Strength in Numbers: Mack's Mountain

<B>Mack Brown</B> not only mounted the hill of Aggieland the Horns began climbing seven years ago, he blew the thing up. Included in the carnage is <B>R.C. Slocum&#146;s</B> coaching career. But now in front of the UT coach may loom an Everest.

A scrambling quarterback crippled from an ankle injury and a head coach known as much for porous defenses as prolific offenses combined to lead Texas over Texas A&M 16-6 in 1995 and capture the final SWC championship. That victory ended the Aggies’ annual branding of the Longhorns and initiated the countdown to conclusion of their head coach’s term.

Never has an Aggie coach been dispatched after defeating the Longhorns during the year (unless one counts Jackie Sherrill’s NCAA-hastened departure), but suffering a beating often provides the culminating clout. Slocum, despite winning more games overall and over UT than any coach at A&M, experienced the short side of the scoreboard too many times to survive. After a 50-20 battering by Texas last Friday, he’d dropped three straight in the series and six of the last eight.

Longtime Longhorns, after suffering through unprecedented failure, know order has been restored. Upstart Ags, disillusioned by the success kicked off in the Sherrill era, shake their fists at an unjust gridiron world. But the only similar span even approaching the uncharacteristic Aggie dominance from 1984-1994 (won 10 of 11) came in the early 1900’s, and that only featured a 6-3 A&M edge. Since the onset of World War II, this rivalry has been about streaks–most created by Texas.

The Longhorns won 14 times over the Ags against just one loss and one tie before falling (as they did to nearly everyone) in 1956. Darrell Royal arrived in Austin the following season and conquered A&M 10 straight seasons and 17 of his first 18! Talk about superiority: over a 35-game period (1940-1974), Texas won 31, tied one, and lost just three times.

The Aggies, under former Royal assistant Emory Bellard and with the help of injuries to award-reaping Horns Marty Akins and Earl Campbell, took the next two as part of a 4-2 run. Texas regained the edge with three straight victories before Sherrill brought his trucks of bucks in 1982.

The new million dollar Aggie, after taking a pummeling by death penalty-bound SMU, warned "people better get their licks in now, because we will be awesome." This commitment to follow the Mustangs’ blueprint haunted Longhorns and other schools, brought years of strange success to the Aggies, and forced the NCAA to venture from Dallas to College Station. While Jackie raided the blue-chip players in the state, the state university got its shots in too, to the tune of 53-16 and 45-13 the next couple of contests. The talent down in College Station grew up though, and A&M vaulted to the top of the Southwest Conference, surpassingly stampeding Texas along the way.

Despite unprecedented dominance by A&M from Sherrill to Slocum, UT owns more than double the amount of victories in the rivalry’s all-time record, 70-34-5.

Some Aggie fans claim the deck’s stacked differently now, due to their surge in student population and ensuing comparable number of alums. But if this levels the playing field, why has Texas owned it with its best eight-year period since the 1970’s?

R.C., lambasted and lauded in College Station, had become a "folksy Fred Akers." Critics of Texas fans–often Aggies–always spout Akers’ winning percentage of 73% as proof Orangebloods are spoiled children for wanting more. Slocum’s mark is 72%. In Akers’ last three seasons, Texas won at a 58.6% clip; in Slocum’s last three, A&M at 58.3%. Akers went 5-6 his final year; Slocum 6-6. Akers won only 22% of his bowls; Slocum 27%.

The two coaches’ first seven years paralleled each other too. Fred won at a 79% rate; R.C. at 81%. Both coaches won nine or more games six times in those first seven, and both started their declines the following year. R.C.’s dip, buffered by one Big 12 championship, occurred more gradually. Both also felt the criticism of failing to win "the big one."

Slocum’s inability to forever continue what Sherrill started finally finished him. But whether he deserved to be "reassigned" or not, a large group of A&M faithful believe he has been dealt with poorly in light of his 30 years of exemplary service to the school. But as long time and now ex-hoops coach Shelby Metcalf found, the famous Aggie loyalty features loopholes. Upon being pushed out ruthlessly, he sarcastically vented: "They say Ags take care of one another. Well they sure took care of me." So it is with the Aggies’ all-time winningest coach. (A&M board of regents claim the new president unilaterally fired Slocum, but they offered, at best, token resistance.)

The Spirit of Aggieland, quenched for a moment, is rising again following the growing sense Dennis Franchione will bolt Alabama and head to College Station. He can recruit with the best and carries a record of raising several programs to new levels. If "Coach Fran" does succeed R.C., Mack and Texas must annually confront the Twin Peaks of the new A&M coach and Bob Stoops at OU.

Brown and Longhorn fans may find winning the south division of the Big 12 tougher than capturing past conference titles.

Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears weekly on InsideTexas.com.


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