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Mack's Factor

Texas' Brown always won big, but only by learning to relax and enjoy himself did he get a chance to win the big one

January 03, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Texas — It's a tough crowd here at the Longhorn Laugh Stop when you consider the stand-up Mack Brown has done in eight seasons at Texas and what he gets credit for doing.

Really, if you recently dropped in from outer space and had to pick the best college football coach in the last decade, might it be Mack?

Penn State's Joe Paterno, the 2005 Associated Press national coach of the year, doesn't make the short list.

Bobby Bowden of Florida State won a national title in 1999 but now seems to be on a Seminole slippery slope.

Bob Stoops, the black hat in Brown's derby, didn't start the Oklahoma party till 1999 and went 7-5 his first year.

Brown hasn't finished 7-5 since 1995 at North Carolina -- and wouldn't dare do it again.

You can't count Steve Spurrier because he took that ill-advised NFL detour; Phil Fulmer had Tennessee going for a while but this year turned a top-five preseason ranking into a pratfall.

Larry Coker won a national title at Miami with Butch Davis' players; Urban Meyer hasn't stayed in one place long enough to evaluate a recruiting cycle; Nick Saban was posing as a college coach until the right NFL job -- Miami's -- opened next to a yacht slip.

There is, of course, Pete Carroll of USC, who is on his way to becoming Bud Paul W. "Bear" Bryant Wilkinson.

But if Carroll loses Wednesday he will be leading Brown in national titles only 2-1, and they're still disputing one of those titles in Baton Rouge, La.

Brown's numbers are tough to dismiss.

He is 13-0 this year if you count last January's Rose Bowl win over Michigan.

His winning percentage, .823, tops all coaches in the last decade and he has more wins in that span, 102, than anyone.

Yet, the portrait of Brown is complex. He is, no doubt, a players' coach, a people person, a public relations master, a sportswriter's dream.

The persistent rap on Brown, though, was that he could close deals on recruits but not on titles, thus his nickname: "Mr. February."

Nice guy; desk very organized.

Brown was first-team Fortune 500 as a chief executive, but you could name 10 other coaches you'd want on the sideline in a tie game.

After beating Oklahoma in his first two seasons, Brown lost five straight in the series and his anguished face became the Longhorn logo.

Brown unsteadily navigated through the epoch of Chris Simms or Major Applewhite at quarterback and figured out the answer was Applewhite one series too late in the 2001 Big 12 Conference title game, when a victory over Colorado would have put Texas in the national title game.


"They say it builds character," Brown recently said. "I'm full of it, boy. I'm full of character. I don't have any need for a loss again my whole life."

His career had been a dream except for "yeah, but ... "

* He couldn't beat Oklahoma when it counted.

* He couldn't get to a bowl championship series game let alone win one.

* He had never led a team to a conference title.

Then, in one fell football swoop, Brown checked the digs off his docket.

In the last calendar year, Brown won a Rose Bowl, beat Ohio State in Columbus, defeated Oklahoma when it mattered and led Texas to a Big 12 championship.

Former Texas Coach Darrell Royal, who has covered Brown's back through those guilty-with-an-explanation 10-win seasons, recently posed a question as it relates to Wednesday's national title game.

"If we win, what is it he hasn't done?" Royal said of Brown. "Nothing. He's covered it all."

People who have marveled at Brown are taking this time to set records straight.

Dick Tomey, the former Arizona coach who spent the 2004 season on the Texas staff before taking over at San Jose State, said of Brown, "He's one of the greatest leaders I've been around."

Tomey said the label of Brown-as-figurehead is nonsense.

"He's being shortchanged there," Tomey said. "He's very much the heartbeat of the team. They go out and play for him. He's not some guy in an ivory tower issuing orders."

What about the Xs and O's?

"Nobody is brilliant in that area," Tomey scoffed. "The great genius in coaching is getting the guys to play."

Watson Brown, the head coach at Alabama Birmingham, doesn't hesitate when asked to name the biggest misconception about his little brother.

"Well, he can recruit but he can't coach," Watson said. "You don't win games he won at North Carolina and Texas and not be a good coach."

The truth is Mack Brown has improved the situation behind every door he has entered.

His first team at Tulane, in 1985, was 1-10. His last team was 6-6.

His first team at North Carolina, in 1995, was 1-10. His last team finished 10-1 and No. 4 in the coaches' poll.

Texas was 4-7 the year before Brown arrived in 1998, and the Longhorns have won nine games or more every season since.

The givens were that Brown could charm the intent letters out of players and commit to memory the names of every high school coach in the state, but it has to be more than that.

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