Mack Brown's Texas Football Legacy

Taylor Gaspar@Taylor_GasparFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

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It's official. Texas has announced Mack Brown will step down after 16 years as the Longhorns head coach.

Brown's 16-year career in Austin had many ups and downs, but he changed Texas football when he arrived in 1998.

In today's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture, it is easy to forget the state of Texas football prior to Brown's arrival. In the previous decade, the Longhorns had two 10-win seasons, went 2-3 in bowl games and had just a 72-54-2 record overall under David McWilliams (1987-1991) and John Mackovic (1991-1997).

A disconnect had evolved between the program and fans by the time Texas fired Mackovic, as noted by Chip Brown for the Associated Press:

Mackovic rubbed people wrong by talking about how great Big Ten football was compared to the Southwest Conference; failed, in the eyes of many UT fans, to properly revere the Longhorns' storied past; and was even criticized for being a wine drinker in a beer-drinking state.

Texas somewhat resembled a dumpster fire the decade leading up to the Mack Brown era, but Brown extinguished the blaze.

He honored the celebrated tradition of Texas football and reunited legendary coach Darrell Royal—who was stiff-armed by McWilliams and Mackovic—with the program. Brown also rekindled the union with the Texas lettermen by organizing the annual Mike Campbell Letterman's Golf Tournament and welcomed lettermen to attend practice.

Brown in 1998.
Brown in 1998.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

One of Brown's most significant moves was rebuilding the relationship with Texas high school football coaches, a move that has helped the Longhorns bolster their in-state recruiting throughout his 16-year tenure.

"Mack Brown won over the Texas high school coaches early in his career," McNeil High School coach Jack Estes told Bleacher Report. "Mack never acts like he is better than you. He has done things that us high school coaches haven't been able to do. But, out of all of the college coaches I have talked to in my career, Mack makes me feel more like an equal than anyone else."

Brown brought dignity back to Texas and reminded fans to come early, be loud, stay late and wear burnt orange with pride.

All of the time and legwork spent rebuilding Texas' brand paid off as the Longhorns returned to dominance on the gridiron.

Brown's first season in Austin put the once flailing Texas football program back on the map. He led the Longhorns to their second bowl win in a decade, ended Nebraska's 47-game home winning streak and watched Ricky Williams run away with a Heisman Trophy.

But the storybook first season was followed by some rocky roads.

Texas plateaued the following five seasons and suffered a five-game losing streak to rival Oklahoma from 2000 to 2004. There were big-name recruits—Chris Simms, Roy Williams and Cedric Benson—without big-time results.

During that time frame, Brown got a reputation for coddling his players. The example most cited by his critics happened after a third straight loss to Oklahoma in the 2002 Red River Shootout. Texas quarterback Chris Simms—who at one point had thrown 15 interceptions and no touchdowns against Top 10 teams—was questioned about his inability to perform against top-ranked opponents.

Brown intercepted the question before Simms could respond, Sports Illustrated pointed out in a postgame article.

"Chris Simms is playing as well as anybody in the country and he will continue to do so," Brown said. "He has big games for the rest of the year. He will continue to play well."

Brown was criticized for pampering his team, which ultimately gave Texas a soft reputation. But that reputation disappeared when Brown landed Vince Young, the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2002 recruiting class.

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Mack Brown of the Texas Longhorns pats Vince Young #10 on the head during play against the Texas A&M Aggies on November 25, 2005 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.  The Longhorns defeated the Aggies 40-
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With his star quarterback leading the way, Brown took Texas to its first-ever BCS game in 2004. Brown's Longhorns faced Lloyd Carr's Michigan Wolverines in what turned out to be an epic Rose Bowl. Young's 372 total yards (including 192 rushing) and five total touchdowns led Texas to a last-second, come-from-behind win over the Wolverines. 

The following season, the Longhorns went undefeated, which gave Brown his first conference title in 22 years as a head coach and sent Texas back to sunny Southern California to take on the reigning college football champion USC Trojans.

Nobody expected Texas to stand a chance against USC. But Young dominated in what was arguably the greatest national championship game in history. The Longhorns' upset over Pete Carroll's Trojans brought a national title back to Austin for the first time since 1970 and elevated Mack Brown to the status of being one of the most revered coaches in college football.

Following the 2005 season, Young chose to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft. The early departure left Texas with a gaping hole on its depth chart. The hole grew larger when verbal commitment Ryan Perrilloux bolted to LSU on national signing day, leaving Brown to rely on a small-town quarterback named Colt McCoy to fill Young's massive shoes.

But McCoy would surprise everyone.

Brown, with McCoy at the helm, led Texas to its third BCS game in 2008. The Longhorns' Fiesta Bowl game against Ohio State had a similar ending as the 2004 Rose Bowl. Texas was down in the final minutes, but McCoy threw a touchdown pass to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds left, giving Texas a 24-21 win.

The following season looked to replicate the success of Brown's 2005 team. Straight off a last-minute BCS bowl win, the Longhorns were undefeated in the 2009 regular season. Brown won his second conference title and a trip back to Pasadena to take on Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game.

But the 2009 season did not have the storybook ending of 2005.

McCoy's throwing arm went numb on a hit in the red zone by Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. McCoy could not continue, and the Longhorns went down in defeat.

The McCoy era had a cruel finish, but his career in Austin was more than anyone could have imagined. McCoy won an NCAA-record 45 starts and was the most accurate passer in the nation in his final two seasons at Texas. Nobody expected McCoy to end up with his name in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 5: Head coach Mack Brown of the Texas Longhorns celebrates speaks to the crowd with quarterback Colt McCoy #12 after their team won the game 10-6 over the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Cowboys Stadium on December 5, 2009 in Arlington, T
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

But he did, and this only added to Brown's legacy.

Between 2001 and 2009, Mack Brown's Longhorns racked up more than 100 wins and nine consecutive double-digit-win seasons. Brown's success during that span ultimately led ESPN to sign a 20-year, $300 million deal with Texas to launch the Longhorn Network.

But the years that followed the magical run were the beginning of the end of Brown's career in Austin.

Brown said he felt like he had a hangover following the loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. That hangover led to Brown's first losing season at Texas.

The Longhorns' 5-7 record in 2010 caused Brown to overhaul his staff and launch a rebuild of Texas football.

Since 2010, Brown's Longhorns have gone 4-14 against AP Top 25 opponents with a 30-20 overall record. Some criticized Brown for not maintaining the standard of Texas Longhorn football, which ironically was the standard he reestablished when he arrived in 1998.

Brown's decision to walk away after an 8-4 season was probably not the easiest decision to make. He's a competitor, and no competitor wants to leave a task unfinished.

It may take time for certain Longhorns fans to remember all of the good Brown did for Texas football, but recent history does not define his legacy.

Mack Brown's massive success on the field built Texas into the most profitable football program in the country, and most importantly, it brought pride back to Longhorn Nation.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar


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