The time when Mack Brown's Texas football could dominate the Big 12 has come and gone. As we edge closer to the conference schedule, it's important for everyone's sanity that we acknowledge the following:
This Texas football culture can no longer field teams capable of maintaining the expected levels of success for Texas or even protecting the tradition of Longhorn football from humiliation. It's over.
Human empires rise and fall, typically following similar patterns of decay that can be picked out by observant followers of the chain of events. For those who didn't have the opportunity to take any classes at UT from Professor M. Gwyn Morgan, the parallels to the collapse of the Roman Empire are there to be made. Since it's instructive to take a big picture look at your program (and it's no less depressing than considering our prospects against Ole Miss) we've provided a glimpse into the collapse of Mack's program through the lens of epic historical collapse.
Empires generally fall apart for multiple reasons: both a combination of external pressure and decaying infrastructure on the inside. Whether it be football success for a particular school or political dominance over the known western world, the rise and fall can look pretty similar:
R.I.S.E climb to the top
Rome built an empire on the backs of Roman citizens who farmed their own lands, fought and trained in legions, and lived to serve Rome. They were products of a culture that was greater than the sum of their parts, full of Republican virtues and led by men who sought greatness and excellence.
Rome's culture gradually moved from self-sufficient Republican farmers to wealthy men ruling over centralized masses of entitled citizens. However, they built laws, roads, and structures that stood the test of time and maintained cultural continuity through evolutions over centuries.
Mack built a Texas Longhorn program that was 80-16 against the Big 12 from 1998 to 2009. He did so by recruiting the the products of a dominant Texas High School football culture and deploying them in (usually) simple schemes. There was a degree of buy-in to Texas Longhorn football that allowed Mack to essentially gather up Texas, aim it at his opponents, and blow them away.
Texas' culture under Mack evolved from fielding great Texas players to fielding Texas players that were enticed by Austin's temptations rather than the chance to pursue excellence and represent Texas. Mack had no lasting cultural structures other than grabbing the best coaches and players first. When his judgment failed, so did Texas Longhorn culture.
Famous last words
After the steady rise came empire, hubris, and famous last words. Everyone recalls Julius Caesar's pronouncement of his success over the Britons, "Veni, vidi, vici." People also tend to recall his words in the Shakespearan play, "Et tu Brute?"
Mack had to do very little to build up Texas other than unite the existing resources. For Texas the hubris was defined by Dodds' claim that "We are the Joneses," followed by "Et tu, Muschamp?" When our head coach in waiting abandoned Texas to be stabbed to death while he built his own program his own way at Florida.
The assumptions of superiority by Dodds on the basis of total number of alumni and merchandise sales were the height of arrogance and entitlement and an early mark of the critical failings of the program's culture.
The end of expansion
The Romans had a hard time establishing themselves against the Parthian empire to the east. They had some sporadic successes against the easterners but they could never submit them under the rule of Rome. There were even some humiliating defeats, such as the death of Triumvirate member Crassus while attempting to conquer Persia and bring himself glory to rival that of Caesar.
Mack Brown was never able to firmly include Norman within his list of regularly defeated foes and was frequently embarrassed while attempting to do so. The most Texas was able to achieve was a sort of draw from 2004 to 2009 with only two losses in six games before collapsing again. As a fantastic symbolic mark of Mack's fall since Colt McCoy went down, Texas hasn't defeated Oklahoma since 2009. That will not change in 2013.
If you aren't expanding or evolving with the rest of the world, you will fail to even maintain what you have. Texas never expanded or improved enough to take down Oklahoma and sit alone atop the Big 12. The 2006 victory came at a low moment for Oklahoma football with a WR forced into the QB role. The 2009 victory was earned by a three point margin, came against an 8-4 Oklahoma team, and occurred after their Heisman QB was injured in the first quarter.
As fans, let's own up to the fact that we lose that game if Bradford stays healthy. Granted his injury was a consequence of their poor pass protection against our good pass rush, but we had the same issues that season and were fortunate that Colt's flu and bruised ribs didn't take him out of the game. It was that close.
Internal decay sets in but is covered up by exceptional individuals
Marcus Aurelius' death is marked by some as the beginning of the fall of Rome. He defeated the Parthians, pacified the Germanic tribes, and produced philosophical content that defined the Empire for some time.
After his death, his son Commodus stepped in and demonstrated that Marcus Aureliui are not a given. Commodus was obsessed with himself and had statues made depicting him as Hercules, killed hundreds of animals for sport every morning, and in general was caught up in the trappings of success and luxury rather than the stoicism of his father.
He was a complete clown and, mercifully for the empire, was eventually assassinated. First they attempted to poison him but he simply vomited it all up. Then they sent his wrestling partner to strangle him to death in his bath. Betrayed by his own athlete. I hope you can foresee the comparison I'm going to make here....
The empire struggled to produce the kind of men that could maintain greatness. Constantine managed to unite the empire by moving it east, uniting it under orthodox Christian doctrines rather than the paganism that had always defined Roman religion, and winning victories over rival factions in Rome as well as external foes.
Will Muschamp was the Marcus Aurelius for Texas, a man who's character strength allowed him to shine through and lead Texas to some of its greatest glories before departing and seeing it all began to unravel.
