Texas Longhorns: Wrestling With Mack


In the world of the Texas Longhorns, Mack Brown is the specter that continues to haunt the program.  The shadow they can’t get away from.  The 400 pound gorilla in the room.

He is after all, Mack Brown, and nearly two years after his dismissal, Texas just can’t seem to shake loose from him.

Brown drew headlines after the Longhorns’ season opening 38-3 loss to Notre Dame by stating that he felt no responsibility for the abysmal state of Longhorns football.  Then this week he found his way into the headlines again when his name started getting mentioned in connection with the suddenly open Athletic Director job following Steve Patterson’s “resignation”.

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All of this attention has gotten the fan base stirred up and Longhorn fans rank just behind teenagers when it comes to uncontrollable angst.  Right now, we could start filming a pilot for My So-Called Longhorns right there on campus.  Does anyone know if Claire Danes could pass for Sally Brown?

All of this attention is forcing me to do something I’ve tried to avoid doing since Charlie Strong walked onto the job: think about Mack.

It is crazy to think about how polarizing a figure Brown has become on the 40 Acres.  At most schools, a guy with a career winning percentage of .767 and 158 career wins would be an unquestioned legend.  He certainly seemed well on his way to that status.  Texas, however, is not most schools.

Anti-Brown sentiment stems back at least to the beginnings of the Applewhite-Simms controversy.  At lot of that you could just write off to the fact that there will always be a segment of the fan base that will always be unhappy, no matter what.  Sure, there were some legitimate criticisms of Brown, but it’s hard to argue with success.

That all changed in the post-2010 world.  As Longhorn futures slid, the criticism got louder and what was once just complaining from the fans turned into outright loathing.  Mack somehow stirred up a writhing anger that belied his team’s actual on-field performance.  Consider that Brown’s record over his last four years is almost identical to the last four years of legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.  (Actually better when you factor in the 12 wins the school had to vacate in 2006-07 due to an ineligible player).  Bowden, however, is loved in Tallahassee while Brown is despised in Austin.

The question I wrestle with is: is it fair?  Who is Mack Brown and what should we think of him? In what context should he be judged?

Is Mack the father figure who won with class and sportsmanship, even when he might have benefited by running up scores?  Or is he the insulated and out-of-touch modern day Nero, munching on cookies as he watches his kingdom burn?  Is he a high character leader of young men who challenged his 2005 title team to be great fathers and husbands, or was that all an act, a character Mack trotted out for the cameras?

I’m reminded of something Rolling Stones guitarist once said about his band mate Mick Jagger, who would disappear into the bathroom for five minutes so he “could become Mick Jagger”.  Is that all Mack Brown was, an alter ego that hid a much less likeable person?

I want to like Mack Brown, because for most of his career in Austin he was everything I wanted a coach to be.  He was a dramatic improvement over David McWilliams and John Mackovic, the only Longhorn coaches I had ever known.  I remember thinking as I watched Brown’s locker room address following the 2006 Rose Bowl that Bob Stoops would never encourage his players to “not let this be the greatest thing that happens in your life”.  Stoops, after all, was Satan incarnate and Mack was nearly a saint.

Dec 30, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Texas coach Mack Brown sings the school song after the game against Oregon Ducks at Alamo Dome. Oregon defeated Texas 30-7. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Yet I have found it impossible not to lose respect for Brown.  Toward the end of his tenure I stopped seeing him as that classy good guy.  I want to think that it was just the pressure and the knowledge that his program was slipping away that drove Mack to change in those last years. Then he comes out and seemingly throws Strong under the bus by saying that he feels no responsibility for the state of the program.  He can’t blame pressure now.  Is it sour grapes or true colors shining through?

Or maybe Brown was always this way and I just didn’t realize it.  I only started to follow the Horns on the internet when all of the realignment drama started in 2010.  Up until that point, once the season was over I turned my attention to other things until the preseason preview magazines began coming out over the summer.  I was a diehard fan but I didn’t thirst for every bit of knowledge I could get until then.  Was I the insulated one living in a burnt orange Camelot?

I don’t think that there is any way that Brown will be seriously considered for Patterson’s job, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning.  Almost certainly, Brown will talk more, and when he does he is likely to stir up more drama and more angst for a fan base that, perhaps, is just as conflicted as I am. I wish he would just go away so I wouldn’t have to think about him.  I wish that he had just walked off into the sunset, much as Darrell Royal did before him.  That way, I could comfortably canonize Brown in my heart and move on.

Unfortunately, he didn’t.  As long as Brown continues to live in the fringes of the Longhorn program, I will continue to deal with my changing views on him.  I’ll keep wrestling with Mack.

Next: Reaction to Steve Patterson's Departure