just milling around and it’s cold- it’s December after all. We are waiting for the class before us to end and there wasn’t anywhere to go, so Nikki and I jumped in the car and turn on the radio. With the Texas Longhorns being in the market for a new football coach and it being Austin, Texas, the coaching change was the topic of every show on the radio. Who will it be? WHO? The doors open and the first class exits, so we start to get out, but as we do the station we are listening to says “WE HAVE BREAKING NEWS. THE TEXAS LONGHORNS HAVE JUST HIRED THEIR NEW HEAD COACH.” I tell Nikki we are staying put until this finishes. “TEXAS HAS HIRED MACK BROWN FROM NORTH CAROLINA.” The word starts to spread through the bad drivers as we walk in. We grab a seat and she says “Whose Mack Brown?” The other face I recognized sits right next to us. I recognize him because he’s a Texas football player. He can tell something’s up, so I tell him “Hey, you know your new coach just got hired?” He nods in acknowledgement. I figure he must already know. “Oh, yeah. Gary Barnett!” I guess he doesn’t know after all. I said “No, Mack Brown.” He just looks at me for a second, then says “Whose Mack Brown?” The three of us spent the rest of the class talking about Mack Brown. That was December 4, 1997, and that was the last time Texas had a head coaching vacancy.
Saturday night, Christmas shopping, I get a phone call telling me Mack Brown has retired. I check my Twitter on my phone at the next stop and, sure enough, it’s official. The Mack Brown era is over. After 16 years at Texas, Mack Brown will coach the Alamo Bowl and move into an advisory role for president Bill Powers. Mack Brown will not be the coach for the Texas Longhorns after about 11 pm on December 30th. It still hasn’t completely sunk in for me.
This didn’t come out of the blue as you well know. Since the decision to change the offense in the spring of 2010 and the underwhelming play of SMU’s quarterback, Texas has struggled to return to glory days of Mack Brown’s career, 2004-2009. Coaching decisions, injuries, development, attrition and on-the-field performance all played a factor in Mack Brown’s Saturday night decision. Many wanted it to happen sooner for all the reasons listed above while others wanted him to get one more shot at returning to the top. In the end it was decided this would be the best time. For Brown the coach it’s a good stopping place: Texas loses four starters up front, the best wide out on the team and are likely looking for a new quarterback. The starting defensive ends are NFL-bound, as is the secondary. “Turning it around” next year is going to be a tough task and Coach Brown never seemed interested in a long rebuild if you ask me. As for the man, you’ll never meet a nicer person. He knows me, my wife and my son and every time I see him he asks how Will and Kristin are. Note, not “my family” but them, by name, every time. We will break down Mack Brown’s career at Texas after the bowl games when it’s officially done, but it’s going to be weird to say someone else’s name as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns football team this spring. 16 years saying “Coach Brown” is ingrained, isn’t it?
16 years. 16 years is a long time. In Mack Brown’s time at Texas, I got married, bought a house, had a kid and grew up (well, that’s a debatable topic depending on who you ask). My son has never known a time when Mack Brown wasn’t the head coach at Texas. Mack’s current offensive coordinator was a redshirting freshman third- team quarterback when he took the job. The fifth-year seniors on this team were first graders when he took the job. The recruiting class of 2014, who were in attendance at the football banquet Friday night, where toddlers in 1997. The most tenured coach in the Big 12 is done.
The media blitz has been understandably insane. The Texas football job is considered by many to be the best in the country with the recruiting base, facilities and fan support in place. And let’s not forget the Longhorn Network. Much maligned for the snail-like pace it hit the market, it’s starting to pick up steam and is on a lot of TV’s around the country. With the salary that Texas can offer, the talent in the state of Texas at the high school level and all the amenities for staff and players, you can bet just about every coach in the country will listen if Texas comes calling. The lists of potential candidates are long and varied and include everyone: Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher… All of them. It’s going to be a reality show watching this playout. When Texas was looking for a defensive coordinator in 2010 it was rollercoaster. Rumors were rampant: Texas hired Teryl Austin, was about to hire Randy Shannon and finally did hire Manny Diaz. That was a coordinator job. For a 5-7 team. This is the HEAD COACHING POSITION. Yeah, expect it to be even more sensational. And expect everything to change. EVERYTHING. The processes around the football team have been the same for 16 years and now someone new, someone not on the staff already, is coming in. Whoever that may be, expect big changes in the way things are done. Some things to ponder as we wait for a new head coach:
- When will spring practice be? Texas was the first, every year, to start spring practice. The team would work out for a month or so and then hit the pads in February and finish up, almost always, the weekend of the Final Four. How does that go with a new coach? Will it be pushed back into May like other schools? Will there be more open practices? Less open practices? Will there be any open practices?
