Senior Writer

Flourishing Five No. 2: Brown returned Texas football to Royal status


(Fourth in a series. Some schools have great football teams. Some have great basketball teams. But a select few have the best of both worlds. ranks and profiles the schools who’ve positioned themselves for success now and into the future in both sports. Today, No. 2 Texas. Thurs., Aug. 5, No. 1 revealed, honorable mentions and struggling programs.)

Texas will never be back.

Those were the words of Bill Little, longtime Texas historian and coach Mack Brown's right hand man. It was 1997, one of the low points in Texas history. Three teams -- three! -- had torn down goal posts in front of disgraced Longhorns that season. The program was coming off a season in which it lost to Baylor, gave up 66 points -- at home -- to UCLA, fired coach John Mackovic and, in Little's estimation, did irreparable harm.

"When we were here a month, Bill said, 'We will never get it back,'" said Brown, who arrived from North Carolina after that disastrous 4-7 season.

Welcome to the Lone(ly) Star State.

"The caveat was: Unless the attitude changes, there is no chance," Little recalled. "The football program didn't have the support. Academics was a really hard go. There wasn't a system in place to have the kind of student support we have now."

In Brown's first year, Texas won nine games. Ricky Williams won the Heisman. You would figure the coach could exhale just a bit. He was terrified.

He didn't know the culture, the state, the program. He was subtly reminded that 9-3 damn sure wasn't good enough.

Brown asked his boss, AD DeLoss Dodds why Texas fans never tore down a goal post.

"Our people," Dodds reminded him, "never think it is an upset."

This is the story of a makeover, then. This is the story of hiring the right man at the right time. Actually two men. Texas is on this list because Dodds hired Brown in football. Five months later basketball coach Rick Barnes was on board. Everything else is details. With its two major sports humming along, there might be no more powerful athletic department in the country.

But in the late '90s, Texas was a non-factor in the college football universe. Since Darrell Royal had retired in 1976, Texas coaches had not lived up to his legacy. The likes of Fred Akers, David McWilliams and Mackovic had their high points but not often enough.

Flourishing Five: No. 2 Texas
Texas basketball
Gary Parrish Gary Parrish
Texas basketball will never be Texas football, and the Longhorns are OK with that. But that doesn't mean Rick Barnes hasn't made the hoopsters nearly as dominant. Read>>
Texas football
200513-0Won Rose
200610-3Won Alamo
200710-3Won Holiday
200812-1Won Fiesta
200913-1Lost BCS Title
-- Won National Championship in 2005, beating USC 41-38
-- Lost 37-21 to Alabama in 2009 BCS Championship
-- Finished in Top 5 of the Final AP poll in four of the past six seasons
-- Vince Young (2005) and Colt McCoy (2009) won Maxwell Award
Top Draft picks
PlayerPick (Year)Team
Earl Thomas14 (2010)Seattle
Jordan Shipley84 (2010)Cincinnati
Colt McCoy85 (2010)Cleveland
Brian Orakpo13 (2009)Washington
Jamaal Charles73 (2008)Kansas City
Michael Griffin19 (2007)Tennessee
Aaron Ross20 (2007)N.Y. Giants
Justin Blalock 39 (2007)Atlanta
Vince Young3 (2006)Tennessee
Michael Huff7 (2006)Oakland
Cedric Benson 4 (2005)Chicago
Derrick Johnson15 (2005)Kansas City
Series rundown
No. 5 Pittsburgh: Football | Basketball
No. 4 Wisconsin: Football | Basketball
No. 3 Ohio State: Football | Basketball
No. 1 Florida: Football | Basketball
Blog: Honorable mention | Who's the worst?

Today, there are legions of high school recruits who view Brown as this era's Royal. He is Texas. Current recruits were 5 years old when Brown arrived. In those 12 seasons, he has lifted the program to the point that comparisons to Royal are more than whispers.

When Brown was hired, Texas last had finished in the top 10 in 1983. Now they've resided there in seven of the last nine seasons.

Royal remains the patriarch, the 86-year-old legend who still comes to practice two or three times a week. But Brown is creeping up on him. Royal still leads him 3-1 in national championships. Brown, though, is 39 career victories behind Royal at Texas and not going anywhere anytime soon. Despite having a well-paid and younger coach designate in place (defensive coordinator Will Muschamp), Brown reiterated last week that he is not near retirement.

That suggests that Royal's records, if not his legend, are in jeopardy.

"A fair question," Brown said of the comparison, "and I would say no. For someone to have won three national championships is unbelievable. If we had won against Alabama, it's a step closer. But when the stadium is named after a guy, there's a statue out front ...

"We weren't good before he got there. We weren't good consistently after he left. He was an icon at a time when he was one of the two or three everyone talks about."

Case closed? Not yet. Not when you consider that modern makeover. Royal made Texas much the way Joe Paterno made Penn State and Bobby Bowden made Florida State. He had played quarterback at Oklahoma. Brown was a similar outsider. A Tennessee native who went to Vanderbilt and Florida State, Brown was the hot coach du jour in 1997. Or at least hot enough for Texas.

There were 39,743 season ticket holders when Brown arrived. There are 84,000 now. The Royal-Memorial Stadium has grown from 83,000 seats to more than 100,000. The Texas athletic department is the richest in the country. Last year, Forbes magazine named Texas the most valuable college football team in the nation having produced $82 million in revenue.

And recruiting? Brown and his staff can be as selective and local. There are approximately 350 Division I-A recruits in Texas each season. Brown usually gets the best 25. He always seems to get the best quarterbacks. Vince Young won a national championship. Colt McCoy set records. Garrett Gilbert from nearby Lake Travis is projected to be the next great one.

None of it is going away anytime soon.

These days Texas is viewed with as much jealously as admiration. When conference realignment loomed this summer Texas was seen as the central player. The Big 12 basically stayed together because Texas willed it.

On the field, Texas has won at least 10 games in nine straight seasons. It has both the most top five and top 10 draft picks in college football since Brown's arrival. You've seen the Longhorns in the AP poll for 157 straight weeks.

The facilities are palatial. The stadium's video board was the nation's largest at the time it was built in 2007. At the beginning of the decade it looked like Brown was Bob Stoops' caddy. Oklahoma had won five in a row in the bitter rivalry. Now Texas has won four of the last five.

How could anyone screw that up? The larger question is how did it ever get that bad, to the point of Little's 1997 proclamation? The answer is a 58-year-old man with an artificial knee who is one of the best delegators and recruiters in the game. There are better field technicians but Brown lets his coaches coach and his players get to the NFL. There are 51 Longhorns currently in the league, the fourth-highest total in the country.

"I don't think I do [reflect enough on success]," Brown said. "What I do realize is I'm having fun. Recruiting is going really well. I like seeing the Texas people proud and happy."

There are two moments that define where Texas is at the moment.

  Brown was walking off the Rose Bowl turf with Royal after beating USC for the 2005 national championship. An elderly booster caught up to them and gushed, "You've got a lifetime contract. You don't ever have to win another game."

Royal had long ago reminded Brown that the only big games at Texas are the ones you lose.

"Hell, boy," Royal warned, "you've got six months.'

  All coaches eventually have to fight the feeling that losing is more devastating than winning is satisfying. That's why Royal got out 34 years ago at a relatively young age.

It's also why there is no horizon for Brown. He proudly went to the White House with the team after 2005 championship and had somewhat of an epiphany.

"When I walked out with the president, our team is walking down the steps of the White House," Brown said. "[Wife] Sally is crying like a 2-year old. I knew then, 'This is pretty cool.'"

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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