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Mack Brown Making Most Difficult Decisions of Career

Mack Brown, Greg Davis, Cleve Bryant, Jeff Madden. The latter three have formed Brown's inner circle for nearly two decades. Together, in varying degrees, they helped resurrect the sleeping giant of the Texas football program, taking the Longhorns to four BCS games and two national championship games, taking home the crystal football in 2005.

A man of deep and unyielding loyalty, despite all the hue and cry for the ouster of Greg Davis over the years, Brown always held firm and it seemed that Davis would remain with his close friend until Brown decided to retire. His loyalty to the other two surely runs as deeply.

However, the 2010 football season was a catastrophe that shook Brown to his very core -- it took him completely by surprise and left him desperately grasping for answers that clearly eluded him throughout the entire season. The Texas head coach never anticipated anything close to the disaster that the 5-7 season represented, with five of those losses coming at home, no less.

In the twilight of his career, Brown was faced with a difficult decision. Would he stay the course, in the hopes that his existing staff would recover? Would he stand strong in the face of mounting pressure from fans and media to make changes?

Not just one or two changes, but sweeping changes to the program. The national championship of 2005 elevated Brown's legacy to a position just behind that of Darell Royal. But Brown knows that to truly be mentioned in the same breath as the Texas legend, he must win another national championship, a national championship without the help of the transcendent Vince Young.

The first blow fell during the season, with the news of the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against Cleve Bryant, likely the death blow to his time in the program. For the first time, Brown's inner circle was broached.

Cracks had begun to show in Brown's facade during the season. His comments about not being able to trust his assistant coaches after the loss to Iowa State. His comments about the offense letting the defense down against UCLA. His comments after the A&M game about the coaches being the problem, not the team.

When it came time to evaluate the team after the season, it was clear that changes had to be made on the offensive side of the ball. Davis' group was historically bad, scoring the fewest points under Brown -- and the fewest since the 1994 season -- and emerging as the scapegoat for numerous losses as Davis abandoned the running game at inopportune times and the changes made during the off-season were revealed as completely ineffectual.

Offensively, there was no leadership apart from that provided by Garrett Gilbert, who clearly wasn't ready to step into that role as a sophomore with little game experience from his freshman season. In echoes of 2007, senior who had "bled for the program" ended up on the field and were generally ineffectual, particularly the wide receivers who showed no interest in blocking downfield, while blocking the development of younger players like Mike Davis and Darius White. In a sign of their ineffectiveness, the coaches talked about playing both players, along with DJ Monroe, but failed to do so during the game.

The offensive line and tight end positions were a similar story. Britt Mitchell and Kyle Hix played poorly week after week, including numerous unforgivable false start penalties and mistakes like not cutting opponents on screens or short passes. Meanwhile, Paden Kelley remained on the sidelines, despite there being little chance he could have been as bad as Mitchell. The same was true with Greg Smith, who provided virtually nothing in the passing game, was mediocre as a blocker, and had his own share of false starts.

Over at Recruitocosm, the leading source for any and all rumors surrounding the program over the last few weeks, the picture they paint is even more stark.

In essence, the complete and total breakdown of the entire offensive coaching staff besides Major Applewhite, and, perhaps, Bruce Chambers, backed Mack Brown into a corner. No longer could he make excuses for his long-time friend Greg Davis or a venerable coach like Mac McWhorter, who helped improve the play along the offensive line when he took over for Tim Nunez in the early part of the decade.

Special teams collapsed under the direction of Mike Tolleson and defensive tackles like Calvin Howell and Tyrell Higgins never developed enough to hold their own next to Kheeston Randall as the Texas defense was repeatedly gashed up the middle late in the season. Meanwhile, the evaluations and development along the offensive line left were abysmal.

It was time for change, obvious even to the most casual observer.

In the end, Brown and Davis were perhaps at odds about the future of the offense. As Bill Frisbie of Inside Texas likes to say, Davis would pass five downs out of four if he could, a inclination made apparent by the 23 consecutive pass plays called against Kansas State, the worst rush defense in the country. During that stretch, Garrett Gilbert threw interceptions on three consecutive passes.

Brown on the other hand, as a conservative coach with leanings towards the type of power running game the staff attempted to install. He wants to be able to control the clock and assert physical superiority over the opponent, something Texas hasn't done for years.

So, in desperate pursuit of the final chapters of his legacy, Brown had to make the hardest decision of his career -- probably not only at Texas but in his entire coaching career -- and ask his long-time friend to resign, first offering him a position in the athletic department. No doubt hurt by the decision and feeling that he still has a future in coaching, Davis declined the position and resigned.

Whether or not their friendship will withstand this decision is immaterial to the larger picture -- Brown is in the midst of the making tough decision and may still have to make one about the future of Jeff Madden as the strength and conditioning coach as rumors fly that he could be re-assigned to Cleve Bryant's old job in the athletic department. Likewise, wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy is linked to the vacant wide receivers coach position at Colorado. Kennedy is a Colorado native.

Now that most of the decisions have been made, the road away is clear for Brown to make the staff hires that will ultimately help define his legacy at Texs as his time as a head coach comes to an end. Make the correct decisions and the Longhorns could quickly challenge for a national championship once again and return to the narrative of high expectations created over the last several years.

With the wrong decisions? Well, that's almost too difficult to contemplate with the sting of 5-7 still burning deeply.