Sports Columns

May 28, 2014

Loran Smith: Mack Brown enjoys different kind of success now

These are different times for Mack Brown, who won a national championship, two Rose Bowl games, two conference titles and took the University of Texas football program to 15 bowl games in 16 years as the Longhorns’ head coach.

He no longer paces the Texas sideline. In all probability, he has worn a coaching headset for the last time, but with the passing of time, you figure a television headset awaits. He is a master conversationalist who doesn’t need an elocution or grammar coach.

The last time he wasn’t the head coach of a team was in 1984, when he was the offensive coordinator at — of all places — Oklahoma. He then left Norman for Tulane in New Orleans. Tulane was in decline, but he had the Green Wave breaking even in three years. Then he resurrected North Carolina — from back to back 1-10 seasons to eight winning campaigns, three of which had double-digit victory totals.

Texas invited him to take up residency in Austin, with legendary Longhorns coach Darrell Royal heading the welcoming committee. Smooth and perceptive, Brown made certain Royal, who won three national championships in Austin, was warmly welcomed at practice. He made it a habit to consult with Royal, one of the most respected coaches in college football history.

At a recent dinner at a popular steakhouse only a few minutes from the Texas campus, Brown was interrupted a couple of times by fans who shook his hand and thanked him for what he “did for Texas.” Those are the fans he will remember.

He knows he is appreciated by many — the less vocal, not those who take to the Internet to vent their feelings. A football coach, sitting or looking back, can never get caught up in what people are saying. You can’t argue with the many who only find fault. Any coach understands that second-guessing accompanies all sports and all who move into leadership positions.

Brown grew up with an emotional connection with the University of Georgia. His grandfather Eddie “Jelly” Watson, a high school coach in Cookeville, Tenn., had affection for the passing game and studied the concepts of Bulldogs coach Wallace Butts. When the Georgia job opened up in late 1995, Brown was seriously interested.

“There aren’t that many places where you can win big,” he said. “Georgia is one of them.”

When his time was over at Texas this past December, Brown decided that he would take time to consider his next move. He traveled with his wife Sally, with the luxury of no sound bites, no wake-up calls and no office visits where he was briefed about a player getting out of line or missing class.

He could identify with the late Frank Howard of Clemson, who was asked if he would miss coaching. Howard said, “I ’speck I’m gonna miss being with the players and the coaches and the fun of being on the field for the games. But, I’ll tell you one thing I won’t miss — that’s some smart-aleck 17-year-old kid telling me he ain’t quite made up his mind where he is going to school.”

Brown is one coach who actually enjoyed recruiting, but he is beginning to appreciate a lifestyle in which signing a highly publicized recruit and the urgency to win every game on the schedule is no longer his mission. The roses are smelling good.

There are several things he will not do as a former Texas coach. He won’t make swipes at the administration, although insiders say he has plenty of justification. He won’t comment on anything his successor, Charlie Strong, does or doesn’t do. If Strong fails at any point during his tenure, the new Texas coach won’t hear it whispered that his predecessor smirked about a failed fourth down call at a local coffee club, a common routine taken by many ex-coaches.

You’ll never catch Brown whining negatively, but you can glean from his body language that it is lamentable that graduating players and playing by the rules doesn’t count with many of those who are most zealous about college football.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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