After a wild week of massive speculation created a combustible atmosphere, Mack Brown announced Saturday that he is stepping down as head football coach at the University of Texas, ending a 16-year run that included a national championship and two Big 12 titles, but recently began slipping into mediocrity.
Brown informed the team during Saturday’s practice, its first in anticipation of the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30. He will coach the Longhorns against Oregon at the Alamodome in San Antonio, then remain at UT as special assistant to the president, according to Joe Jamail, Brown’s attorney and UT benefactor.
“We built a strong football family, reached great heights and accomplished a lot, and for that, I thank everyone. It’s been a wonderful ride,” Brown said in a statement. “Now, the program is again being pulled in different directions, and I think the time is right for a change.”
Brown added, “I hope with some new energy, we can get this thing rolling again.”
Jamail said that UT will honor Brown’s contract through 2020, but Brown could accept another coaching job somewhere else before then. Jamail told the American-Statesman on Saturday that Brown had received three coaching offers this fall, two of them “firm.”
Saturday’s announcement was the end result of a weeklong drama that caught the nation’s attention in numerous ways.
The Longhorns ended a disappointing 8-4 season on Dec. 7, and speculation immediately focused on Brown’s job status. On Wednesday, the American-Statesman reported that Brown had discussions earlier in the week with school officials about resigning, but that no final decision was made. School officials vehemently denied other reports that Brown would resign.
On Thursday, Brown’s friend and UT-Austin President Bill Powers was fighting to keep his own job. Powers received a public lecture from UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa about their differences, but Powers was ultimately safe.
Then, on Friday afternoon, Powers, Brown and new men’s athletic director Steve Patterson met to discuss the coach’s future. All three participated in the team’s annual football banquet that night and gave glowing public statements about one another. But nobody said anything definitive.
Just before the banquet ended, news broke that Alabama coach Nick Saban — a long-shot dream hire for some Longhorns fans — had agreed to an extension to remain in Tuscaloosa. This was the same coach that one UT regent and a former regent chased after in January, hoping to land him after Brown left or got fired.
Brown and his wife, Sally, were literally the last ones to leave the Frank Erwin Center on Friday night, approximately 50 minutes after the banquet was over. It was not the behavior of a coach who had just been told he was being forced out.
But after a long week, the atmosphere was just too negative. If Brown had stayed for the 2014 season, many Longhorns fans likely would have been demanding his ouster at the first sign of trouble.
“I’ve had a number of talks with him recently, and he has always said he wanted what was best for the University of Texas,” Patterson said in a statement. “I know this decision weighed heavily on him, and today he told us he’s ready to move forward.”
Brown, 62, is widely credited for lifting UT’s signature athletic program from the doldrums when he arrived prior to the 1998 season. The Longhorns finished in the top 15 rankings of the Associated Press poll for 10 consecutive years until 2009.
With a 158-47 record at Texas, Brown was only nine wins away from tying legendary Longhorns coach Darrell Royal’s victory total at the school. He never talked openly about breaking Royal’s record, but the two were inseparable for many years up until Royal’s death in November 2012.
Under Brown’s watch, Texas has grown into a financial behemoth, created its own $300 million TV network with ESPN and now has a stadium that holds more than 100,000 fans. To many, Brown is the face of the entire university.
But with an annual compensation package worth $5.4 million, Brown was expected to compete for national championships. The Longhorns won it all in 2005 in a thrilling Rose Bowl victory over USC. They last played for a national title in 2009. Brown still believes that if quarterback Colt McCoy hadn’t gotten hurt early in that game, Texas would have beaten Alabama.
Things have gone downhill since, however, and from a national on-field perspective, the UT football program is an afterthought.
Recruiting — one of Brown’s signature strengths for many years — had begun to slip, and it translated into losses. Since that 2009 championship game, Texas has a 5-14 record against ranked opponents. The Longhorns haven’t had a consensus All-America player since 2009. Only six players have even earned first-team All-Big 12 honors.
Recruiting is an inexact science, and, fair or not, Brown has been roasted for his recruiting mistakes. Texas didn’t seriously consider future Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III of nearby Copperas Cove or Kerrville’s Johnny Manziel. Last year, multiple top recruits committed to Texas, only to change their minds later and sign elsewhere.
On the field, things spun out of control early this season. In September, Texas lost to BYU and Mississippi in embarrassing fashion in consecutive weeks, triggering a tidal wave of fan discontent.
Still, Brown made changes and appeared to right the ship, firing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz the day after the 40-21 loss at BYU and replacing him with Greg Robinson, Texas’ former defensive coordinator in 2004 who had recently been rehired as part of Brown’s support staff.
After the Ole Miss loss, Texas won six straight Big 12 conference games, including a win over archrival Oklahoma. The Longhorns went into the regular-season finale against Baylor with a chance to win the Big 12 title. However, the Bears crushed those hopes with a convincing 30-10 win.
Instead of a conference title and a bid to play in the Fiesta Bowl, Texas (8-4) ended up in the Alamo Bowl for the second straight season.
Throughout the season, Brown faced a barrage of questions about his future, all of which he deflected. When asked point-blank after the Baylor game whether he wanted to come back, Brown responded, “I’m not talking about that tonight.”
Brown no doubt knew he was losing political capital. Longtime athletic director DeLoss Dodds, the man who hired Brown and his biggest defender, retired in November. Patterson started Nov. 26. Some UT officials admitted privately that Patterson didn’t want to fire a coaching icon as his first agenda item.
