- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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DALLAS -- A few minutes after unranked Texas put the finishing touches on its stunning 36-20 upset of No. 12 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game on Saturday, Longhorns coach Mack Brown jogged to the burnt orange side of the Cotton Bowl.
Brown raised his hand and gave the UT crowd a "Horns Up" sign.
Who would have blamed him for giving the fans a "Horns down" sign -- or perhaps even something worse?
Hook 'em? Hell, screw 'em.
Brown, the likable coach who guided Texas to its first national championship in 35 years in 2005, is now the guy the Longhorns can't wait to fire. He's been on the hot seat since the then-No. 15 Longhorns gave up a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss to BYU on Sept. 7 and then lost at Ole Miss 44-23 the next week.
Brown has already fired his defensive coordinator, and he might have been dismissed himself if Big 12 officials hadn't bailed the Longhorns out in a 31-30 victory at Iowa State last week. In that game, officials ruled that Texas tailback Johnathan Gray didn't fumble near the goal line in the final minute, even though TV replays seemed to show otherwise. Quarterback Case McCoy scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run two plays later.
But for 60 minutes on Saturday, Brown looked like the best coach on the sideline again, and the Longhorns finally looked like the better-coached team. The Longhorns ended a three-game losing streak to the Sooners, who embarrassed them by a combined score of 118-38 in the past two meetings.
What was supposed to be Brown's funeral turned into a victorious last stand.
"I guess we've won five out of the last nine for those of you who are counting," Brown said.
As much as Brown might have wanted to tell his detractors to shove it, he said he's learned to accept the criticism that comes with coaching at a place like Texas.
"I'm past that," Brown said. "Somebody said after the game that when you win they shut up. That's kind of fun. But it's not what I want to win for. I really don't. I just want to win."
That was evident from the opening minutes of Saturday's game, which was once again the main attraction of the adjoining State Fair of Texas. While the state fair unveiled the new "Big Tex," the Longhorns once again flexed their muscles and pushed around the Sooners on both sides of the ball.
Texas finally looked like the team Brown has wanted them to be. The Longhorns ran for 255 yards on 60 carries and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes. Gray ran 29 times for 123 yards and Malcolm Brown had 120 on 23 attempts. The Longhorns scored a touchdown on Chris Whaley's 31-yard interception return and Daje Johnson's 85-yard punt return.
When Oklahoma pulled to within 23-13 early in the third quarter, the Longhorns scored two consecutive touchdowns to put the Sooners away for good. Texas' much-maligned defense, which was playing its fourth game under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, held OU to 130 rushing yards, sacked quarterback Blake Bell four times and intercepted him twice.
"We ran the ball much better than we did the last two years," Brown said. "We stopped the run more than we did the last two years. We forced turnovers and didn't turn the ball over."
It added up to one of the most satisfying victories of Brown's career, at least since the last time the Longhorns played for a national championship at the end of the 2009 season.
"It's not about me," Brown said. "I want this team to win. I want them to feel like they don't have pressure or anything else on them. They should be able to enjoy their senior year. They should be enjoying winning. That's it. The rest of it is unimportant."
But make no mistake: Brown needed Saturday's victory more than he's ever needed a win in his career. Brown's 154 victories in 16 seasons at UT rank second in school history (Darrell Royal won 167 games in 20 seasons), but the Longhorns were only 25-18 since losing to Alabama 37-21 in the 2009 BCS National Championship. After a 5-7 finish in 2010, the only losing season in Brown's UT tenure, the Longhorns went 8-5 in 2011 and 9-4 in 2012. Bigger things were expected this season until the wheels fell off at BYU.
"This game is always big," Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds said. "To have the season we've had up until now and to win this game is fantastic. I absolutely love it. This is football. When you lose, they're on you. When you win, they're for you. It's just a game. [The fans] want to win. The bottom line is winning is really important. Winning this one is a top priority."
Dodds, one of Brown's biggest supporters, announced last week that he plans to retire in August 2014. Dodds still figures to have some input into whether Brown returns for a 17th season in 2014, but UT president Bill Powers said the search for Dodds' replacement would begin soon. Powers, another one of Brown's most ardent supporters, also is facing pressure from the school's boosters and board of regents, who have grown frustrated as the Longhorns have fallen behind their Big 12 rivals and former nemesis Texas A&M.
Texas fans and boosters detest nothing more than losing to Oklahoma.
"You could tell from the first series we were ready," Powers said. "It was a great game plan. I'm happy for the kids. I'm happy for DeLoss, and I'm happy for Mack. This is the best regular-season game in America. It is competitive and you can't win 'em all. But getting back on the right side of this rivalry is big for us."
In the end, Brown might ultimately have to decide whether he wants to work for a new A.D. and continue to face the criticism he has endured the past few seasons.
"I just [ignore it]," Brown said. "I couldn't do it 10 years ago. I'm older. It really doesn't matter. I'm just trying to win. I don't have anything to prove. My purpose now is to win football games and to lead these kids. I'd like to be a great example for other coaches. That's all I want to be. I don't need any of the other stuff. I really don't. I've learned."
Saturday's unexpected victory might turn out to be even bigger as long as it's only a starting point for what the Longhorns do the rest of the season. Despite the woebegone forecast, UT is 3-0 in Big 12 play after beating the Sooners. The Longhorns should be favored in their next three games, starting with an Oct. 26 road trip to TCU. They finish the regular season with three consecutive games against ranked foes: home against No. 22 Oklahoma State on Nov. 16 and No. 20 Texas Tech on Nov. 28 and at No. 15 Baylor in the Dec. 7 finale.
"What I'm excited about is what comes after this game," said McCoy, who completed 13 of 21 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while starting in place of injured David Ash. "You can study the history of this game. When Texas wins this game, the season usually goes where we want it to go. If we don't, the season goes like it did the last two years."
After pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the 2013 season, the Longhorns' future looks a lot brighter than it did before Saturday.
"We've got a chance to win the Big 12 and go to the BCS," Brown said. "We really do. We're not in the grave. We're climbing out. We're actually alive and have a chance here at 4-2."
And with a few nails seemingly in his coffin, that's all Brown could ask for. The Longhorns still have a chance.