He was replaced by Diaz, who focused on executing NFL-level complexity on defense and was overly caught up in what Texas athletes might accomplish without realizing that Texas defensive coordinators have to build fundamentally sound and physically tough defenses themselves. The surrounding Texas culture would absolutely failed to produce such a defense without greatness and focus from him. He vomited up our supposedly impressive post-OU run of defensive football in 2012 to avoid getting the axe before being betrayed by his athletes against BYU when they demonstrated fundamentals that would make a Texas 3A coach blush in shame.
Colt McCoy was Constantine. His individual leadership and faith were key in uniting the Texas offense. He moved the focus from an inconsistent and often soft running game to an occasionally indefensible West Coast/spread pass game. Rome handled Constantine's death far better than Texas handled Colt's graduation.
Humiliating defeat exposes Empire
In the battle of Adrianopole, the Goths absolutely obliterated an army of perhaps 25,000 Romans, destroying 2/3 of the men, arms factories across the Eastern Empire, and temporarily eliminating the ability of the Eastern Empire (the stronger end at this time) to field armies.
I'm going to call this the 2010 Texas Football season.
Selfish leadership and mercenary armies undermine national unity
Rome was frequently ripped apart and held back by the rise of individual men with large, personal armies but when these armies began to be comprised of Germans and other barbarians rather than Roman citizens than the Empire really struggled to maintain order.
When your soldiers are entirely mercenary and have zero loyalty to any of the guiding principles of the culture, then the culture won't survive their deployment.
For Texas this has perhaps been best illustrated by Duane Akina's betrayal of the Texas defense on behalf of his DBU legacy. Our defensive backs and Akina seem more concerned with their own draft status and lockdown coverage abilities than fitting into the greater Texas defensive scheme.
"We lock down receivers, y'all stop the run," was the symbolic message sent to the rest of the defense by Texas' secondary play against BYU. Despite Manny Diaz's scheme thriving in Palms defense and Fire Zones, both zone schemes that involve DB play run support, Akina focused on building lockdown press coverage men out of Texas' safeties and corners.
When Diaz integrated man-free coverage as a base defense in 2012 as an apparent compromise it just about tore the defense apart. When Texas moved towards more "bend don't break" Cover-3 defenses instead for 2013, the secondary showed little to suggest that they were aware of how they fit into the "don't break" part of the equation.
There is little in Akina's approach or the play of our "future NFL" defensive backs that shows a great interest in the greatness of Texas football, only their own draft day fortunes. If that's not stemmed (and it almost certainly won't be) expect to see that attitude soon in the play of our defensive ends and other positions.
The barbarians began to knock down the doors
Attila the Hun collected tribute from Rome and nearly destroyed the entire empire before being beaten by a combination of Roman legions and equally terrified Germanic tribes. He died before being able to subdue the empire, thanks mostly to factors outside of Roman success against his armies.
Those Germanic tribes were often united against Rome as well, launching raids and invasions that gradually wore down the Roman armies.
The Visigoth Alaric was raised up and trained by Romans but when his contributions to defend Rome from other tribes were overlooked he turned against Rome and sought to elevate his own people. When the Romans brutally murdered the wives and children of tens of thousands of Gothic soldiers that were fighting in Roman legions, they immediately crossed over to Alaric's side and aided him in besieging Rome, freeing thousands of Gothic slaves, and finally sacking the city while showing remarkable restraint against the inhabitants.
Bill Snyder and Kansas St. have often swooped down from the North to devastate Texas but were usually prevented from stomping on the entire conference due to the efforts of programs that don't feature the Longhorn as a mascot.
Art Briles is absolutely a product of Texas football, arguably it's shining star, although the state's flagship university ignored him and his most famous recruit in favor of Mack and Garrett Gilbert. Briles came from the Texas High School ranks to lead Houston and now Baylor to great notoriety. He's already sacked Austin, freed up Texas recruits to come to Waco, and presents a constant, existential threat to Mack Brown-Texas football.
The empire is totally unable to defend herself from sack and destruction
Eventually Rome was sacked multiple times after Alaric as they could no longer defend themselves from the barbarian kings who were carving up the empire. The Western Empire as it had been known for several centuries was no more, Pax Romana was ended, and the ancient notoriety of the city was all that prevented the murder of every inhabitant.
Against BYU it was demonstrated that Texas is not capable of defending her reputation or even her records (Taysom Hill nearly broke a Vince Young rushing record...) from anyone with a degree of physicality and willingness to beat the hell out of Texas. Do we know any teams like that on the schedule this year?
The tradition moves East and sustains itself there
The Byzantine Empire actually maintained power and influence until the Turks finally destroyed Constantinople in 1453. That's roughly 1,000 years after the Vandals sacked Rome.
Texas football culture and excellence is arguably being demonstrated at Baylor at a level that could put Waco in a position of national contention. Other programs will enrich themselves on Texas recruits and potentially serve as foreign Holy Texan Emperors like the Franks or Hapsburgs...but we all know who stands to thrive in these conditions and maintain Texas Empire in the east.
Fortunately, unlike Rome, we have a reset button that can allow us to overhaul the entire leadership and cultural structure and be back on top again. It's time to push that button.