Texas coach Mack Brown has been leading the Longhorns since 1998, compiling a 135-34 mark and achieving a national title along the way. But could the 60-year-old native of Cookeville, Tenn., be the most overrated coach in the country?
Yes, under Brown, Texas rebounded from a 4-7 season under John Mackovic in 1997 to go 9-3 the following year and win the Cotton Bowl.
Yes, under Brown, Texas had never won fewer than nine games in a season until last year’s 5-7 mark.
Yes, under Brown, the Longhorns have an impressive 8-4 record in bowl games, including that national championship in 2005.
Yes, under Brown, the Horns regularly have among the top recruiting classes in the nation.
But before you dismiss the notion of him being “overrated,” consider the facts.
Critics of Brown suggest that despite the team’s successes over the last 13 years, Texas has just one national title and—perhaps more troubling—just two Big 12 titles during that time. Sure, they’re going against tough in-conference competition each year in Oklahoma and (formerly) Nebraska. But two conference championships in 13 years isn’t a particularly impressive stat for a purportedly elite coach.
To paraphrase a popular Notre Dame blog, “What ‘legendary’ coach has only won two conference titles in a 13-year span?” Bob Stoops has won seven Big 12 titles at Oklahoma during the same period. Is he as “legendary” in Norman as Brown is in Austin?
On the recruiting front, critics ask how Brown and the Horns couldn’t regularly have one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Once again quoting the Irish blog:
“You're talking about a university that is king in one of the three richest states for high school football talent in the country. Texas high school football is probably the most intense high school football in the country, and just about every one of those kids dreams of putting on those burnt orange colors and playing in Austin. … In other words, the head coach at Texas has his pick of the litter. There's no other situation like it in the country. … In Texas, it's all about Longhorn football, and Mack Brown barely has to step out of his backyard to put together a top-five recruiting class. In the Big 12, Texas is always going to have the best access to talent in the conference.”
Sure, Brown and his staff deserve some credit for bringing in many of the right players and utilizing them properly on the field, but perhaps they don’t deserve as much credit as many give them.
Similarly, although Brown does have a national championship under his belt with the Longhorns, detractors say that that was more Vince Young’s title, not Mack Brown’s. Young carried the team that year and “turned Texas from a program that always came up small in the big moments into one that found ways to get it done.”
Sure, Brown deserves credit for it happening under his watch, but he may not be as responsible as other coaches are for their teams' successes.
Furthermore, despite Brown’s largely positive reputation around the country, Texas football fans are among the most hardcore—and, occasionally, unforgiving—in the nation. Whether they admit it or not, there’s a prevailing feeling of “What have you done for me lately?” when it comes to major college football.
And right now, Brown and his Longhorns have a crummy, bowl-free 2010 season that they’re looking back on.
Yes, the Horns are 2-0 to start the 2011 campaign heading into a tough matchup this afternoon against UCLA at the Rose Bowl, but unless Texas is able to approach that 10-win threshold and compete for a berth in a BCS bowl game, Brown’s critics will continue to gain steam.
With conference realignment wreaking so much havoc in college football and with Texas weighing a potential move to the Pac-12 or ACC, each win, each successful season, each BCS berth makes your program that much more valuable.
Is it fair to call Mack Brown overrated? No. Of course not.
With all the new factors to consider, will it seem more fair to call for his head should the Longhorns go through another season as disappointing as 2010? Yes.
That’s just how college football works these days.