Texas' Brown makes coaching look easy (cont.)
There is a big problem with the "Anyone can win at Texas" theory though and it's simply this: Before Brown came along, Texas lost an awful lot. Sure, the school still had this big reputation, most of it left over from those Darrell Royal days and the wishbone offense. But for 15 years before Brown arrived at Texas in 1998, Texas had not finished a season in the top 10. Shoot, 10 of those 15 years they finished the season unranked. Seven of those years they finished 6-5 or worse. Texas was like an old ballplayer living on a reputation.
Brown came in and immediately led Texas to a nine-win season, which included a Cotton Bowl victory and a Heisman Trophy for Ricky Williams. Three seasons later, the Longhorns finished in the top 5. The next season, they finished sixth. The year after that, they went into their bowl game ranked fifth (and lost to Washington State to drop out of the top 10). You would think that after a 15-year malaise that Texas fans would have been ready to start naming buildings after Mack Brown.
Of course, the exact opposite was true: Nobody seemed especially happy with ol' Mack. They called him Mr. February -- the guy who looked great during recruiting season but could not beat Oklahoma. They complained about how, even with all his victories, he had never won a conference title. They said he was too nice, his players were too soft, his program was too corporate, whatever. They called him just about the nastiest word you can call a football coach. They called him "underachiever."
Then came 2005; The undefeated season. The 70-3 conference championship victory over Colorado (OK, you can put that never won a conference championship thing to rest). That year, his team beat Tressel's Ohio State, Stoops' Oklahoma, and finally Carroll's USC in one of the great games in bowl history. It is one of the great seasons in college football history. Nobody could deny Mack Brown his place now, right?
Only, of course, many did anyway. Big deal. He had a team loaded with NFL talent. He had the great Vince Young at quarterback. They said Brown had only LIVED UP to his talent. And it's a funny thing: Once things start going in THAT direction, well, no amount of winning can change things. The more he won -- since 2005, Texas has beaten Oklahoma three out of four times and the Longhorns' only loss the last two years was that miracle at Texas Tech last season -- the more he should have won. And the more willing people seemed to be to give the credit to the power and aura and wealth of Texas.
Put it this way: Most people, when doing matchup charts for tonight's game, put the coaching check mark next to Saban. You can bet on that. And if Texas loses tonight, you can bet there will be more than a few who will say: "That's Mack Brown for you."
And this just speaks to how good a coach Brown really is. He may come across as the nice guy next door who would lend you his lawn mower, but he is in fact the most organized coach in America, a guy who never fails to have an angle covered. He is, by all accounts, one of the best coaches in the country to work for -- his staff is famously loyal. He is, of course, one of America's best finishers when it comes to recruiting. He is, of course, one of America's best motivators: Texas has won more games than any team the last decade for a reason: Texas comes to play week after week after week.
Someone on Wednesday asked Brown what he will be thinking about when he wasn't sleeping the night before the game. His answer was so compelling and such an interesting look into his mind, that it's worth reprinting in full here:
"What you're doing is you're making sure that you're going through a checklist in your mind. Are they going to onside kick to open the game? Do we? How do you punt it? How do you protect? What about your fakes? What about protection? How do you start the game? How do you get your offense more comfortable than they were against Nebraska? What do you do on defense? Will Alabama open it up with a wide open offense like they did against Florida? Will they start with drop back and play action against us? Will they try to run (Mark) Ingram to start the game?
"And what am I supposed to say? I'll have 122 sets of eyes looking at me, an entire staff looking at me ... wanting me to put some sense into how important this game is ..."
And here, Brown almost involuntarily dived into a rough version of his pregame speech:
"I want you focused. I want you tough. I want you ready to play. I want you to have fun, which gets really contradictory when they're looking at you. Is it important, Coach? Yeah, it's the National Championship. You're the best at what you do in the country, and you've got three and a half hours to prove it. You want to respect Alabama, but you don't want it so your team is not sure you think they can win. They have to know myself and our coaches think they can win."
And here, Brown smiled and paused.
"So," he said, "all those things go through your mind."
And in those few seconds, maybe it was easy to see just why Brown is so good at this. There are other adjectives you can use about him beyond nice. He's smart, and he's focused, and he's organized. But perhaps more than anything else, he is thorough. He has thought about everything. He has planned everything. He will make sure that that the 12-year-old fan in Amarillo who wanted an autographed picture got one. He will make sure that all the targeted recruits in the country know exactly how Texas can be the right school for them. He will make sure that every player on his team knows their exact role. He will make sure every one of his coaches has the right theme in his mind but also the freedom to be his own coach. He will stay awake at night making sure the Texas players are in position if Alabama decides to start tonight's game with an onside kick.
He will handle all of it ... so that others don't have to think about it. And if people say that it's easy, that anyone can win at Texas, well, you get the feeling Mack Brown won't mind that at all. Anyone CAN win at Texas. Mack Brown made it that way.
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