"This year's Holiday Bowl will be a springboard to another national championship in the next two to three years," Mack Brown said at the December 15, 2011 football banquet.
In year two, Texas isn't close.
The season's lethargic 1-2 start sparked speculation of Mack Brown's future at Texas. But the Longhorns bounced back with six straight wins, including a 36-20 beat down of No. 12 Oklahoma. Texas was back in the polls, in control of its Big 12 fate and Brown's job security was in his own hands.
The positive momentum came to a screeching halt when No. 12 Oklahoma State came to town, handed Brown the worst home loss of his 16 year career in Austin and undid everything Texas had worked for since September 21.
Brown set high expectations for Texas when he rebuilt the once flailing program into a national powerhouse, and led the Longhorns on an impressive 69-9 run between 2004 and 2009.
But the 5-7 meltdown of 2010 changed the direction of Texas football, and exposed the gaping holes in the program's foundation.
There is no question Mack Brown is a great CEO. Texas is the most profitable program in the country and the only team with its own TV station. Longhorns fans can thank Mack for all that. But, right now, Texas needs a football coach not a CEO. The 100 million dollar question remains; is Mack Brown that guy?
Mack Brown the CEO
The Texas football program was an utter mess when Brown arrived in December, 1997. Former coach John Mackovic's arrogance and inability to build a rapport with boosters were just two of the many issues that made up the dumpster fire of a program. Brown changed it all.
Mack has done everything right from the first day he hit town. He has established strong ties with the high school coaches, built a tremendous bond with lettermen and gained unbelievable support. With all of the great things he has done in public relations, what people have learned is that he can coach, too. -- Legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal. (Texassports.com)
Brown reunited the once divided Texas fan base, encouraging fans to "come early, be loud, stay late and wear burnt orange with pride"—the slogan that is found on t-shirts all over the Longhorn nation. Texas' football revenues have more than quadrupled under Brown's watch, increasing from $21.3 million in 1997, to $95.7 million in 2011, according to a Texas Media Relations press release.
Mack has helped bring back the pride in Texas Football. Tradition is what makes the college game so exciting, and Mack is doing a great job getting everyone excited about wearing burnt orange and white and being a Longhorn again. -- Tommy Nobis. (Texassports.com)
Brown's role as a CEO can not be questioned. But what about his role as a coach?
Mack Brown the Coach
Prior to 2010, Mack Brown's name was synonymous with winning, both on the field and in recruiting. He was even given the nickname Coach February due to the wild success he had convincing top high school prospects to commit to Texas. He produced nine straight double-digit winning seasons between 2001 and 2009, and he led the Longhorns to two conference titles, a national championship and played for another.
But the spiral of Texas football began much earlier than the Longhorns 5-7 season in 2010.
The first public display of Texas football's cracked foundation happened during the first quarter of the BCS national championship game on January 7, 2010. Quarterback Colt McCoy went down with a shoulder injury and was replaced by true freshman Garrett Gilbert. At that moment, the Longhorns issues were more evident than ever.
McCoy's super-human talents helped disguise how bad the Longhorns offensive line was. McCoy also masked the fact that the Longhorns had zero running attack without him.
Alabama went on to beat Texas 37-21, and Mack Brown was stunned.
After the game, Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com asked Brown if the game would have had a different outcome with a healthy McCoy. Brown replied, "It wouldn't even have been close."
Brown could not move past the BCS championship loss. He referred to the months following as a hangover and said he had never taken a loss so hard. He was shocked that Texas could not move the ball on the ground against Alabama, and decided to follow Alabama and the SEC's footsteps by changing to a power-running scheme.
But one major issue held the offense back in successfully changing schemes: Texas did not have the personnel to switch to a power-run game, which ultimately resulted in the 5-7 abomination of 2010 and the rebuild in the following years.
2010 was not a fluke. Rather, it was visual evidence that proved Mack Brown and Texas had fallen behind the times on the field.
With the amount of time spent shaking hands, kissing babies and building Texas into the most profitable football program in the country, did Brown lose touch with the changes in college football? It absolutely looks as if that's the case.
