For as much success Mack Brown led Texas football to during his tenure in Austin, the signs of decline were inevitably too obvious to overlook. As college football continues to evolve into a new era, Texas has a football program that has been falling behind in the Big 12, let alone as a national power. Brown may have won plenty of games, but if Texas was to awake from a slumber, a change was in dire need.
On Saturday evening Brown officially announced his resignation from the program. It was a change many saw coming from miles away back in September, if not before then, but seemed to be put on pause following news Friday night coming out of the banquet that Brown would remain the head coach. Alabama signing Nick Saban to a contract extension added a plot twist to the theme of the week sending the top coach in college football to Austin to lead Texas back to the top. But less than 24 hours later, the tune has changed, and Texas is now back in the hunt for a coach to replace Brown.
Whoever it is that steps in to the role of head coach at Texas will have some big shoes to fill. While the end of the Mack Brown Era in Austin comes on a sour note, missing out on a top 25 ranking to end the season three out of the last four years, Brown did plenty of solid work to get Texas to be a program that sees eight and nine-win seasons as “not good enough.”
From 1980 through 1996, Texas had just four seasons with 10 or more wins. Brown may have taken over at a time when schedules were expanding, but Brown was quick to raise the bar after coming over from North Carolina. In each of Brown’s first three seasons Texas ended the season with nine wins. The bar was not quite set, but the tone was established. Texas was going to be a dominant force in college football.
Six Big 12 South titles, but just two Big 12 titles would come for Brown and Texas. Nine straight seasons with at least 10 wins would follow, with six Big 12 South titles and a pair of conference championships to show for it. Each time Brown led Texas to the Big 12 championship it received a shot at a BCS title. Texas won one of them, with Vince Young helping Brown capture a BCS Championship against USC in one of the best games of the BCS Era.
The 2005 season would end up being the high point of Brown’s coaching career. He would get another crack at it all a few years later, but Alabama was emerging as the true national power in college football under Nick Saban and an injury to Colt McCoy early on would prove to be too much to overcome against a rising Tide.
Much of the success in Brown’s Texas career can be linked to his BCS Championship Game quarterbacks, Young and McCoy. Some might suggest Brown was only as successful as he was because of those two players. That is somewhat silly to honestly consider, but it may not be a coincidence that the most successful stretch of Texas football came with those two under center. There was always much more to those Texas teams, but Young and McCoy were nice luxuries to have on the roster. As it would end up becoming a joke to some, it was Brown’s misses on certain quarterbacks that suggested Brown was no longer on top of his recruiting game.
Robert Griffin III went to Baylor instead of Texas. Johnny Manziel ended up at Texas A&M. Jameis Winston wound up at Florida State. All three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks went somewhere other than Texas, but they also did not end up at abut 120 other schools as well, so the idea that Brown whiffed on these three sometimes gets exaggerated.
Some may say the game passed Brown by or he lost the ability to coach in today’s game. In part that may be true. Texas began to have a defense that some teams could expose. The offense lacked enough playmakers and physicality to compete with the top programs. Few programs put that on display the way Oklahoma did in more recent years.
It is not going to take too much for the right coach to turn things around at Texas. The resources are there. The recruiting soil is fertile. Texas can, and should, be a major player in college football’s hierarchy. Brown was no longer the guy to lead Texas in to the College Football Playoff Era. A new leader was needed to make an impact now. But the reason the expectations should be so high in Texas is because Brown raised the bar.