To help him in this endeavor, the university let Perles open the checkbook to hire veteran NFL defensive coordinator Hank Bullough away from the Detroit Lions. It is also pouring $4 million, including the cost of new artificial turf, into Spartan Stadium. Perles has 14 starters back from last season, seven on each side of the ball. "No excuses," says Ferguson. On the street in East Lansing the consensus is that 8-3 would be just about outstanding, especially considering that the Spartans must face Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive weeks and end the season at Penn State.
The politics of Texas football are more clandestine but no less dangerous. Mackovic's predecessor, David McWilliams, was forced to resign one year after a 10-2 Cotton Bowl season and with four years remaining on his contract. It is the curse of the Longhorn program that many of its fans live desperately in the past, recalling with stubborn fondness that Darrell Royal's teams won 167 games in 20 years and national championships in 1963, '69 and '70. "Very long memories," says Mackovic. "Very long and very vivid."
The reality today is that Texas was 6-5 in 1992, Mackovic's first year, and 5-5-1 a year ago. Memorial Stadium was filled only once in those two seasons, and the Longhorns haven't been to a bowl since they lost 46-3 to Miami in the '91 Cotton. On the positive side, Texas's 1992 and '93 recruiting classes were ranked among the top 10 in the nation, and Mackovic has been playing an obscenely young team—six freshmen and seven sophomores started last season.
"We played a bunch of freshmen," says Mackovic, 50. "It's working here. It is working."
Yet good recruiting cuts two ways, temporarily easing pressure but encouraging higher expectations. "It takes longer than three years to rebuild," says athletic director DeLoss Dodds. Then, cutting the other way, he says, "But I think this year is going to be a good year."
Mackovic fancies himself a visionary who is refashioning a program to meet the demands of the '90s, not the '60s, and is building at his own pace. "The game has changed," he says. "The rules have changed so dramatically that it's difficult to make a quick turnaround."
His imagined fan base is in the 20- and 30-somethings who have helped turn Austin into a transplant haven. The university's power brokers, however, are at least a generation beyond that and not as patient as Mackovic. He faces obstacles that Royal never did, including stricter scholarship limitations and the flight of Texas athletes to increasingly competitive out-of-state colleges. (In 20 years only 10 of Royal's letter winners came from outside Texas.) Mackovic also has to grapple with a perception—encouraged by rival schools—that minorities are not always welcome at Texas. "People told me at Texas I'd be just another nigger around," says junior Longhorn linebacker Robert Reed. "They were grossly exaggerating."
"Things are tons different now," says Royal, whose Texas coaching reign ended in 1976 but who still lives in Austin. Do the fans understand this? "All they understand," he says, "is winning and losing."
They know that Mackovic's mediocre record makes him vulnerable, so they pounce on anything, including his personality. He likes wine, they like longnecks. Their blood is orange, his blue. "Far more than anything else, I'm shy," says Mackovic. In reality Texas fans would sip chardonnay with Claus von Bülow if he got the Longhorns back into the hunt for the national championship.
If Mackovic is ever going to get the Longhorns back on top, this seems to be his last, best opportunity. The ground is more fertile, with Colorado and Texas A&M both playing in Austin, and 18 starters are expected back.