every UT head football coach -- from Littlefield to Royal to Mack Brown -- has faced. Future editions will include looks at other Longhorn greats as well as interesting stories from the program's storied past."> every UT head football coach -- from Littlefield to Royal to Mack Brown -- has faced. Future editions will include looks at other Longhorn greats as well as interesting stories from the program's storied past.">

Old School: Historical Texas Heat

"Old School" is a weekly summer feature here at InsideTexas.com. Today, Bert Hancock looks at the pressure that <i>every</i> UT head football coach -- from Littlefield to Royal to Mack Brown -- has faced. Future editions will include looks at other Longhorn greats as well as interesting stories from the program's storied past.

Many of Mack Brown’s staunchest supporters complain the Texas head coach must endure undeserved criticism and pressure. This job–long term, especially–is certainly not for the faint of heart.

The current coach may have to deal with the Internet, something only John Mackovic among former Longhorn leaders has contended with, but intense Austin heat–literally and figuratively–has always been part of the UT coaching climate.

In 1933, Clyde Littlefield suffered his and the Texas program’s first ever losing season, at 4-5-2. It was his last, too. Although Littlefield owned a still strong 44-18-6 record, he had tendered his resignation before the season ended, later admitting high-level pressures, including excessive fan complaints, led him to a conclusion. "I knew there wasn’t any use my trying to fight that sort of condition and I just made up my mind that if I wanted to live longer, I’d better quit." Littlefield stayed on as track coach, winning numerous titles and ended in the Longhorn Hall of Honor and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Keep in mind this pressure came about back in the early 1930’s, more than 60 years before the BCS and the high-dollar antes currently involved.

The intense demands from the fandom and Longhorn leaders for more and greater success was insatiable. This led to the hiring of already-legendary Dana X. Bible from Nebraska three years later for an unheard of sum of $15,000 per year, twice the amount made by then President of the University, H.Y. Benedict.

Bible took a few years to revive the program, but starting in 1940, rolled up a 55-13-2 mark with three outright conference titles his last seven seasons. He retired in 1946, having succeeded to a level that even pleased most notoriously tough-to-please Orangebloods.

His handpicked successor, Blair Cherry, took over in 1947 and promptly went 10-1, defeating OU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M along the way. A mere one-point loss to title-bound Doak Walker’s SMU Mustangs in Dallas prevented a perfect season. Cherry’s squad capped a great inaugural year by whipping Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 27-7.

His next team stumbled some during the season, narrowly losing to Oklahoma and, again, to SMU in the process. Despite three overall losses and a tie, Cherry’s squad–to the disgust of some Georgia folks–received an invite to face the Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl. With such a "gift" came grave responsibilities. Texas’ head coach received this letter from a group of Texas-Exes: "Boy, you are on the spot…you had better win this one or else." Cherry loosened himself from the hook, as the ‘Horns rolled, 41-28, for his second major bowl victory in as many seasons.

A mere two years later, after winning the Southwest Conference title by two games (6-0 in league play), beating then top-ranked SMU, remaining unbeaten against Texas A&M, and finishing No. 3 in the nation, Blair Cherry resigned, largely due to suffering from insomnia and ulcers. The latter, in fact, forced him to spend the last Aggie victory in the hospital.

Part of the poor sleep, meanwhile, came courtesy of critical and threatening phone calls from Texas fans in the middle of the night following losses in 1949 and 1950. As resignation requests increased–despite progressing toward the school’s first conference crown in five years–Cherry determined during 1950 that he would exit the game in favor of private business.

Why this hostile treatment of the first native Texan to coach the Longhorns? In large part, because he lost his last three to OU. Despite winning the ensuing games, he and his wife received a funeral wreath inscribed "Rest in Peace" a few weeks after the third loss, 14-13, to the national champion Sooners.

Blair Cherry, in a story the following year to The Saturday Evening Post titled, "Why I quit coaching," made some familiar-sounding complaints:

*Fans criticized him even in victory, because the margin wasn’t big enough.

*The local newspaper would print pages of letters critical of him after losses to OU.

*His players received so much attention, they had trouble focusing properly on the games.

*Other schools used negative recruiting against Texas.

*Other teams gave their best effort against Texas–hard to expect Texas to be up for every game.

*Sportswriters, through pre-season polls and the like, created unrealistic expectations.

The pressure of the Oklahoma game didn’t elude the great Darrell Royal either. To many, DKR could walk along the waters of Austin’s numerous lakes and rivers after turning the series 180 degrees over Bud Wilkinson and OU (defeating them 12 of his first 14 attempts). But Royal retired at the relatively young age of 52, in large part because of several latter-year defeats to the Sooners. He dry-heaved following a 6-6 tie in 1976 and looked older than his years. He called it a career at season’s end.

His successor, Fred Akers, was forced out in 1986 after his only losing season in a ten-year career. Just in mid-1984, he had Texas #1 in the country and had missed winning the national championship by only one point in 1983.

The next two coaches, David McWilliams and John Mackovic, were both "reassigned" (i.e. fired) one year after winning conference titles. In each of these cases, several factors played roles in the coach’s eventual demise, but the reality is the Texas job is and always has been a broiler.

It’s also been a graveyard of sorts. No coach has ever quit Texas to take on another job. You either retire or get fired. After Texas, you don’t succeed elsewhere.

Fred Akers grabbed the Purdue job, and soon wished he hadn’t. Jeff George transferred to Illinois (where John Mackovic, oddly enough, later reaped the benefits) and Akers put in a few subpar seasons before having the welcome mat replaced with an exit ramp. Mackovic, tired of designing golf courses and doing his halftime gig with ESPN2, took the Arizona job, resulting in a complete disaster.

The Texas job, for better or worse, is the end of the road. It’s a pinnacle position, but it can also be a head coach’s professional death.


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