Mack Brown has been known as "Coach February" for some time because of his perceived ability to win the recruiting battles in the offseason, but not the big games in the fall. Mack was just too nice. Maybe he would make a better politician or ambassador than a coach and motivator of young men playing a violent sport. Vince Young helped to quell some of those criticisms with a national championship, until fans became unsure if Mack Brown won simply because of Vince Young. Fast forward to T+1, 2007. The Longhorns play a disastrous game against the Aggies, capped by missed tackles from the crummy veteran linebackers and Stephen McGee looking like a can't-miss NFL prospect (which Barking Carnival will tell you he isn't). Seriously, Stephen friggin' McGee! Fans were devastated (although PB called it "worse for Mack") and the afterglow from the national championship had all but faded.
Questions abounded about Mack Brown's ability as a coach, particularly the often positive view of him as CEO of the program. PB offered his own evaluation and responded to ScipioTex's post. He also asked Mack to respond to the tough lessons of 2007. Under fire, Mack Brown toughened up practices and addressed concerns about preferences given to upperclassmen by opening the depth chart every day. Arizona State was roundly defeated and their mouthy quarterback serenaded (seriously, you can never watch that enough) by a defense reinforcing the idea that quarterbacks standing behind porous lines should not speak ill of potential tormentors. Nice Mack had become Mean Mack. He still didn't call out individual players in the media (which is fine), but there seemed to be more intensity to his sideline demeanor.
Then Brown stole Will Muschamp from Auburn and brought back favorite son Major Applewhite. Both moves reinforced the idea that Brown was serious about making changes to the program and refusing to accept mediocrity. But Nice Mack has to stay away. He described the month leading up to the Holiday Bowl, "There weren't a lot of touchy-feeling meetings that month. Let's put it that way: We weren't (singing) 'Kumbaya.' " The legendary intensity of Will Muschamp will help maintain that approach, as Bohls points out. So will the return of NOS punishment and the continued openness of the depth chart. A new development is splitting practice on the first several days so the veterans and freshman practice separately in an effort to give more reps to younger players and identify them so they can play early and often.
Ultimately, much of Mack Brown's legacy will be formed during the next several years. As of now, he is probably assured of a place as the second-best coach in Longhorn history, as only the second to win a national championship here. He returned the program to its rightful status as one of the best in the nation. But, he will have to prove that he can win without Vince Young. He will have to prove that he is capable of winning conference championships. Nice Mack has his place in the program during the recruiting season, but when the pads come on and the helmets start colliding, the Texas Longhorns football program needs Mean Mack.