So let's lay our cards on the table, stop posing, chest-thumping, feigning outrage, and throwing endless statistics around like they were discarded Christmas gift price tags: We're jealous of OU. My beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns have become to the Sooners what the Aggies are to Texas Tech: folks that win every so often but don't challenge on a regular basis, basically play second fiddle, and, even when they do win, don't do squat with it.
All the over-the-top negative hyperbole spewed about Mack Brown (accelerated after the TAMU game) only makes sense in light of our relationship with the Dirt Burglars: Mack's not a good X's and O's coach; he doesn't develop his players; he's thin-skinned; he can't recruit; he can't win the big one; he can't win championships; he doesn't put the best players on the field. If we compare the Horns to every other team in our conference besides OU, these criticisms are significantly lessened and perhaps even border on the silly. Nebraska is in negative-record-setting shambles. Oklahoma State can't beat us to save their life. Kansas and Missouri are fireworks that shone brilliantly then suddenly went dark during their most important games, echoing their years of futility. A&M spent the last few seasons looking for a coach and their passion. Tech considers 8-4, whipping the Gomers, and leading the NCAA offensive passing statistics a good year. Kansas State plays well against Texas and folds like a tent for everybody else. The less said about Iowa State, Baylor, and Colorado, the better. The many criticisms of Mack Brown only have strong rationality when comparing UT to OU.
And that's the problem we dance around but won't directly acknowledge: Mack Brown is one if the finest college football coaches working, but his record is nowhere close to being as good as Bob Stoops'. That's the entire situation in a nutshell, and the criticism of Coach Mack, when placed in that context, is completely legitimate. I realize I'm not the first (or the last) to draw this conclusion, but the sooner (pun intended) we admit what's wrong, the sooner (pun not intended) we can fix it.
The Buddah said, "The only time people are unhappy is when they compare themselves to others." But Buddah never laced ‘em up and hit the Dali Lama in the dental work with a good, clean tackle. College football is almost exclusively in the comparison business, as are all sports. You win or you lose, and Mack lost five in a row to Oklahoma, two by tape-measure-home-run standards. We have played well; OU has played better. We have won a lot of games; OU has won a lot of championships. We are one of the top ten college football programs of all time; OU is one of the top five. We are Salieri; they are Mozart. We are the Beach Boys; they are the Beatles. We are Dean Martin; they are Sinatra.
Ultimately, what got me started on this line of thought was my birthday this week. I tend to become very reflective on my birthdays, especially now that I've reached middle age, thinking about where I've succeeded and what I've failed to do. I'm realizing that many of the things I wanted to accomplish at one point in my life (be the starting tight end for the Horns, open for the Rolling Stones, be elected senator, argue before the Supreme Court, date Linda Ronstadt – the hot one from the 70's, not the fat one) are simply not going to happen. As I ponder Stoops, Mack, and their places in history, I must of necessity point the microscope at myself and be certain I'm judging me as harshly as I judge Coach Mack.
For instance, I coach the Mock Trial team at Monterey High School. We've had good success over the years, and in all humility I believe I've touched the lives of quite a few kids. They are better students, more critical thinkers, better public speakers, have more mastery over the English language, and a deeper understanding of the rule of law after being involved in Mock Trial. But MHS has never won a state championship in the 15 years I've coached these kids. We compete with huge magnet schools in the Dallas area that employ full-time faculty sponsors and have courtrooms with witness boxes and jury chairs built in their classrooms. We also compete with the tiny, super-exclusive private high schools where every kid on the team has a mommy and a daddy who's a lawyer in real life. My kids are not magnet students or the children of the super-rich; they are regular public school kids who don't do Mock Trial exclusively, but have other interests and are drum majors, saxophone players, academic decathlon competitors, offensive linemen, actors in school plays, tennis players, and orchestra and choir musicians. This past season, we placed higher than any time since I've been helping the team – third in state.
So am I an abject failure for not winning it all, or should I be proud of the time I have selflessly devoted to these kids? Is money the big difference? Many Inside Texas posters marvel at Coach Brown's allegedly-unearned huge salary. Do I have the right to reduce the excellence I demand of myself because I volunteer for free with Lubbock I.S.D. and Mack makes two million plus per year?
What about the other areas of my life? Am I the very best husband I could be, or could I be more attentive and devoted, more pleasant company? Am I the best lawyer? If the standard is making millions of dollars, then my law practice is not a success. Do I spend enough time preparing to teach Bible class on Sunday morning? Is the writing I do for Inside Texas funny, clever, or insightful enough or do I need to work much harder on it? Am I unfairly demanding more of Mack than I am of myself?
You see where I'm headed? The lines between good, better, and best can get pretty thin at times. But they were crystal clear Saturday night. Can Coach Mack beat Stoops? Sure. He's done it several times before. Does Mack have the fire in his belly to compete with Stoops every year from here until his retirement, or is he happy with his legacy the way it is?
Ouch. Sorry. I can't answer that last one. Coach Mack was extremely animated on the sidelines of the Oklahoma State game, but I haven't seen that look since. In all our folderol over changing coordinators and head coaches, let's at least be fair about framing the terms of the debate:
The question is not, "Should we fire Mack?" The question is, "Given the fact that the real problem is UT's inability to match OU's success, is there anybody out there the Horns could hire who would compete every year with Stoops?"
Answer that one, then you will have snatched the pebble from my hand, Weedhopper.
Jeff Conner's political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.