The inevitable end to the Mack Brown era at Texas is coming because Texas isn't Texas. Or, at least, the Texas it wants to be.
The rebuilding project Brown has been orchestrating over the past few years has fallen short. The Longhorns have failed to get back to double-digit wins and the BCS since the 2009 season when they played for the National Championship.
The reasons why Texas has become a middle-of-the-road Big 12 team are myriad, but one thing is for certain: nothing about it is simple.
Take the 2013 Longhorns, who finished 8-4. The issues come down to strength, conditioning and coaching.
Simply put, the 'Horns were beaten up. At various points, Texas lost running back Johnathan Gray, linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, and defensive tackle Chris Whaley, among others, for the season. Additionally, quarterback David Ash sustained a concussion early in the year against BYU and ended up missing practically the entire rest of the season.
Not all the injuries, especially Ash's, can be placed on strength and conditioning staff. In fact, Ash's return in late September against Kansas State, when his concussion symptoms recurred, can be placed on the shoulders of the coaching staff.
Still, there's a legitimate reason to be concerned about the number of injuries afflicting the Longhorns as of late. Brown has stated numerous times on Big 12 coaches' teleconferences that injuries are beyond a team's control, and the best any team can do is move forward after they occur.
That's true, and Brown deserves some recognition for winning six games in a row with injuries. But what percentage of those are the result of bad luck and what percentage are the result of deficiencies in the strength and conditioning program?
The 'Horns generally have had quality depth, but the most noticeable drop-off has been at the quarterback spot. Senior Case McCoy has led some astonishing game-winning drives in his career. As unlikely as it seems, there aren't any active quarterbacks in the Big 12 who can say they've won as many big games when everything was on the line.
In that vein, though, Texas has lived and died by McCoy.
Texas is best when the offense is running the ball well and McCoy is throwing off play-action. However, in five of McCoy's starts this season, the Longhorns' coaching staff has asked McCoy to throw at least 30 passes.
Texas' record in those five games: 2-3. Meanwhile, Brown burned freshman QB Tyrone Swoopes' redshirt against TCU, only to sit him on the sidelines most of the time. That's all on coaching.
It's not all McCoy's doing, of course. Though Texas has been woefully lacking in the QB department since Colt McCoy's departure four years ago, the 44-23 loss to Ole Miss in September was a defensive loss.
Brown had just fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replaced him with Greg Robinson. While that proved to be the right move, Robinson's first game was understandably rough.
Diaz aside, though, Brown has made some nice hires over the years, especially on defense. Gene Chizik (2005-06), Will Muschamp (2008-10) and Robinson (2004; '13) have all had success with Texas. All three went on to land head-coaching gigs.
Offense has been a different story. Former offensive coordinator Greg Davis' time in Austin came to an unceremonious end in 2010 when the 'Horns went 5-7, and it appears current OC Major Applewhite isn't far from a similar fate.
The lone bright spot over the past few years has been former co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. the new head coach at Boise State. He served alongside Applewhite from 2011-12 before spending one season as the head coach at Arkansas State.
There's no doubt Brown has made some excellent hires, but a couple of bad ones have cost him.
Those poor hires have also resulted in poor player development, especially on offense. Getting talent to Austin hasn't been been problem. The Longhorns have had Top-5 recruiting classes in three out of the past four years, per 247Sports team rankings.
For whatever reason, Texas hasn't been able to get the most out of that talent.
Other Big 12 and Texas programs have taken advantage of the Longhorns' recent descent. No two Texas schools have risen as swiftly as Baylor and Texas A&M.
Both hired top-notch coaches in Art Briles (2008) and Kevin Sumlin (2012), and had Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks who were essentially overlooked as QBs by Texas.
The Bears landed 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in 2008. Texas A&M signed 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel in 2011.
Recruiting is a hit-or-miss game anyway, so there's only so much criticism Brown actually deserves for missing out on RGIII and Manziel. What's inexcusable, though, is failing to adequately develop three quarterbacks of his own—Ash, McCoy and Garrett Gilbert—in five years.
Brown has been outcoached and his teams have been outplayed far too often since that 2009 season. Whatever deficiencies Texas had before then were masked by the success of McCoy and Vince Young, two of the best quarterbacks to play in the BCS era.
Texas may still be considered one of the best jobs in college football, but it isn't even the best program in its state at the moment.
A&M has flourished in the SEC and Baylor is investing in Briles and its facilities to make it among the most competitive programs in the Big 12. The gap between Texas and its Texas/Big 12 counterparts has closed.
Texas has the resources to regain its place atop the Big 12, as well as college football. It just needs a new direction.
Which is why, sooner or later, Brown is going to be out as Texas' head coach.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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