NORMAN — The absurdity is what’s happening at Texas could be happening at Oklahoma instead because Mack Brown might have become the Sooner coach in time for the 1996 season, succeeding Howard Schnellenberger.
He’d taken over a downtrodden North Carolina program and gone 2-20 overall and 1-13 in the ACC his first two seasons. Then he went 6-4-1, 7-4, 9-3, 10-3, 8-4 and 7-5 before the Sooner job came open. Brown had OU ties, too, having spent a season, 1984, as Barry Switzer’s offensive coordinator.
The Sooners hired John Blake instead and while Blake went 7-16 the next two years in crimson and cream, Brown went 20-3 in Carolina blue and parlayed it into the Texas job, the best job in college football, ask anybody.
Had he moved to Norman instead, the Sooners would have gotten better immediately and might be falling apart now. Also, probably a lot like Longhorn Nation these days, the Sooner Nation would be of many minds, tortured to choose a right path.
The irony is Brown’s burnt orange success has served to pave the way for an all-too public and never-ending meltdown.
Brown seemed to be the first to have his name on the school’s website, meaning, even now, if you want to trace the debacle that’s become Longhorn football going back to 2010, you can do it at MackBrown-TexasFootball.com.
Also, it was Brown’s success, and the money and resources and interest it generated, that served to prime Texas’ arrogance, get the Longhorns sideways with the rest of the Big 12, chase Nebraska and Texas A&M out of the conference, spur whole seasons of conference realignment sound and fury and make the Longhorn Network possible.
From 2004 to 2009, Texas went 69-9, better than even Bob Stoops’ best six-year run, from 2000 to 2005, when the Sooners went 68-11.
Though the Longhorn Network remains a moneymaker, if only because ESPN promised Texas the dough before it ever went on the air, all it’s been good for since Saturday is first broadcasting the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss to Ole Miss live and then replaying it about 50 times since.
All publicity is good publicity? Try again.
The mystery is how it’s been allowed to happen. It’s the unanswerable question, the one for which nothing makes sense.
Probably there are anecdotes. Here are some observations.
Once upon a time Brown was the picture of coaching competence. He radiated control. When he spoke, he sounded like the guy who’d figured everything out not because he believed his own baloney but because he had.
There were stories about the program’s unmatched relationship with Texas high school football coaches and stories of strength coach Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden’s revolutionizing the Longhorns’ conditioning program. Also, Texas never seemed to lose a recruiting battle and always seemed to lock up its class faster than everybody else.
Brown was Nick Saban before Nick Saban was Nick Saban. But, unlike Saban, people liked him.
Now … what?
Where he once appeared vibrant on the sideline, Brown now looks confused, like the world’s happening to him, not the other way around.
He’s aging faster than most U.S. presidents and, who knows, maybe the pressure’s greater.
When Brown went 5-7 in 2010 it seemed like everybody but the head coach lost his job. Ever since, the Longhorns have lurched every which way but lose.
One season they wanted to be more physical, another season they brought in Manny Diaz, who was fired two games ago, to run the defense. At Big 12 Media Days, Brown explained Texas was going uptempo not only to put more points on the board, but because it would improve the Longhorn defense, practicing against an offense catching up to the times.
Only it takes a strong quarterback to run an effective uptempo offense and Colt McCoy’s long gone.
Instead of making the defense better, the Longhorns look a lot like OU looked last season at West Virginia, giving up more than 6 yards per carry and more than 300 yards per game on the ground. Only UMass and New Mexico State are worse.
Yet none of that answers the question. The mystery remains.
How’d it all fall apart?
How’d the nation’s most advantaged college football program, occupied by maybe the nation’s one-time best coach, with more resources than everybody else, in a fantastic city, in the middle of a football-mad state, become a place that can’t field a real winner.
Maybe the Longhorn Network can produce a documentary explaining why.
Follow me @clayhorning