- What about the spring game? Will it be a game, or a scrimmage, or the weird thing Texas has done in the past? Under Mack Brown it’s been a play for the fans. Will the new coach turn it into a real game? Many schools do it exactly like a game. Will we see that? Something else?
- “Come Early, Be Loud, Stay Late, Wear Orange.” I expect that goes away. Will there be a new motto? No motto? Mack Brown liked to pick a theme each year for the team. Will that continue? Doubtful.
- Will there still be “Junior Days”? Texas changed the game when Mack Brown got here by getting juniors to commit early. In the last year Brown slowly started recruiting younger players to keep up with the rest of the college football world. Does that continue? Sophomore days? I expect recruiting to look very different under the new regime.
- “Win with good kids that graduate” is a staple of Mack Brown recruiting. Will that change?
- Ask anyone who played or plays at Texas and they talk about the family atmosphere Mack Brown created. Other programs don’t have that atmosphere. Will that change? It will, just understand that.
- What about practices and workouts? That will certainly change. Afternoons? Mornings? Both? Will they use that bubble?
- And what about the new coach himself? Mack Brown has always been affable guy that talks the opponent up whether they are great or not. It’s the Lou Holtz approach of offering a kind a word and praise to an opponent while publicly undervaluing his own team. Some people didn’t like it and wanted a more nonsense, honest approach. Will this new coach be that sort of guy to say things the fans want to hear?
- On the field you never would see Texas beat someone 77-0. If the Longhorns got a big lead, the foot came off the gas. There were times like the Big 12 Title Game against Colorado and Ole Miss last year where it couldn’t be helped, but consistently Mack Brown was not about to, what he would consider,embarrass another program or coach… But there are plenty of coaches across the land, in our own conference, that don’t share that sentiment. Where does the new coach stand on that? What if style points are needed?
- Will this new coach embrace the hate for oklahoma? A lot of fans didn’t like the fact Mack Brown was so complimentary of the sooners and, at least publicly, treated it as “just another game” while oklahoma took the exact opposite approach. Will Texas’ new coach be different? Most assuredly.
That’s just a few things off the top of my head. And I didn’t even get into the new Athletic Director, so things like pre-game music, the Godzillatron video, coming out of the tunnel (will the American flag go away?) and even the uniforms could be different. See, EVERYTHING is going to change. And I’m all for it.
Mack Brown took Texas to another level. He made the Longhorns THE destination for football players in the state of Texas. He turned Texas into a BCS player and a factor in the National and Big 12 Title race every year. He double-decked the stadium. He beat the Aggies in the last-ever Big 12 meeting of the schools. He owned Nebraska. He won the Rose Bowl. Twice. He won the Fiesta Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Holiday Bowl and the Alamo Bowl. At one point in the recent past Texas had the most players in the NFL, of which all of them not named Phil Dawson were his recruits. He outlasted every other coach in the league: RC Slocum, Frank Solich, Spike Dykes, Les Miles, Bill Snyder (at least once), Mike Leach and host of others. He had a winning record against everyone in the Big 12 except oklahoma (7-9 record) and K-State (3-7). I imagine Ron Prince haunts his dreams, just like Mack haunts Bo Pelini’s wrinkled sweats, angry dreams. Mack goes out after beating the Sugar Bowl-bound sooners, which is completely awesome… But it’s time to go. Cracks were visible in the program and it’s time for a new voice with new energy and new processes and I CANNOT WAIT to see who it is and what those processes will be. We will talk much more about Mack Brown and what he’s done when the season is over. It isn’t over just yet, though. Texas, along with five other teams in the Big 12, is going bowling. Next week we’ll break down Texas’ matchup with Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, but this week let’s see what awaits the rest of the conference in the bowl season.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
KANSAS STATE (7-5/5-4) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-5/3-5) 9:15pm ESPN
I’ve watched both these teams play a few times and I think K-State wins. The Midwest Purple can run the ball and I don’t think the Maze does a very good job of defending the run. On the other side of the ball, Michigan is 100th nationally in rush offense and when they struggle running the ball, it’s going to open up Ryan Mueller to get some licks on No.98. If you haven’t noticed, ole No.98 doesn’t exactly make the best decisions with the ball without pressure, so expect some turnovers when the pressure comes. I don’t think Kansas State is good enough to blow them out, but I see a touchdown win for them.
