On Thursday afternoon, when the report from Topeka, Kansas surfaced that Mack Brown is going to step down after the Baylor game, it was pretty easy to disregard it as, well, a non-credible rumor from nowhere. On the other hand, though, despite the unbelievable sourcing of the rumor and the possibility that it could have simply come from a rival coach trying to undermine Texas recruiting during an important stretch trying to finish the 2012 class strong, there were some elements about Brown retiring that made sense.
After all, Brown was seemingly close to retirement three years ago when former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was named the head coach in waiting, a move that ultimately failed to keep Muschamp in Austin when Brown failed to develop a timetable for turning over his program. There's no doubt that Brown has thought long and hard about how much longer he wants to coach at Texas.
After all, despite all the talk about Brown being re-energized during the offseason, some of the losses this season seemed to take just as much of a toll on the head coach as the soul-crushing 2010 debacle. During press conferences, especially after games against Missouri and Kansas State, the spark seemed gone from his eyes and mannerisms. He started to look every bit of his 60 years again. Perhaps even older, with how this job has aged him.
The uncertainty of the quarterback position is also surely weighing on Brown, as neither David Ash nor Case McCoy look like long-term solutions at the position. With more development, it's possible that Ash could be a solid starter, but he regressed during his last two starts and this is not particularly the forum to start another discussion about McCoy that will only lead to the same place every other discussion about McCoy has gone recently.
Forecasting the quarterback landscape moving forward, there's nothing to give Brown a great deal of hope that the Longhorns will have a player on campus by 2013 or 2014 who can lead Texas back to the mountaintop. And that has to be extraordinarily discouraging for a coach who received good to great quarterback play throughout his entire tenure at Texas leading up to Colt McCoy's departure.
Add in the pressure on Brown's time that the Longhorn Network has added and it's easy to see why the coach might feel like he's been stretched a little bit thin. Early in the season, Brown noted the the fledgling network was like another full-time job.
Though developed a little further in this post, those were all issues that were all mentioned in the post from Thursday (except for the Longhorn Network. The impetus for furthering this discussion, however, came from the long-rumored report from the Big Cigar that helped add momentum to talk about Brown retiring on Thursday.
It appears that the perception that Brown has lost some of the energy that galvanized both he and the program during the offseason has in fact dissipated:
Privately Mack has told people that he’s exhausted and doesn’t feel like he has the energy to right the ship sometimes. He’s shared exactly that with a couple of high level contributors and a former assistant that does broadcasting. People inside the program have verified that Mack works in fits and starts for the most part this season. He has his good weeks where he’s ultra engaged and then other weeks he’s more hands off and withdrawn. The losses vs. OU and OSU were really bad in terms of being distant and withdrawn, but then he had the rug pulled out from under vs. Mizzou and KSU after rolling KU and Tech. The valleys are too low and the mountains are too high it seems.
According to the high-level source, that fact is not something that has been lost on the administration:
The powers that be, Bill Powers, Deloss, IMG, and some influential boosters have asked that they sit down with Mack at the end of the season and talk about an ETA on winning big again and then an exit strategy. They’re going to ask when Mack will win again and then ask about a time horizon. If we want the LHN to take hold which will lead to a favorable realignment scenario the program has to get back to the big stage.
While that might seem to indicate that Brown is much closer to retirement than anyone on the outside looking in might have realized, an important aspect of Brown's personality to remember is that he often operates at his highest levels when he gets knocked out of the complacent ruts in which he sometimes finds himself, although that might not even be enough this time:
Based on what I’ve heard, Mack will probably tell the Powers-that-be the truth, which is that he’s tired and he doesn’t have a near term solution at QB. But my guess is that he’s torn between the three year pact he made with the young coaching pups and his own dwindling energy level. In fact, I think if he loses one of Harsin or Diaz this season, he’s gone because he doesn’t want to go through this again. If not, I see him staying through 2012 to see what that season will yield in terms of a glimpse at the future—if he can find the energy.
The Big Cigar closes the report with talk about the factors that could lead to a sped up timetable for Brown stepping down -- losing the coach who the source feels like has been hand-picked to replace Brown in Boise State head man Chris Petersen to a program like UCLA, or coordinators Manny Diaz and/or Bryan Harsin leaving, as mentioned briefly above.
It certainly adds some moving pieces to the whole equation. One of them may have fallen into place for Brown to stick around for a while longer with a Friday report that Petersen has removed his name from consideration for the UCLA job. That keeps one domino in place. It's too early to speculate with any great accuracy about what will happen with Diaz. His name hasn't been connected much with the Ole Miss opening in recent days, but the most likely scenario for him leaving still seems to be one in which Dan Mullen takes the Penn State job and Diaz would return to Starksville as the head coach. As for Harsin, at the moment it does not appear that he is a major candidate at any position currently open.
It sounds like a lot could be determined when Brown sits down with those powers that be at Texas and lets them know how he's feeling about the future. After putting it all into perspective, from this vantage point the Mack Brown era looks like it may have a much shorter expiration date than it did even less than 24 hours ago.