When Brown arrived prior to the 1998 season, the Texas football program was in shambles.
Texas went 4-7 in 1997, the final year under previous coach John Mackovic. Brown immediately installed an offense that featured tailback Ricky Williams, who went on to capture the 1998 Heisman Trophy. Texas lost to Nebraska in the 1999 Big 12 title game, but Brown was on his way.
The Longhorns won more than 10 games from 2001 to 2009. Along the way, Brown created some indelible memories. He lost five straight to rival Oklahoma. After the 2002 game, Brown was ridiculed nationally for intercepting a question pointed at quarterback Chris Simms. “I’ll answer that for Chris,” Brown said, cementing his status as a ferocious protector of his players.
In 2005, Texas went on a magical ride with quarterback Vince Young. Brown was credited for mostly staying out of Young’s way as Texas marched to the national championship, its first in 35 years.
With Colt McCoy at quarterback after Young, Texas found itself back in the national title race in 2008 — until a disastrous night in Lubbock. The No. 1-ranked Longhorns fell to Texas Tech 38-33 in the closing seconds. It was the only loss of the season for Texas, which went on to beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
One year later, Texas put all the pieces together again. McCoy, who was a senior, guided the team to a perfect 12-0 regular-season record, winning the Big 12 title with a dramatic, last-second 13-12 win over Nebraska. The Longhorns made it to the BCS title game but lost to Alabama when quarterback Garrett Gilbert, a freshman backup, had to replace an injured McCoy on the fifth play of the game. The Crimson Tide took the national championship with a 37-21 win.
Six players off that 2009 team were taken in the first four rounds of the 2010 NFL draft.
With McCoy gone, Brown turned the reins over to Gilbert, one of the state’s most decorated high school quarterbacks. The Longhorns started the 2010 season 3-0, but eventually lost five of their final six games and finished 5-7.
It was a stunning fall. Texas had played for the national title one year and didn’t even play in a bowl game the next. And it was the first losing season since 1997 — Mackovic’s final year.
The Longhorns bounced back to 8-5 in 2011 and 9-4 in 2012. Brown went out on a limb prior to this season, saying he felt this year’s team could be the one to return the program to national-title caliber. Then came the two early nonconference losses and everyone, Brown included, started looking for answers.
Fan discontent could be seen at the ticket office. There was a noticeable lack of buzz inside Royal-Memorial Stadium at the Oklahoma State game in November, even though Texas was riding a six-game winning streak. The same goes for the Texas Tech matchup on Thanksgiving night. Both games had empty seats at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Brown has set an incredibly high standard. Texas’ next coach must get the fans excited again, mollify demanding boosters, connect with the state’s high school coaches, compete in a difficult recruiting landscape and contribute to the omnipresent Longhorn Network. Oh, and win.
Brown did all of that at a high level for a long time. Now the Longhorns must find someone who can do it again.
WHO WILL TEXAS HIRE?
Possible candidates that Texas may pursue to replace Mack Brown:
Top college names
Urban Meyer, Ohio State: Has won two national titles.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: Guided team to this year’s BCS title game.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: Ditto. His Tigers face Fisher’s Seminoles.
Les Miles, LSU: Probably happy at LSU, but is definitely pedigreed.
David Shaw, Stanford: Young and has built the Cardinal into a national power. Minority candidate, too.
Charlie Strong, Louisville: Another minority candidate who was up for UT’s defensive coordinator job in 2011.
From NFL to college?
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers: But someone close to him has said no way he’d leave.
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers: Hasn’t signed a contract extension and has succeeded in college.
MACK BROWN, YEAR BY YEAR
Year;W-L;Big 12;Rank*;Bowl game
2013;8-4;7-2;15/ — ;Alamo (vs. Oregon, Dec. 30)
2012;9-4;5-4;;15/19;Alamo, def. Oregon St.
2011;8-5;4-5;NR/NR;Holiday, def. Cal
2009;13-1;8-0;2/2;BCS title, lost to Alabama
2008;12-1;7-1;11/4;Fiesta, def. Ohio State
2007;10-3;5-3;4/10;Holiday, def. Arizona St.
2006;10-3;6-2;3/13;Alamo, def. Iowa
2005;13-0;8-0;2/1;BCS title, def. USC
2004;11-1;7-1;7/5;Rose, def. Michigan
2003;10-3;7-1;5/12;Holiday, lost to Washington St.
2002;11-2;6-2;4/6;Cotton, def. LSU
2001;11-2;7-1;5/5;Holiday, def. Washington
2000;9-3;7-1;7/12;Holiday, lost to Oregon
1999;9-5;6-2;17/21;Cotton, lost to Arkansas
1998;9-3/6-2;NR/15;Cotton, def. Mississippi St.
• Preseason/final AP ranking
MACK BROWN, IN BOWLS
Texas is 10-4 in bowls games during the Mack Brown era, heading into this year’s Alamo Bowl. The Longhorns’ bowl history under Brown:
Holiday Bowls: 5 appearances (3-2)
Cotton Bowls: 3 appearances (2-1)
Alamo Bowls: 3 appearances (2-0, so far)
BCS title games: 2 appearances (1-1)
Fiesta Bowls: 1 appearance (1-0)
Rose Bowls: 1 appearance (1-0)
Get complete Longhorns coverage at statesman.com/longhorns and breaking updates on Twitter @BDavisAAS