“Let’s pretend that a certain magazine writer believes that this season is UT’s best chance to win the national championship in more than thirty years,” a certain magazine writer says to Mack Brown. “How would you answer that?”
“First, I’d say that the writer probably doesn’t know enough about football,” Brown replies, with all the humor of an undertaker. “Since I don’t know how good the team is going to be, I know that no one outside of this business can know. I also know that’s the kind of hype that sells magazines.” The coach and the writer consider each other for a moment, then a slight grin creeps across Brown’s face. “Second, I’d say that we’ve got more experienced depth than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here.”
For the head coach of the University of Texas football team, winning the national championship is a bit like studying the sun. It’s always burning down on you, but you can’t look directly at it. During Brown’s hiring process, in December 1997, UT regent Tom Hicks said he was looking for the guy who could bring home the national title. That frankness makes sense at a university that began paying its head football coach more than its president way back in 1937, and the search committee unanimously agreed that Brown was the man to do it.
After four seasons in Austin, he has rewarded the school by winning 38 games and losing only 13. That marks the program’s most productive stretch since the period between 1969 and 1972, which just happens to include the school’s last two national championship teams. Brown is coming off a season in which the Longhorns won eleven games and finished with a top-five ranking for the first time since 1983. He enjoyed another recruiting period in which he won his second unofficial national recruiting title, and when the preseason polls are announced, UT is sure to be in the top three. ESPN’s Ron Franklin—a former broadcaster of Longhorns games—picked the team to be number one.
But Brown is at the point in his career where being known as one of the best coaches in the country is less important than proving that he is the best. Fairly or not, at the University of Texas, you are not thanked for winning eleven games. You are criticized for losing the two that kept you out of the national championship. “Some of the alumni and former players want to win so bad that it’s a little unfair,” says James Street, who was the starting quarterback for the