Mack Brown simply have to win a conference title? And when does he absolutely have to beat Oklahoma?"> Mack Brown simply have to win a conference title? And when does he absolutely have to beat Oklahoma?">

Commentary: Next Two Seasons Loom Large For Brown

The college football world changed the week of November 30, 2003. That's when Nebraska AD Scott Pederson, citing personal concerns with the "general direction of the Cornhusker program", fired head coach Frank Solich following just a three-loss season. It begs the questions: what is the general direction of the Longhorn program? When does an otherwise successful head coach like <B>Mack Brown </B>simply have to win a conference title? And when does he absolutely have to beat Oklahoma?

In short, the next couple of seasons loom as pivotal for Brown. This is when the seventh-year Texas coach stakes his claim as either someone like Tom Osborne (i.e., a coach whose greatest success occurred later in his career) or as the next Frank Solich (a likeable guy with a respectable record, but whose program plateaued and nearly cratered by school standards).

For the record, Solich's six-year tally at Nebraska was 58-19 while Brown is 59-18 in six seasons at Texas. The record also reveals that Brown's totals represent the most successful six-year coaching start in Longhorn history. Those kind of numbers don't get you fired. At least, not until the college football world changed with Solich's dismissal. In short, it was precedent setting. When is the last time a coach followed a 7-7 campaign with a 9-3 mark, and then got canned because the "general direction of the program" was unacceptable to his AD?

The flipside is that the "general direction" of the Nebraska program included blowout losses to Texas and Kansas State in 2003, an utterly one-dimension offense (the passing game was rated No. 114 out of 117 D-I programs) that couldn't produce points against the only decent teams it faced, and the second consecutive year in which the Huskers finished the regular season ranked outside of the Top 25. As Pederson said immediately following Solich's departure, Nebraska was "not going to concede the Big 12" to the likes of Oklahoma, KSU and Texas.

The fact that Solich at least had something to concede (two conference titles, one national title game) is part of why Pederson is now one of the most hated personalities in college sports. There remains little consensus among the Children of the Corn as to whether Pederson handled the situation appropriately. (Frankly, an AD doesn't need a consensus but rather the assent of the key 'money people'. After that, nothing mitigates discord like winning.)

One of the reasons I mention Solich's situation is that one of our sources (with historic ties to the UT Mens Athletic Department) compared the coaching changes at Texas the past couple of seasons to those at Nebraska before Solich's final season. Meanwhile, new DE coach Dick Tomey told me this past spring that the Texas program was "by no means a sinking ship" before stating emphatically, "I just believe in Mack Brown." And Brown believes the additions and shifts in his staff the past two seasons will maximize the talent and finally get his program over the hump.

As one who is around Brown nearly every day during football season as well as during spring ball, I have never doubted his commitment, his passion, his integrity and his desire to win. You will never hear Brown gloss over Orangebloods' collective pain by referencing a loss as a "blip on the radar screen", nor would he glibly tell us that we "just have to deal with" a blowout loss as did his flinty predecessor. As you know, Brown is as personable as they come. Relatively speaking, his student-athletes stay out of trouble. And he is a good enough recruiter and coach to generally win, say, 10 or 11 games every year. Thing is, they're playing 12-to-14 games these days. And, as Brown has said on more than one occasion, "Around here, you have to win them all."

The Burnt Orange crystal ball says Brown does not have to win them all this season. Nor the next. Brown never has to win them all to keep his job. But the gut level feeling is that he simply has to beat OU, and/or win a conference championship, and/or get into a BCS game within the next two seasons, or you likely will see AD DeLoss Dodds beginning an impromptu press conference by saying something about "the general direction of the Longhorn program."

I am asked nearly every week (from folks who genuinely like Brown but who like championships even more) when Brown has to put some hardware in the trophy case. I have been asked what I think would happen if Oklahoma rolls Texas this fall for the third time in five seasons.

I say this: one of the best ways to predict the future is to observe what has happened in the past. The fact is that no Texas coach has lost more than five straight to Oklahoma. Ed Price's tenure at Texas ended with five straight Red River Rivalry losses (the last two by a combined score of 65-0). You don't survive that in Austin. The series took its toll even on legendary coach Darrell Royal, who lost five straight from 1971-75 before managing a tie in his final season. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his 0-5-1 mark against the Sooners in his final six seasons, Royal tendered his resignation at the conclusion of the 1976 season.

Those who have followed the Oklahoma series know that its trends are excruciatingly cyclical. That is, each side takes turns reeling off consecutive wins in such a way that it leaves losing coaches in its wake. That's just the way it is on both sides of the Red River. Consider the fact that the Sooners totaled four head coaches in the 1990s when their program went 2-7-1 against Texas.

The same may be said of a Texas coach who fails to win his first conference title in a timely manner. To his credit, Brown has posted two Big 12 South Division titles (arguably a much harder feat to accomplish than some Southwest Conference championships). Brown has revived the program to where it is at least a consistent Top 12 squad (the four straight Top 12 finishes represent Texas' best string of finishes in 40 years). The program is now annually in the neighborhood of both conference and national honors.

But if Brown goes without a conference title for the seventh straight year, you could fry bacon on his Hot Seat. A fifth straight loss to OU and you're pretty much out of mulligans. Six straight Longhorn losses would be unprecedented in the series. Again, you just don't survive that in Austin. If both the Big 12 title and the Golden Hat Trophy are still missing from the Forty Acres this time next year, then 2005 shapes up as do-or-die for Brown, beginning with that (a-hem) non-conference road-trip to Ohio State. I'm not saying that it's fair; I am observing that this is just the way it is in the crazed football cultures of Texas, Oklahoma and, obviously, Nebraska.

Overall, Brown has had a good run at Texas. But his leash got shorter after November 30. So did the leash of every D-I powerhouse coach who's name isn't Joe Paterno. Three losing seasons in four years can get you a contract extension in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania but a three loss season can get you fired in places like Lincoln, Nebraska. Ask Frank Solich.

Upon further review, it didn't so much have to do only with the "general direction" of the Nebraska program. It is now the "general direction" of big-time college football.


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