Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Next Texas coach must unify program again
By Max Olson
AUSTIN, Texas -- Your average resignation news conference involving a legendary coach is typically filled with thank-yous, fond recollections and excessive sentimentality. Mack Brown’s had that.
Your average resignation news conference doesn’t include a school president having to answer whether regents forced out the head coach. The average ones don’t involve asking who’s actually hiring the next coach and whether that coach can reunify the fan base.
Mack Brown spoke of the many great things about being the Texas coach, but also hinted at some of the problems the next coach will face.
Mack Brown’s had that, too. Makes you wonder if that next coach was watching on TV. If so, he should have a better sense of the potential dysfunction that awaits whoever takes over Texas’ football program.
Texas is arguably the No. 1 college football job in the country. National brand, unparalleled resources, talent-rich recruiting base, gorgeous campus and city, and oh, by the way, a generous paycheck. It’s all there, a dream job in so many ways.
President Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson won’t need to accept applications and résumés for this opening. They’ll go after the very best of the best in the coaching profession. They won’t have a hard time getting someone to take the gig.
But whoever does should know what he’s walking into. Brown hinted at this throughout the weekend.
When he put out a statement Saturday night declaring that his run was over, Brown alluded to the Texas program being “pulled in different directions” and that change was necessary.
A day later, he opened his news conference by referring back to a conversation he had with the late Darrell Royal when Brown took the job in the winter of 1997.
“There is such a diverse group that follows this football team that you have to pull them all together, and that is very difficult to do,” Brown said. “He said when you get them all together, it's wonderful and it's a powerful place. But when it is not, it is very divided and it is a very difficult place to manage.
“So he said it's like a box of BBs and the BBs are dropped all over the room. What you got to do is get all the BBs back in the box. And we were able to do that. We were able to do that for a long time, until 2010. And then, as of late, the BBs have gotten back out of the box.”
The BBs aren’t just the fans and season ticket-holders. They’re also the big-money donors and boosters, members of the UT System Board of Regents, the people who make up Texas’ athletic department and anyone else supporting the cause of Longhorn football.
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And they all have a say. They have immense influence. That’s why Powers was asked whether the regents drove Brown out, which he denies. That’s why he had to declare Patterson is in charge of this hire.
Think Nick Saban faces “special pressures” as the owner and operator of the Alabama dynasty? They’re probably nothing like this. Did I mention that the regents could've voted Powers out last week, or that a current and former regent tried to make a run at landing Saban in January?
In Brown’s final four years at Texas, he lost 20 games and the faith and support of a strong faction of the fan base. The swirling negativity and vitriol wore on him, his coaches and his players, and was exacerbated with each loss, especially in 2013.
The atmosphere of home games noticeably worsened, to the point that the Longhorns typically played better on the road in recent years.
That’s why “energy” and “culture change” are two of the biggest buzzwords associated with what’s setting up to be a monumental hire for Texas. The new guy needs serious savvy, enthusiasm and a willingness to play politician when necessary.
And let’s not forget, that’s on top of the inherent pressure of replacing a coach who won 158 games in 16 seasons, of living and playing up to the standard Brown set during his tenure.
Texas is one of just eight programs in the country with a winning percentage above .750 in the past decade. Its next coach must lead the Longhorns back into the hunt for playoff berths and national championships as soon as possible.
If Royal were still around today, he’d likely offer the new guy the same advice he once gave Brown, after a long spiel about all the folks he’d need to impress at UT: “Oh, yeah: You need to win all the games.”
First, Brown’s successor will have to mend some fences. He’ll need to unify a fractured base. Winning is usually the most effective antidote, but it’ll take more than that.
The BBs don’t get back in the box all by themselves.