Amid the whirlwind of coaching rumors, buyout news, and Mack Brown character criticisms, I thought to myself, "I wish it didn't end this way." But it has. Much of that is Mack's fault, but maybe, if lady luck was kinder to him on one particular day, things would have not only been different for him but for Texas football. Very different. It would undoubtedly be better for him, but maybe not necessarily better for Texas, depending on your opinions on certain people.
In any case, I thought it'd be fun to imagine an alternate reality where things happened very differently in January of 2010:
It's January 7, 2010. Texas has just forced a three and out and picked off Alabama's ill-conceived fake punt, and the Horns are marching down the field with ease behind their leader, Colt McCoy. All the momentum is on their side, and staking a significant early lead plays to their strengths. Longhorns offensive coordinator Greg Davis briefly considers calling a speed option, but then thinks to himself, "Colt is a good runner but doesn't run that play well, and it can expose him badly. I'll do something else." He instead calls another quick pass play and Colt finds Shipley for six yards. Texas goes on to score a touchdown to go up 7-0. In a daring move, they pooch the kickoff and recover it, and Colt marches down the field again and scores against the surprised and reeling Alabama defense. 14-0, Texas.
Alabama's defense recovers after that, but the two touchdown lead proves invaluable as it forces the Crimson Tide's mediocre QB, Greg McElroy, to throw more than eleven times against one of the best secondaries and pass rushes in the nation. He gets sacked several times and throws three interceptions in a legacy-defining 30-17 win for Texas. Colt goes out a winner, Mack Brown gets his second national championship, and Garrett Gilbert gets to watch all of it from the sidelines.
Because the Horns win the game, Mack does not check out the next season or attempt a misguided and sudden switch in offensive philosophy. In 2010, the Horns still struggle as it becomes even more apparent how much Colt and Shipley covered up flaws, but because they were not forcing the personnel to play an offense that did not suit them, that Gilbert was not recruited to run, and that Greg Davis did not know how to build, they don't completely crater. Behind a strong defense that does not lose heart during the season due to an atrocious offense, the Horns fail to win ten games for the first time in years but still finish 8-4. Fans are not thrilled but still feel much of the afterglow of the national title. Gilbert has an up and down year but is not broken by a grossly dysfunctional offense and a bad memory of unexpectedly playing in the national title game as a true freshman.
Mack, satisfied with his two NC's and for fulfilling his promise that he would not leave Muschamp to dry with a brand new QB, retires after 13 years on the job. Muschamp is promoted to head coach. Mack says all the right things, talks about all the successes he has, and leaves without much brouhaha. Even though it makes big news, it is hardly unexpected as Mack hinted throughout the year that it would be his last. GD and much of the staff decide to leave with him, especially those who knew it was unlikely they'd be retained by Muschamp.
Will Muschamp promotes Major Applewhite to offensive coordinator and they coach the bowl game. The Horns win at the Alamo Bowl and everyone looks forward to a new era with young coaches. Mack leaves Texas in worse shape than it was in its height in 2005, but still leaves it better than Urban Meyer left Florida. Muschamp continues to field a great defense in 2011, but Major's first year as the OC has some struggles, partially due to questionable hires on offense by Muschamp. Texas wins eight games, including losses to Oklahoma and OSU, and some fans, spoiled by the successes under Mack, pine for the "glory years." However, calmer fans see that Muschamp and Applewhite improve throughout the year and hold out hope for the future. After all, Muschamp is still building great defenses, which is a big advantage in the Big 12.
In 2012, Gilbert is a senior and turns in a solid year, though not at McCoy's level. Fans complain that he isn't Vince or Colt and briefly mutter about playing the backup, who is not named Case because he had already transferred out after being passed up on the depth chart by younger players. Still, GG has a respectable year, and while the offense is still not the prettiest thing, it is improved enough that Texas wins its first conference title under Muschamp behind another good defense. However, they do not get national title consideration due to two upset losses, including one against TCU on Thanksgiving. They go on to win the Fiesta Bowl, and hopes are high for the future.
In 2013, Texas falters a bit with a new quarterback and an offense that still fails to satisfy, and fans begin to really grumble against Applewhite as well as Muschamp's apparent cluelessness about offense. Texas defeats BYU, who do not even run for half of 550 yards, but drops an ugly home game against Ole Miss, enraging fans. Still, the Horns rebound against a weak Big 12 and win another conference title, though nobody mistakes them as a national championship contender. Unfortunately for Texas, Alabama awaits in the Fiesta Bowl and Nick Saban has every intention of exacting revenge for the national title loss, but at least the Horns got there with another conference crown. During the bowl break, Texas fans debate if Muschamp has the offensive acumen and/or Applewhite is good enough for Texas to reach the heights under Mack Brown. "Sure, a couple of conference titles already tie him with Mack and our defenses are salty, but at Texas, our standards on offense are much higher," says average Joe fan. Other fans shoot back, "It took Mack several years before he won a national title, and he needed a guy like Vince. Give Will more time." And around and around they go, as fans do...
Plausible? I think so. Though people with an especially low opinion of Muschamp, Gilbert, and Applewhite may think that they drive the program into the ground anyway. It's certainly a reality that many Florida fans would now like after being thankful just a year ago. In any case, whether or not you think this is preferable situation than now, looking towards a very uncertain future, will also be colored by your opinions of these folks. Personally, I like this reality; we have another national title, Mack's ending is far less news-worthy and rumor-filled, and we are actually talking about our bowl game more than our resigned head coach while looking to a reasonably optimistic future.
Certainly, people can imagine things quite differently than I have. Any takers?