Seven weeks later Brown was given a 10-year, $26 million contract, and on Jan. 1 Young rallied the Longhorns to a 38-37 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Little has gone wrong since.
Brown is a stellar recruiter, mixing honesty ("He didn't tell me I'd start," says defensive back Michael Huff. "He didn't even tell me I'd play") with a salesman's gentlest touch. "He'll go into a home and pick up the little nephew and say, 'Don't you forget about me in 10 years,'" says offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Dealing with parents who are dissatisfied with their kids' playing time consumes huge amounts of Brown's time. He has a system for this. "Every player we recruit thinks he's going to be an NFL star," he says. "When a parent has a problem with playing time, we bring the parent in, with the player, and we watch tape of practice. It usually ends with the father saying, 'Coach, that's enough. You can turn it off.'"
In Brown's 22 years as a head coach, during which 23 of his players have been picked in the first or second round of the NFL draft, only three times has a Brown-coached player left for the pros with eligibility remaining. Hand in hand with his second wife, Sally, a real estate developer and cancer survivor who didn't know football from Foosball when Brown met her in 1992, Brown has built a program that players don't want to leave. "He's provided an atmosphere that makes you want to stay as long as you can," says Tennessee Titans tight end Bo Scaife, who was at Texas from 1999 through 2004.
In an era in which it's hardly worth being called a coach at all if you can't be called a genius, Brown has flourished without a signature system. "No gimmicks and no weaknesses," says former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes. "Just solid football." He is the ultimate football CEO, delegating play-calling to Davis and defensive calls to Gene Chizik while accepting blame for losses and taking little credit for victories. "Mack is the rare coach who's gone 1-10 and gone 10-1," says San Jose State coach Dick Tomey, who worked under Brown in 2004. "He understands both ends of the business."
Before kickoff this Saturday, as he does before every game, Brown will find a quiet place away from the noise and the urgency. He will think not about the win or the loss that awaits but about family and friends long gone. Then he will begin to cry, his own private moment of clarity and balance that precedes the spectacle.