Mack Brown hooks ‘em: Texas coach brings his winning ways to BCS title game
The football coach at the University of Texas is a man with a common name and an uncommon success story.
For the last 12 seasons, the eyes of Texas have been upon Mack Brown. And for nearly every minute, those eyes have smiled -- except in places such as Lubbock and College Station.
Brown is the leader of the legions of people who dress in orange, who place forefinger and pinkie in the air so they can “Hook ‘Em, Horns” and who will be at the Rose Bowl on Thursday night in full throat and faith for the Bowl Championship Series title game against Alabama.
Brown, 58, has white hair, a wife and four kids, a self-effacing sense of humor and an easy way of giving attention and credit to others. When he meets you, he looks you right in the eye and leaves the impression that he not only will remember your name, but also actually cares about what you have to say.
When last seen at the Rose Bowl in January 2006, he was hoisting a national championship trophy over his head, just minutes after watching his Longhorns stop USC on fourth down and Vince Young high-step through the Trojans for the last-minute winning touchdown.
“Quite a day,” Brown says, when asked to recall it. And then he is off, arm around a woman from the Tournament of Roses Committee while listening intently to another committee member’s litany of traffic problems.
Many in public positions are adept at winning friends and influencing people. Brown is one-third Pete Carroll, one-third Lou Holtz and one-third Will Rogers.
He followed Alabama Coach Nick Saban to the microphone at a news conference at Disneyland over the weekend. Saban looked as though he’d rather be having a root canal and called things other than playing the game “clutter,” but Brown, when asked whether this was fun for him, had a sunny response.
“I always enjoy the journey,” he said with a smile.
Then he talked about how he got his team going early that morning so they could practice hard and still have time to get to Disneyland and go on rides.
“I love to have them at Disneyland,” he said. “It’s something they really look forward to.”
Somewhere, Saban was barfing on his clipboard.
In these parts, it’s thought that USC’s Carroll walks on water. But check out Brown’s miracle meter.
Since he took over at Texas for the 1998 season, after leading North Carolina to a No. 4 national ranking the year before, Brown has won 128 games and lost 26. That’s a winning percentage of .831.
He has won at least nine games in each of his seasons at Texas and has won 11 or more six times, including a 13-0 season in 2005 and this season’s 13-0 record coming into Thursday night. He even won 10 games three times at North Carolina, where football is something to keep the kids off the streets until basketball season.
When Brown arrived, Texas football had generated $21.3 million in revenue. In 2008, it was up to $87.5 million. Texas Memorial Stadium seats 100,119. Season ticket sales this season were 84,000.
All of this added up to the ultimate reward for Brown, whose salary was $750,000 in his first year and who, just three weeks ago, got a raise that took him from $3 million annually to $5 million. That’s not counting several performance bonuses, including $450,000 if he wins Thursday night. His contract goes through 2016, or $35 million from now. None of that is tax money. It is all paid from athletic revenue.
Even so, the reaction was telling.
In a down economy, when thousands are being laid off, including professors, it was mostly positive. The Internet message boards mostly said “well deserved.”
Certainly Brown has enemies, but it is difficult to find them, especially among those who are close to him daily.
Gray Moore, for seven years a member of the film crew that shoots for Brown’s TV show, “Longhorn Sports Center,” said, “The man is incredible. He remembers everybody’s name. We go into a restaurant, the first thing he does is start up a conversation with a waiter.”
Aaron Filipowsky, one of Moore’s co-workers, did the camera work when Brown traveled last spring with several major-college football coaches, including UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, to visit U.S. troops in the Middle East.
“He never turned down one autograph request,” Filipowsky said. “I was right with him the whole time, and I was exhausted.”
When Brown took over, Texas football and its devoted fans were 22 years from the end of the Darrell Royal era. Royal had a record of 167-47-5, setting an almost unreachable standard. But Brown quickly went on a statewide speaking tour, curried the favor of Texas high school coaches who reportedly had been underwhelmed by Royal’s three successors, and encouraged pilgrimages back to Austin by past athletic letter-winners who were said to be feeling ignored.
Texas football soon became one big happy family again, and Brown even had a special office built for Royal’s use any time he came around. People loved that.
Most of Brown’s assistant coaches have stayed for at least eight of his 12 years. He even has a coach-in-waiting, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who, Brown reports, “runs down the hall to assure me he’s staying every time there is a story that says he is up for a head coaching job somewhere.”
So, if this sounds more like heaven than a college football program, so be it, even though Brown is fully aware that things can go south quickly Thursday night.
If they do, Mack Brown will surely handle it as he does everything else. Uncommonly well.