Because Mack Brown Has Something to Prove

Admit it, non-orangebloods. You took some pleasure in the collapse of the vaunted UT program last season. Well, guess what? Now it’s time for the empire to strike back.
Illustration by Marc Burckhardt

To rise again, you first have to fall. And to fall, you first have to rise, which, since he took over as the head coach of the University of Texas, in 1998, and until last year’s disastrous season, Mack Brown had been doing steadily, smoothly, and with the aura of inevitability that surrounds multinational corporations and top-tier Hollywood stars. He won one national championship and led UT to another. He enjoyed a streak of nine seasons with ten or more wins. He established himself as one of the greatest recruiters of all time. He earned a higher winning percentage than Darrell Royal, for whom the university’s stadium is named. And he never had a losing season with the Longhorns—that is until last year, when he dropped seven games. It was a humiliating experience, Brown’s worst record since 1989. The low point was a wheels-off-the-wagon loss to Iowa State, a team that finished the year with only five wins.

So now comes the “rise again” part, right? Brown, who turned sixty on August 27, knows that much is riding on his team’s performance this year. In the off-season he shook up the program, hiring six new coaches, including offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who was at Boise State, and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who came from Mississippi State. And he’ll have to contend with the added pressure of an unprecedented, and highly controversial, agreement with ESPN to create a 24-hour cable channel called the Longhorn Network. Based in large part on the success of the football team, the deal is worth $300 million over the next twenty years. Of course, even without the round-the-clock coverage, you can bet that this season, the eyes of Texas will be on Mack Brown like never before.

Nine years ago I interviewed you in this office for a story in which I made the case that UT was poised to win its first national championship since 1970. I missed by just a few seasons. Today you’re at a completely different moment in your coaching career, so how would you describe what to expect?

When I arrived here, in ’98, it had been nearly thirty years since the program had won a national championship. So we asked the question “Is it realistic to win a national title? We think it is, but is it really?” Then we did win one, in 2005. In ’08 we were third with a chance. Then in ’09 we were back in the title game again. So there was no question in my mind that we could win another national championship. But with the slide last year, the setback allowed us to make some hard reevaluations. Some of the coaches resigned. Some left. It really was helpful to have the chance to start over.

Today we’re obviously further along

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