New coaching staff will determine Brown’s legacy
Cedric Golden, Commentary
As the coaching carousel at the University of Texas takes a final turn, Mack Brown is in the off season fight of his life.
Brown is in the process of administering a massive face-lift to a coaching staff that made him one of the most successful coaches in college football. It was a championship staff that fell on tough times, though, forcing Brown to make some tough decisions.
Whatever happens for the rest of his coaching career — be it one season or 21 — Brown will always be known as the coach who ended a 35-year championship drought at Texas. But he understands the importance of a lasting legacy and knows the bitter taste of last season still sticks in the craw of Longhorn Nation. What he does in 2011 will go a long way toward determining how he is viewed in the history books. Brown doesn’t want to be known as a guy who lost his winning formula at the end of his career. That’s why he is putting it all on the line with a newfangled coaching staff.
“Obviously, when you have a tough year like we did, you need to restart,” he said. “I think that was evident for all of us. Restart. Get new energy, and that’s been really easy when you start looking at the coaching search.”
One thing Brown didn’t risk at a news conference Thursday was taking questions from the assembled media. For some reason, he has become the master of the prepared, e-mailed statement. The next question he answers from the media will be his first since Dec. 1.
It’s obvious Brown has been busy retooling what was one of the most successful coaching staffs in college football. Fair or not, though, his nine-year run of 10-win seasons will fade into the background if he doesn’t deliver in a big way with this new staff. Last season’s 5-7 finish came out of nowhere, and no one connected to the Longhorns program ever thought that Brown’s annual $5 million price tag would equal $1 million per win.
The trouble started last January.
The 2009 season was set to end in perfect fashion. The Longhorns would beat Alabama for the national title, and Brown would add to his Texas legend with a second crystal ball in five seasons. Mack was looking at either basking in the championship afterglow for the next few seasons or perhaps riding off into the sunset with a career as a college football studio personality on the horizon.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Colt McCoy’s injury in the title game set in motion a chain of events:
The loss to Alabama erased Brown’s best chance to silence the critics who unfairly insisted his first title came only because he had a singular talent in Vince Young.
The miserable 2010 season prompted the departures of such trusted assistants as offensive coordinator Greg Davis, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and defensive tackles coach Mike Tolleson.
And to top it off, there was the crushing loss of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who took the head coaching job at Florida.
Which brings us back to the present. Brown has never been considered a riverboat gambler in coaching circles, but he decided to take a risk and change the direction of his staff after the mucked hand that was the 2010 season.
So Brown dismantled a staff that served him well on the football field and in the living rooms of Texas recruits. The Longhorns’ 83.3 winning percentage (110-22) over the 10 seasons before 2010 ranks among the nation’s best.
It’s a risky move. If a Fortune 500 company had 13 good years and had its second most productive year before its worst, the CEO would usually stay the course and play the percentages, with the belief that the numbers put up over 12 good years would trump the one bad year.
Brown took a different risk, but a program-altering one, years ago when he decided to stick with Young, who resembled anything but a capable quarterback midway through his redshirt freshman year. There were loud demands to switch the erratic Young to another position — louder cries than some revisionist historians out there care to recall — after he completed a combined 11 of 32 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions in games against Oklahoma and Missouri. Brown ignored the peanut gallery and smartly switched to a zone-read offense that emphasized Young’s tremendous running skills. The result was a 20-game winning streak and a national championship two years later.
But this is the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football, thus Brown’s decision to begin anew in 2011. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis, and strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie are experienced hands, and Brown did his due diligence by vetting them in calls to his most trusted colleagues.
The Bryan Harsin hire and his subsequent pairing with Major Applewhite make for some exciting possibilities on the offensive side of the ball. If Brown can land Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Bostad — the molder of NFL monster tackle Joe Thomas — then he will have assembled a solid group of newcomers, which he hopes will mesh well with the holdovers: Applewhite, Duane Akina, Bruce Chambers and Oscar Giles.
This new staff will ride with Brown into the most important phase of his career.
He’s not a coaching lifer, but his legacy remains important to him. There’s no way Brown wants to go down the same path as Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno — Hall of Famers who stayed too long at the fair — but he does want to finish the way he started: as a winner.