No.14 Arizona State Sun Devils (10-3/8 -1) vs. TEXAS TECH (7-5/4-5) 9:15pm ESPN
This is going to be a beatdown. BEATDOWN. Fork running back Marion Grice missed the Pac-12 Championship Game and, as a senior, he has one more chance to prove to the scouts he’s for real. Tech is ABSOLUTELY AWFUL at defending the run and Grice is going to shred them. After a great start, Tech tanked and lost five straight and almost all were brutal losses. Now Baker Mayfield is transferring and one of the teams on his list of destinations is Arizona State. And Sonny Cumbie, former Tech qb and Tech co-offensive coordinator, has left to take the qb coaching position at TCU. That seems like a downgrade in responsibilities to me. Are the two leaving at the same time a coincidence? Something more to this? I don’t know. I do know when you lose your All-Big 12 quarterback you don’t get better, and I doubt Tech’s run defense gets better in the next two weeks. I expect ASU to hammer Tech, like everyone else did, and win going away… Unless they don’t care about being there. Bowls are funny, because sometimes guys are concerned with NFL and parties and girls and the bowl game is an afterthought. If this is an afterthought for Fork, Tech can hang. If not, they win going away.
No.6 BAYLOR (11-1/8-1) vs. Central Florida Golden Knights (11-1/8-0) 7:30pm ESPN
I think this is going to be a solid game, even though the sex appeal of the teams is not what the country wants. We know what Baylor can do, but don’t be surprised to see that Bears offense struggle some. With a month to get ready I expect UCF to have a plan to slow down Briles’ crew. UCF is a pretty balanced offense with quarterback Blake Bortels running the show that can slow it down and run the ball on this smallish, aggressive Baylor D… but in the end the Bears win. Both teams are excited to be here, but Baylor just has more weapons and should open it up after UCF limits them early. Bears win, but it’s closer than the final score will show.
No.11 oklahoma (10-2/7-2) vs. No.3 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1/7-1) 7:30pm ESPN
In 366, the Alemanni crossed the frozen Rhine River and invaded the Roman Empire. In 1965, Joe Namath signed with the New York Jets. Sid Vicious’ trial for murdering Nancy Spungen began in 1979. I found $31 in a mall parking lot on January 2nd in one of my junior years of college. I’m pretty sure that was January 2nd. And so ends Things that happened on January 2nd that are only interesting to me, the Alemanni, Joe Namath, Sex Pistols fans and someone who lost $31 in the 90’s, possibly on January 2nd.
No.13 OKLAHOMA STATE (11-1/8-1) vs. No. 8 Missouri Tigers (11-2/7-1) 6:30pm FOX
If you could have seen the 9-year old and his melt down after the Missouri loss to Auburn, you’d be rooting for the Tigers in Dallas. Hey, you know what? If we run into each other out somewhere, you can see it because I have some of it on video. He’s off the ledge now, but the loss by Ohio State sure didn’t help, because he thinks his team was “this” close to getting into the National Title Game. It wasn’t really that close. Mizzou is going to be a problem for OSU the way the run the ball and play defense and I’ll take the Tigers in a close game. I don’t really have a choice and odds are better than even I’ll be there.
We will talk Texas and Oregon next week.
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