I've seen this movie before.
Hell, I even had a bit part in it (so small I didn't need a SAG card).
A good decent man heads up Texas Football and lights up the sky for a while - only eventually to be taken down by a tragic flaw. Fred Akers, the first football coach ever fired at Texas, fits that description (more on that later).
This time it's about Mack Brown, and Scipio has already penned a brilliant, even-handed dissertation on the state of Texas Football today and how for many of us, the present era is over.
He restored a program that had largely been lost in the desert for a decade and a half. He brought together warring factions once thought irreconcilable, fielded largely successful football teams (141-39 record), stocked our roster with talent, coached Texas in some of the greatest games in college football history, and ran a clean program in an increasingly filthy landscape. Brown always cared more about his player's actual well-being than just winning football games, and he never bullied the powerless or unduly took advantage of his position in a place where he had every opportunity.
Look around this world. Those are rare attributes. And they deserve your respect.
Yes they do.
But as Scipio also pointed out, this is about Texas Football. It's about holding one of the best - if not the best job in college football - and producing results that befit the built-in benefits that come with the job. It's about understanding that at this level it is about quantity and quality. This isn't just about OU, although Lord knows it is the cyst that has grown until it can't be ignored. Winning lots of games matter. Competing, and winning at the highest level matters just as much.
Mack Brown has won lots of games. He has won some of the biggest games in UT history. He has also had some games that produced the most maddening results possible. This isn't about individual highs or lows, but rather a look at a baseline; one that separates the wheat from the chaff.
What does the record look like when broken down between ranked opponents and unranked opponents.
I'm dividing this into parts: 1998-2003, 2004-2009 and 2010-2012.
Yes, for the discerning, they are broken up between the Vince & Colt years and everything else. Before anyone begins with the asinine "See, Coach Mack couldn't win without a transcendent player" crap, this isn't about devaluing that time. Mack Brown deserves every bit of credit for getting Vince Young and Colt McCoy on campus. He recruited them. He hired the assistant coaches that laid the foundation in recruiting them, and he also recruited the talent that surrounded those two.
My reason for breaking out Mack's record against nationally ranked opponents is simply to support the thesis that if you need a once-in-a-generation type player to compete against other elite programs, there are going to be hard times to deal with.
And when your most hated rival is an elite program that lives to humiliate you, there are going to be some really hard times.
Mack Brown vs. Ranked Opponents (1998-2003)
Top Ten 3-9
Top 11-25 9-4
Total 12-13 (48%)
For those who bring up the "dark days" of 1997 as a reason to fear change, all three of Mack's wins against Top 10 opponents during this stretch were in 1998-99, with a team built around John Mackovic's recruits. Of course Mack's best recruiting catch during this time was convincing Ricky Williams to stick around.
Mack Brown vs. Ranked Opponents (2004-09)
Top Ten 6-5
Top 11-25 14-0
Total 20-5 (80%)
Oklahoma was ranked in five of those years, and Texas won 3 out of 2. Going 14-0 against from the Top Ten down is a helluva achievement. Vince & Colt were both 7-0 during this stretch. A National Championship, two other BCS bowl wins built up a reservoir of goodwill that hasn't lasted long.
Mack Brown vs. Ranked Opponents (2010-12)
Top Ten 1-4
Top 11-25 0-5
Total 1-9 (11%)
Mack Brown vs. Ranked Opponents (1998-2012)
Top Ten 10-18 (35.7%)
Top 11-25 23-9 (71.8%)
Total 33-27 (55%)
A 10-18 record against Top Ten competition is not "Texas Good."
You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting -- one of Mackovic's favorite sayings. In college football there is an eventual chain reaction to on-the-field results. Recruiting, ticket sales, fund-raising, fan support all take a hit. Let the stench linger and your program can wander through the desert of mediocrity for years.
The Akers-Brown comparison is a long way from perfect, but there are some similarities in the performance downturn. The biggest difference; Akers replaced a legend. Brown was brought in to clean up the mess. Both inherited a Heisman Trophy candidate and both utilized them to the fullest.
In some ways, Akers was on borrowed time from his first day on the job. The handling of Royal's resignation and Akers' hiring had created a crack in the program that would grow into the Grand Canyon before it was over. It started with the marching orders that the new coach could willfully ignore his boss (AD Royal) when it came to matters dealing with the football program. The combination of the splitting of the administration, boosters and alums into two factions along with the Wild, Wild West shenanigans going on in the SWC made survival next to impossible for Akers.
Still, he had a spectacular run for seven seasons. Akers brought with him a young, aggressive staff that loved recruiting and fully understood the power of the Texas name. Akers and his assistants recruited nationally, bringing in a level of out-of-state talent that hadn't been seen before. He also retained a couple of assistants who made the transition go smoothly.
Fred Akers vs. Ranked Opponents (1977-83)
Top Ten 13-6
Top 11-25 6-3
Total 19-9 (67.8%)
Akers problem was the opposite of Brown's in terms of wins. For most of his stay here at Texas, Mack Brown has kept his losses to inferior opponents to a minimum. Akers was outstanding against elite opponents, but every year there seemed to be a "WTF" game where Texas wouldn't show up against a lesser team.
By the time Texas fumbled away the 1984 Cotton Bowl to Georgia by a score of 10-9, the fissure within the program was swallowing up Akers. Top assistants had drifted away, to be replaced by lesser coaches. Recruits were either going to the highest bidder (A&M, SMU, TCU, OU) or were simply turned off by the mess on campus. Coach Akers stubbornly kept walking into the fire relying on past tactics and schemes to continue to work, despite the drop off of talent. It took three years to play out, but was inevitable.
Fred Akers vs. Ranked Opponents (1977-86)
Top Ten 14-8-1
Top 11-25 10-8
Total 24-16-1 (58.5%)
The specific details behind the demise of Fred Akers may not have much relevance to Mack Brown's dilemma, except for a pattern of regression on the field.
Akers turned a blind eye to the cancer eating away at his program until it was too late. From 1984-86, Akers went 0-5-1 against OU and A&M. He was 20-14-1 over his last three seasons.
Today the stakes are even higher, about $75 million higher compared to the revenue being generated 25 years ago. The stadium holds 35,000 more fans now. The media exposure has grown exponentially. Recruiting is a year-round sport for most fans. Since 2010 Mack is 17-14.
You know what hasn't changed?
Your goal as head coach of the Texas Longhorns is to, within the rules, make Oklahoma a smoking crater every year in Dallas.
Mack Brown is 10-18 against opponents ranked in the Top Ten. He has played OU nine times when the Sooners were ranked in the Top Ten and is 1-8. You could say that the OU series skews his record against Top Ten teams.
But then again, that's the point isn't it?