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For Coaches Like Mack Brown and Bobby Bowden, It's Hard to Know When to Say When

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For Coaches Like Mack Brown and Bobby Bowden, It's Hard to Know When to Say When
USA Today

In the clearing stands a boxer

And a fighter by his trade

And he carries the reminders

Of ev'ry glove that layed him down

Or cut him till he cried out

In his anger and his shame

"I am leaving, I am leaving"

But the fighter still remains

Simon & Garfunkel - "The Boxer"

 

Like legendary prizefighters, college football coaches have the impossible task of deciding when enough is enough. Often, because their gauges have long been broken, the choice is eventually made for them regardless of the creative terminology used in a press release.

Their styles don’t change with time, but their movements decelerate just enough. To the average viewer, there is no difference. But the experienced watcher sees the small (but dramatic) slowdown.

The profile still has the same impressive shape it has always had, but the muscles no longer pop—like a teddy bear that has endured the wrath of the washing machine one too many times.

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

And yet, through all the transformations, missed jabs and gasps for air, the confidence never falters. The end of the cycle is difficult to watch, but the willpower is never questioned. This is what got them there, although at some point the confidence begins to work against them. In the end, only one undefeated opponent remains.

Time.

After 16 successful years, Mack Brown’s time at Texas is up, at least on the sidelines. The head coach has “resigned,” although that word will garner a mixed response given the circumstances.

For him, it wasn’t a matter of physical slowdown or some sort of mental lapse. Despite being an integral part of the cash cow—or perhaps cash steer is more appropriate—he simply wasn’t getting it done.

When announcing that the Alamo Bowl would be his last game, Brown discussed the decision with the utmost class, saying all the right things about this incoming change. This is nothing new, and it’s also why this decision was such a difficult one to make.

Courtesy of TexasSports.com:

I love The University of Texas, all of its supporters, the great fans and everyone that played and coached here. I can't thank (former athletics director) DeLoss Dodds enough for bringing our family here, and (UT president) Bill Powers and the administration for supporting us at a place where I have made lifelong friendships. It is the best coaching job and the premier football program in America. I sincerely want it to get back to the top, and that's why I am stepping down after the bowl game. I hope with some new energy, we can get this thing rolling again.

The idea of “new energy” is real. For proof of this, look at what Jimbo Fisher has done in Tallahassee. Fisher, of course, took over for coaching legend Bobby Bowden, a change that was expected and, yet, difficult to execute. It's also somewhat similar to what Texas is going through right now.

After going 38-27 (adjusted to 26-27 by NCAA) in his last five seasons, Bowden—like Brown—“resigned.” This resignation has since been clarified by the former head coach, although the title of his departure was only that. Even at the time, it was abundantly clear he was being told to go.

"I don't hold a grudge very long,'' Bowden said on his departure from the school, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times. “I'm still a little mystified at the way it happened. I called their bluff, and they weren't bluffing. Remind me never to call someone's bluff again.'' 

The school was put into a difficult situation, and the result—while ugly at the time—has paid off. Florida State will play in the national championship game next month, and Jimbo Fisher has his team set up to thrive for years if he stays.

Doug Benc/Getty Images

That was the end of an era and a beginning of another, one that is finally being realized. Texas is hoping that the name it tags to lead its team will have a similar effect in the shortest amount of time.

Like the schools they coached, Bowden and Brown were also put in difficult situations, ones we cannot even begin to understand. After years—well, decades—of overwhelming football success, they didn’t believe change was necessary. Of course they didn’t, nor should they.

It’s this confidence and attitude that helped guide them to the football zenith, a place few coaches have ever reached. The same attitude has helped turned Florida State and Texas into the enormous financial athletic powers they are today. This wasn't the result of just two people, but it doesn't happen without them.

Was each operating under his own unique sense of entitlement? I certainly hope so. Wouldn’t you?

From the outside perspective, it’s easy to holler, “give it up!” to those who have hung around too long and call for their heads.

But from the coach’s perspective—the one who is being forced out and the others who will see all ends of this cycle—such wave-the-flag options don’t exist. There’s far too much pride on the line to seemingly walk away from the perceived mess they helped create. And in their mind, things can always be fixed.

There’s something to be said about this confidence, which can also be an enormous detriment at a certain point. They believed they could still coach at an incredibly high level. It's the only thing they have ever known. Others couldn't wait any longer.

The polite tap on the shoulder came at a time when both weren't ready to give it up. In reality, however, there is no perfect time. In a dream scenario, each coach would be carried off the field one final time after an undefeated season, walking off into the sunset a winner. Retiring on top.

The cycle simply doesn't work that way. Eventually, their enormous successes started to work against them, becoming their own worst enemies at the very end. 

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