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Postgame React, Part 1: Mack Brown's Crown Jewel

I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous before a TX/OU game...every practical bone in my body says we’re going to get beat by 20 tomorrow, but for some reason, I want to believe. Probably because I think my real fear is that we get exposed tomorrow and things domino like the stock market, leading to losses against Mizzou, OSU and Tech... and by the time we get to Baylor, it’ll be too late for a bail out.

But I think the real reason I want to win tomorrow is because I’m still searching for OU satisfaction. I may write about this next week, but basically, even in the two wins in '05 and '06, we didn’t get to experience the thrill of beating a really good OU team. We seem to win because they were bad, not because we were good. One of those OU teams was unranked and the other was like 14th. I want to know what it feels like to beat them when they’re higher ranked than us. Let’s knock them off their pedestal for once.

Such is the life of a neurotic Texas fan I guess.

--Cory "54b" Davies, Friday afternoon--

How does it feel, Cory? And more importantly, how does it feel... Mack Brown? How about you, Greg Davis?

More than anything else, among all the great stories from today (all covered in the forthcoming Postgame React, Part 2), this is my favorite: Today's win is the final validation of Mack Brown's Texas career. And also, I think, a day above all others that Greg Davis deserves to be saluted by the Burnt Orange Nation.

After the Colorado meltdown and five straight losses to Bob Stoops, Mack Brown was told that he couldn't win the big one. And after that fifth straight loss to Boomer Sooner, a horrifying 12-0 shutout, Greg Davis was fairly burnt at the stake.

And then... then Vince Young happened. Texas won 20 straight games, culminating in a victory that forever made Vince Young a larger-than-life legend and secured Mack Brown's legacy as a success. A big success.

But after two rocky seasons in the post-Vince era, Mack Brown and Greg Davis found themselves staring down a new storyline: Great with Vince, yes... but still fatally flawed without. In the aftermath of Texas' abysmal loss in College Station last November, one of the most insightful Texas football writers around all but buried Mack Brown six feet under:

Mack does one of those things well (bringing different camps together) and the rest horridly. He ricochets between micromanagement and absentee delegation (The classic Hersey S1/S4 managerial swing), hires within a narrow comfort zone of yes-men, can’t bear to make the tough call, indulges nepotism in himself and his staff, has skin as thin as onion paper, evidences shoddy results in grooming others, stifles staff dissent and necessary creative tension, and values tenure over talent.

Like all great salespeople, Mack Brown’s first and most necessary sale is to himself. Like most marketers, his vision far exceeds his technical and managerial acumen. When his ambitions are thwarted, and absent the gift of ruthless self-appraisal, he looks externally - to the fans, to football mysticism and cliche, to specious and deceiving benchmarks that suggest that he’s not really failing at all. Good organizations are about solid systems, not personality cults. Being bombarded with the notion that Mack is a tremendous CEO doesn’t make it so.

It was a scathing and, to that point, accurate description of Mack Brown... in all ways but one. I wound up responding to Scipio Tex's post by asking in my story title, "Can't Change? Or Won't?" As I saw it:

Where our posts diverge is in the final framing of the big issue: where I suggest Mack Brown may well be capable of making adjustments that help cure much of which ails him, Scipio's conclusion suggests that such a transformation is not within Mack's capabilities at all...

For now, we're each left to choose what we want to believe about the future at Texas under Mack Brown. Me? I think the Hallmark Card in me wants to believe that this year's struggles might lead Mack Brown to make the sort of evaluation - self and otherwise - with which he's heretofore been uncomfortable. Is that naive? I dunno; I'm not exactly counting on it, and you won't find me among the suprised if Texas football has plateaued. I know as well as anyone that people rarely change at the fundamental level - generally, we are who we are.

And yet, it does happen. I recently finished editing a book of interviews from a Washington D.C.-based radio program and I'll never forget listening to and editing the interview with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. By the end of the interview he was crying softly as he talked about the lessons he'd learned since the Vietnam War. The one thing that stood out above all else in that interview was that, with age and experience, McNamara had fundamentally changed. More than that, there had come a distinct moment in time where he made a conscious decision that doing so was necessary.

His legacy and Mack Brown's are two completely different beasts, but like the heart attack victim who decides to eat well and exercise, the convict who renounces violence and finds religion, or the workaholic father who finally decides to prioritize his family, there do exist transformational moments in a man's life and career that can profoundly affect how he conducts his business.

Is the disappointment of this season the kind of low point that might prompt Mack Brown to make a similar self-evaluation? Maybe, maybe not, but hey - sometimes life delivers a Hallmark ending.

Later, in May of this year, I took issue with co-author Horn Brain's similarly dim outlook on Mack Brown, writing:

From my seat in May 2008, I have no hesitation acknowledging I've seen enough of Mack Brown to know that if he fails to identify, appreciate, and overcome some of the things that hold him back as a football coach, he has indeed more or less hit his max speed - very good but not great. I just happen to think the full weight of evidence precludes the writing in ink of the remaining Mack Brown chapters. I think he's a much tougher and more resilient SOB than a lot of people appreciate, and find the pessimist's conclusion premature. Ask me again when 2009 is in the books and I may have a different answer.

I don't bring all this up to pat myself on the back. (Without question, I'm wrong at least as often as I'm right.) No, I raise this storyline today because this win over Oklahoma marks the end--the end--of the Mack Brown is anything but a great football coach era. And today marks the day that we look around the country, look at our own team, and say that Greg Davis, too, had his crowning moment as a Longhorn assistant coach.

First, Davis:

  • He has been deserving of scorn and doubt on many, many occasions, but deserving of credit for taking Texas to the top with its most dynamic individual player ever, Vince Young.
  • Today, like his head coach, we saw him bury past demons with a game plan that not even the nastiest skeptic can dismiss as an underachievement.
  • Past failures aside, one of the truest marks of a successful coach is growth over time. We've seen Greg Davis fail in this game many times. But today he took the bull by the horns and was the offensive coordinator we needed to win the most amazing Red River Shootout during the Mack Brown/Greg Davis era.

And Mack Brown:

  • He came to Texas a very good, but very conservative coach who had much to learn to become something more.
  • All his efforts peaked in the magic of 2005, when his once-a-generation talent keyed a perfect storm.
  • He hit an all-time low after Vince Young's departure when his tendency to embrace what's easy and comfortable resulted in painful, telling losses in an increasingly competitive Big 12.
  • He responded to last year's A&M loss in magnificent fashion, rejecting what's comfortable and challenging himself and his team to greatness.
  • And now... this. Facing one of Oklahoma's very finest teams since his arrival in Austin--certainly on offense--Mack Brown got the win: As the underdog... When Oklahoma was #1, hitting a terrifying peak in the football cycle... A year before Texas was supposed to hit its own peak in the cycle... He. Won... Texas won... With Vince Young long gone... Coming from behind, with all the fire and fight that he's been told he and his teams don't possess.

Today belongs to Ogbonnaya, Cosby, Shipley, Orakpo, McCoy, Kindle, Gideon, and all the rest of those kids. But, though they would insist otherwise, today also truly belongs to their coaches. To Greg Davis, Will Muschamp, and Duane Akina.

And to Mack Brown. Alongside Darrell Royal, a Longhorn legend.