Where Texas Went Wrong
No. 1: Recruiting
If you watch college football, you have probably heard the stories of numerous dominant quarterbacks who did not even receive an offer from Texas. Whether it was Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in 2011, Johnny Manziel in 2012 or Jameis Winston this year, the stories all sound eerily similar: Texas either did not offer these talented quarterbacks or looked at them at a different position.
To be fair, everybody missed on Manziel, including Kevin Sumlin at Houston. RG3 did not want to sit on the bench behind McCoy in 2008 and 2009, so Texas was out of the picture. But Luck came to Texas' junior day and was practically ignored by the coaches, because Texas had already committed itself to Gilbert.
We looked at highlight films and maybe took some guys before we really knew them well enough to have taken them. We might have taken kids a little too quickly. -- Mack Brown, 2013. (Foxsports.com)
College football is a quarterback's game. Team's with the best quarterbacks often have the most success. Texas and its fans were spoiled with the back-to-back combo of Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Gilbert, a once highly touted recruit, never had a chance to fill Young or McCoy giant shoes.
To this day, the Longhorns still have not found a viable solution to their quarterback woes.
No. 2: Player Development
Texas has the resources, facilities and tradition to bring in the top prospects in every recruiting class. Even after the Longhorns 5-7 season, Brown managed to pull together the Rivals.com No. 3 class of 2011 and No. 2 class of 2012. Since 2002, Texas has averaged top 10 recruiting classes, according to Rivals.com.
A decent indication of the lack of player development can be seen in NFL drafts. Texas has had 20 players drafted since 2009, only four were offensive players. To put that into perspective, Alabama has had 33 players selected in that same time frame, 15 offense and 18 defense; Oklahoma had 29 selected, 16 offense, 13 defense.
Texas isn't recruiting less-talented players than Alabama and Oklahoma. It has not been developing the talent, like it did in years past.
"My expectations of winning got bigger than our ability to develop kids," Mack Brown told Pete Thamel in 2011. "What we did for many years, we won for a long time because we didn't think about winning, we thought about developing kids and getting better."
No. 3: Expanding the football staff
Brown admitting to his recruiting misses and lack of player development in 2011 was significant. However, Texas waited until 2013 to add a director of player personnel—a position Jim Harbaugh created at Stanford in 2007, and Nick Saban at Alabama in 2009.
Not only was Texas one of the last athletic departments to add the position, Brown said Texas had been "mom-and-popping" things for a while.
Let's rephrase that: Mack Brown—a coach who makes $5.3 million per year—said Texas—the nation's wealthiest athletic department—had been "mom-and-popping" things for a while.
There are no words to describe how that could ever happen, but somehow it did.
Not only was Texas late to the player personnel party, it also was behind the times in the strength and conditioning department.
Brown's rebuild of 2010 included research of what other programs had or did that Texas was not doing. A big red flag rose when he looked into his training staff.
"When I started doing my evaluation here, I was in my own little world and didn't realize that just about everyone in the upper part of Division I-A football had their own football strength coach," Brown told the New York Times. "We had a departmental wide strength coach and we were wearing him out and he was doing so much."
Texas has added a football strength and conditioning coach as well as four player personnel staff members, but is it too late?
Past the Point of No Return?
It is easy to speculate about Texas' future after examining the bumps and bruises along Mack Brown's recent career at Texas. But there is no answer to the multitude of questions.
A lot of people believe Brown's career would have been saved if Texas went undefeated in Big 12 play and secured a bid in the Fiesta Bowl. But the 25-point home loss to Oklahoma State showed the Longhorns are still nowhere near winning a national championship. Heck, Texas hasn't even beaten a ranked opponent in Austin since October 25, 2008.
Even if Texas finds a way to beat Texas Tech and Baylor, would Brown want to coach in 2014? Would he want to continue to play the role of CEO and head coach with the possibility of being burned at the stake and forced out of Austin in a year?
Brown's legacy as the ultimate CEO, recruiting innovator and program builder is already on the line. Staying another year could be a damaging decision to both Brown's legacy, and the future of Texas football for years to come.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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