The rumors and speculation about Texas coach Mack Brown's job status have been years in the making. However, it's officially time to pick up the phone and call Kenny Loggins, because Brown is approaching the Danger Zone.
New Texas athletic director Steve Patterson is going to have a decision to make about Brown following Texas' game at Baylor on Saturday. There's a lot riding on what happens in Week 15, as Texas could be either BCS-bound or settling for another four-loss season.
A win over the Bears, which would be the best of the year for Texas, would give the Longhorns at least a share of the Big 12 title. With Baylor looking shakier than usual lately, it's certainly possible. (VegasInsider.com has Baylor as a two-touchdown favorite.)
Coupled with an Oklahoma State loss to Oklahoma in the Bedlam game, a win for Texas would also mean an outright conference title. A Fiesta Bowl berth would follow, as would a chance at a 10-win season.
But the floor is just as low for the Longhorns as the ceiling is high. A loss would put Texas at 8-4 in the regular season for the second straight year. Keep in mind that there haven't been any "close" losses for the 'Horns either; all three against BYU, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State have come by an average of 22 points.
Brown deserves a lot of credit—more than he's going to get—for rallying his players after a 1-2 start and winning six straight games. Another thing to consider is how beat up Texas is, as it lost a handful of starters on both sides of the ball to season-ending injuries at various points.
Starters Texas is playing without: Whaley (DT), Hicks (LB), Edmond (LB), Ash (QB), Gray (RB). That's quite a list.— Ande Wall (@AndeWall) November 30, 2013
Still, the potential for four losses, at least three of which resulted in being completely outclassed, isn't going to be looked on favorably. 2013 was supposed to be the year when a veteran Texas team could get back to the BCS.
Patterson's decision boils down to whether he feels Brown is really the future of Texas football. Ironically, that decision becomes more complicated the more Brown wins, but it would be hard to justify letting Brown go the same season he won the Big 12.
Assuming Brown doesn't step down on his own accord, that is.
The other side of coaching searches is knowing the market. As David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest notes, the list of available candidates to potentially replace Brown isn't as long as you'd think:
Brown has underachieved the last three seasons, and still needs help for a BCS bid, but there's one major factor that helps Brown's case: No clear candidate. Art Briles told me he cannot envision talking to other teams after the season after signing a contract extension. He was the best candidate for the job. The Nick Saban talk is wasted breath, though fascinating. David Shaw doesn't sound like he's going anywhere.
Fans will point to Texas being a so-called "destination job." The question is whether there's a destination coach to fill it. Conducting a search without a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and so on just because the current guy isn't cutting it can be dangerous and can set a program back.
In the event Brown steps aside or is let go, though, it would behoove Texas to at least reach out to all three coaches mentioned by Ubben. The 'Horns cannot be afraid of being told "no." Pete Carroll was not USC's first choice when it hired him in 2000, but that relationship seemed to work out all right.
Two other names that could come up are Boise State's Chris Petersen and Vanderbilt's James Franklin, both of whom are candidates for the USC job according to ESPN's Joe Schad.
Chris Petersen and James Franklin are top options at USC. A new coach could be named as early as this week.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) December 2, 2013
If it's not USC, it'll be another job that comes calling for Petersen and Franklin. (Schad later tweeted that Petersen withdrew his name from the USC search.) They're big names in the coaching carousel rumor mill. Whether or not they take another job is a different story.
Brown's story has yet to be finished. He still has a job and his critics have been quieter since September. Whether or not they stay quiet, and whether or not their wish will come to fruition, depends on the outcome of Saturday's game. Beat Baylor and there's a real possibility Brown could return in 2014. Lose and the decision for Brown and/or Patterson becomes more pressing.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.