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Mailbag: Lead, Don't Follow

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Lots of recent emails headed to my inbox this week. Keep it coming. Though it's been hard of late, I make an effort to respond to everyone through email or on the site. I will never use anyone's full name on BON unless explicitly authorized.

Over the last weeks we have micro-analyzed and agonized over the polls and the BCS.  Just about everything that can be debated, has been ad nauseum.  However, it occurred to me today that there is one issue that I have not seen discussed (maybe I just missed it) and which bothers me.  Mack Brown, in our view at least, is a super nice guy, fair to the extreme, a good sport, unwilling to run up the score or vote for his own team, willing to give due credit to the other team, etc.  Bob Stoops, again in our minds, is the back-end of a horse, running up the score and running off his mouth.  If those are accurate evaluations, then why doesn't Brown get more favorable treatment in the coaches poll?  Is it that "niceness" gets equated with "softness" and that gets transferred to an evaluation of the team?

--Ron M. (OBdoc)

Differing perceptions between coaches and fans of the rankings, the games themselves, or other coaches is neither surprising nor, on its face, troubling; after all, coaches know both each other and the game far better than does the average fan. Nevertheless, that fact should not immunize coaches from scrutiny, and I find myself today far more willing to wade into these waters than I was prior to the release of the coach-voted All Big 12 Awards, which recognized Bob Stoops (with Mike Leach) as co-Head Coach of the Year.

As I wrote this morning, either Mack Brown's colleagues don't like him much, envy Texas, or are just comically ill-informed. Let's assume, at least for now, that the coaches aren't ill-informed. What remains is the source of a really interesting question for debate: Is Mack Brown's nice-guy strategy a handicap in college football?


It's possible that the aspects of Mack Brown that you and I find appealing grate on his colleagues. For starters, all too many football coaches project and reward hyper-bravado and masculinity to a silly, if not outright unhealthy, degree. It's football as war, and with it the adoption of militaristic codes of conduct. But Mack Brown is not interested in orchestrating a Sherman-like march to Atlanta, he's friendly and accessible to the press, and unshy about standing behind values of kindness and sportsmanship. Heck, if he thought one capable of success, he'd probably let a female join the team.

It's not difficult to see how that probably hurts Mack Brown with a substantial number of his colleagues. Americans are a pretty clique-y bunch to begin with, but in my experience football coaches are among the most tribal groups of them all. Pick your comparable group as metaphor -- military men, sewing circles, political party machines, mobs & cartels -- they all work: Mack Brown is not only an outsider (not inbred in one of the Football Clans--see e.g. Snyder, Bill), but one who doesn't play by all the established rules. Or to offer one last metaphor: Where I generally shy away from accusations of bias, here I don't think it particularly controversial to suggest the jealous stepsisters may at times resent or conspire against Mack Brown.

There's nothing Mack can do about where he came from, but more than a few Longhorns fans have wondered whether he'd be wise to conform his behavior to more closely mirror that of some of his peers (like Bob Stoops). If it's a fair question, it's only made to seem hard because of the particular circumstances of the way the 2008 season ultimately shook out. Nevertheless, the answer is easy: Absolutely not.

Not only am I glad that Mack Brown isn't an Alpha Male caricature, but also the price he pays for his particular style is overstated. Though in a race this close the speculated effect of anti-Mack/Texas coach voting was enough to be decisive, there are literally dozens of other things which did as well: A 57-yard field goal from Nebraska. An ill-advised safety blitz from Missouri on 4th down. Blake Gideon's improbable drop. Arkansas being in a new coach transition. Florida Atlantic's mysteriously awful first half of the season. A three-way tie in the Big 12 South. Unexpectedly strong seasons from TCU and Cincinnati.

On and on we could go, and as we exhaust the list it becomes clear that Texas could have, almost did, and probably should have been Big 12 South champs anyway. Given that, should we really wish Mack Brown were more like Bob Stoops? Hell. No. 

There are lots of things Mack Brown can do differently to counterbalance the things which worked against Texas this year, but changing his fundamental nature to be more of a scoreboard thrasher ranks near the very bottom of any list I'd come up with. The lessons related to scheduling more aggressively (UTEP), as well as passive offensive game planning (Tech) vs creative utilization of offensive strengths (OU), both rank as immediate priorities that don't require sacrifice of values.

Let the in-clans be petty, incestuous weasels all they want. Mack might win a few less awards over his career, but who gives a flip about that? And anyway, Mack has successfully begun to have a transformative effect on how the game is perceived and played. It took some time, but Mack's reputation with the punditry is better than ever. And he's begun to carve out his own space in the college coaching-sphere.

Bottom line? Texas has and will continue to succeed with Mack Brown, we've won 3 of the last 4 against Oklahoma, I guaran-damn-tee you we'll make it 4 of 5 next year, and most exciting of all we've got in Will Muschamp a coach with a competitive streak that outpaces the nastiest of the nasty who is being groomed to combine that with the positive aspects Mack Brown has brought back to Texas.

Though not a single damn star aligned for Texas down the stretch this year,  Longhorns fans need to keep things in perspective: I wouldn't trade positions with any program in the country. Not USC. Not Florida. And least of all Oklahoma.

If there's any justice, Missouri will beat Oklahoma on Saturday. But if not? We'll take out our frustrations first on Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl this year and then on the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl again next year. And at some point in the near future, when OU fans get tired of having their asses handed to them by Mack Brown and Will Muschamp, they're going  to start asking why their coaches can't be more like ours.

Screw 'em all.