Read the lead of any column written these days about Mack Brown, even coming on the heels of the devastating events of the national championship game, and every writer will try to capture the extreme ease with which Brown carries himself now.
He's the consummate politician. Remembering everyone's name. Cracking the inside jokes. Completely in control.
It wasn't always that way.
The "Oklahoma problem" that defined the early part of the decade from the Texas perspective is now being thrown back at Bob Stoops as the "Texas problem" (to which Stoops correctly points the questioners towards Big 12 Championships housed in Norman) and knee surgery and overall better health has helped Brown regain his love for the game.
Instead of weighing him down, the monumental expectations of the fanbase push him towards that second national championship, his validation, the trophy that will put him forever in the same breath as Darrell Royal.
This is a story of elevation, of growth from those dark days of 2006 and 2007 when cornerbacks and safeties led the team in tackling. Of Red River Rivalries when the Sooners were victorious as soon as they stepped on the field. When Texas football teams were weak-minded, willing to roll over, and a disgrace to the memories of Tommy Nobis, Fred Steinmark, and Earl Campbell.
Then it changed. Vincent changed it. But more importantly, Brown himself changed it.
The factors involved are numerous and have been well chronicled by some of the most astute observers of Texas football the wide Interwebs can provide. As deeply as that discussion goes, the reality of the current situation is that whatever faults may have pulled Brown down in the early days of his tenure in Austin -- a prickliness resulting from an inability to understand the astronomical fan expectations and a loyalty to old friends that ran too deeply at times -- those concerns are now a part of the past.
Brown embraces expectations because he has built the program to the specifications of his time, pushing himself to acquire a top-notch coaching staff that puts players in the NFL and his players in a position to suceed every weekend.
The departures of assistants performing at subpar levels like Tim Nunez and Carl Reese paved the way for inspired hires like Will Muschamp, Major Applewhite, Gene Chizik and even Dick Tomey and Greg Robinson. At each turn, Brown handled the new hires well when the coordinators took head coaching jobs, with the exception of the Duane Akina/Larry Mac Duff debacle of 2007, solved unequivocally through the best hire of all -- Coach Boom himself.
So now there is an ease and every press conference becomes must-see TV for a Longhorn fan. The former prickliness manifests itself as good-natured but still stinging barbs leveled at those elements he still feels are out of line within the program. It's a performance of the highest degree.
The Big 12 (or whatever you want to call it) Media Days were a perfect example.
Brown recalled his first trip to Lincoln that resulted in the oft-repeated anecdote about the class of Nebraska fans after giving Ricky Williams a standing ovation as he left the field. Following the game, Darrell Royal noted to Brown that he wished the Texas fans would do the same for opposing teams and refrain from booing. Brown replied by telling the legendary coach that he simply wanted the Texas fans to stop booing him first before he started talking about the treatment of opposing teams.
And that injured pride was a defining element of Brown's first half-decade in Austin, no matter how successful it was otherwise.
That Brown recalled the event with a smile on his face is a strong indication of how far he has come at Texas and matured as a head coach, a remarkable achievement for someone his age when he got to Austin -- most people in any profession are generally stuck in their ways as they enter the final third of their life. If there was unhappiness and bitterness in his voice during the original conversation, it was no longer present as the head coach spoke clearly about the event from a place now far removed on his own personal journey.
His ease was evident when he jokingly corrected a reporter asking about the OU-Texas game by rephrasing it as the Texas-OU game.
It was evident when he assessed Garrett Gilbert's readiness to play in the national championship game by noting that he ate all his steak (not nervous), but didn't ask for more (would have indicated he didn't plan on playing).
It was evident when Brown was asked about the Nebraska game and noted that he hadn't looked at the schedule, but knew that Texas will start the season with Rice. Then speaking in glowing terms about he had modeled the Texas program after what Tom Osborne did back in Big Red's heyday. Masterful.
The end result is that there continues to be no timetable for Brown to step down as the head coach at Texas and it's frankly no surprise or even little cause for constant concern -- the Texas administration has done everything possible to keep Muschamp in Austin and three years of Coach Boom is already more than anyone could have expected when he originally took the job and looked destined to spend two years at the most on the 40 Acres.
Brown elaborated in Irving about why he has not set a timetable for his decision:
If I set a timetable, it becomes a distraction to the coaching staff and ultimately to the team. And that would be totally unfair to everyone, namely the University of Texas.
Deloss Dodds and the Texas administration will not be making the same mistakes as Florida State as the Seminoles transitioned from the immortal Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fischer. Where the adminsitration in Tallahassee gave Fischer a definite date when he would take over or receive a large bonus and his freedom, Belmont decided against any type of buyout, feeling that if Muschamp wants to leave at any point, that is his prerogative.
Every public indication from Will Muschamp has struck the right note -- saying that Brown has the earned the right to coach at Texas for as long as he wants, for instance -- and it's Muschamp's personality that makes it believable he is willing to wait. Any interview with the Texas defensive coordinator shows a man impatient to be reviewing film, refining his tactics, not ready for the political nature of the head coaching position at Texas.
That is Brown's forte, amplified now that he's healthy, recovered from the 2006 knee surgery that sapped his energy and made him contemplate his future in the game. Not only is his love back, but it's at an all-time high, buoyed by the incredible recruiting classes of 2010 and now 2011, both of which aided in the quick recovery from Colt McCoy's devastating injury in the Rose Bowl.
Now it's Garrett Gilbert's turn and there's no question that Brown recognizes this opportunity to secure his legacy with these classes built around the franchise quarterback. He's invested in these kids and will see them through, to reach those stratospheric expectations he's helped resurrect and embrace. Now is the time for winning, for winning it all. Everything, again.
Mack Brown is on top of the football world, craving another crystal football in his hands.