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Not the best of times for Texas coach Mack Brown

SAN ANTONIO — During a Friday luncheon attended by supporters of both Oregon State and Texas in anticipation of Saturday’s Alamo Bowl, each coach was introduced.

Mack Brown got a polite hand from the Texas contingent. Mike Riley drew a much louder round of applause from OSU fans. Later in the program, when it was his turn to speak, Riley was greeted by a lengthy standing ovation.

Fan support is cyclical, and a year ago, Riley wouldn’t have gotten such a reception from the Beaver faithful. The high of a 9-3 regular season — and his recent decision to pass on an interview with Wisconsin to remain at OSU — have jacked Riley’s “Q rating” for now. And there seems to be a growing appreciation for what Riley, 59, has accomplished in Corvallis.

The reverse seems true for Brown, 61, whose appeal in Austin has waned over the past three seasons of relative mediocrity.

Over that period, Texas’ record is 21-16, including 5-7 in 2010, with six losses in eight Big 12 games and a last-place finish in the South standings.

The last two seasons, the Longhorns have gone 8-5 (including a Holiday Bowl win over California) and 8-4 — cause for celebration with many programs throughout the land.

Not at Texas, where winning big is not only a tradition, it’s an imperative.

Brown has set almost unprecedented standards during his 15 years at Texas, where he has enjoyed success even the late, revered Darrell Royal would relish.

Royal, who coached the Longhorns from 1957-76, won three national championships to Brown’s one, but Brown takes a backseat to nobody with what he has accomplished at Austin.

“Mack’s like the Darrell Royal of the 21st century,” former Texas All-American and College Football Hall of Famer Jerry Sisemore has said.

Brown’s record at Texas is 149-43 record (77.6 percent), an average of nearly 10 wins a season. He has had bowl appearances 14 times, nine consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins (2001-09), the second-longest such streak in NCAA history, and 10 straight years ranked among the nation’s top 15 in the final poll (2000-09).

Texas has won eight of its last 10 bowl games and has claimed or shared six Big 12 South and two conference championships. Brown has coached three Heisman Trophy winners or runners-up — Ricky Williams (winner, 1998), Colt McCoy (runner-up, 2008) and Vince Young (runner-up, 2005) — and has had 29 players drafted in the first two rounds.

Brown came to Texas from North Carolina, where the Tar Heels were average before and since on the gridiron. He was 1-10 in each of the first two years, then enjoyed eight straight winning seasons, including 10-2 in 1996 and 10-1 in 1997.

When he was hired at Austin in 1998, the Longhorns were coming off a 4-7 campaign. In the 15 years prior to Brown’s arrival, a rare down time in the program’s history, the Longhorns had gone 2-6 in bowl games.

In 2005, the year his Longhorns won a national championship, Brown won the Bear Bryant Award as national coach of year. His 2009 team lost 37-21 to Alabama in the BCS championship game.

Since then, it’s gone downhill. The Longhorns are 11-15 against Big 12 opponents the last three seasons, going 0-4 at home against conference brethren West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Christian and Kansas State this fall.

On Friday, I asked Brown what factors went into the Longhorns fashioning such an ordinary record over the past three years. His answer was long-winded but revealing.

“Our last three years have been more like our first three,” he began.

Brown’s first three seasons at Texas were 9-3, 9-5 and 9-3, with a 1-2 bowl record and final rankings in the top 25. So not really.

“We were 9-5 one year and the world came to an end,” he said. “I remember we came down (to San Antonio) at 10-3 in ‘06 and the world was nearly at an end, and I remember being 10-3 in ‘03 and it was at an end.”

Point well taken. Longhorn fans don’t suffer any kind of losing gladly.

“We got a lot better in ‘04 and ‘05 (11-1 and 13-0), fell back off in ‘06 and ‘07 (10-3 and 10-3), got back to the BCS in ‘08 (12-1) and in ‘09 played for the national championship,” Brown said. “We dropped off heavily in ‘10. We were competitive last year. We played good defense but didn’t move the ball well enough. This year, we’ve improved on offense, but we dropped off some on defense.

“We’re about back to where we can compete at the highest level, and we’ll have an older team next year ... and we’re making tremendous progress. Not all of it is visible, and that’s very difficult for Texas fans who have seen us be so good. It’s difficult for us, too, because we want to be really, really good.”

The Longhorns may get there in the next two seasons. They have only four seniors starting in Saturday’s Alamo Bowl, and the talent base seems as strong as at any place in the nation. OSU radio analyst Jim Wilson did some digging and found the Longhorns boast eight five-star and 72 four-star recruits. Don’t ask how many of either the Beavers have.

So the natural question is, aren’t the Longhorns coaching up their players? Brown brings up his team’s youth and a rash of injuries “unparalleled over the last two years. We won’t start any of the three linebackers (Saturday) who started the season.”

“We have a lot of good young players who are growing up, and we may have some depth next year,” he said. “When we’ve been good, we’ve had depth ... we’ve been playing more young players than anybody else in the country the last two years.”

Hyperbole, probably, though the Longhorns have a number of young standouts, including freshman tailback Johnathan Gray and sophomores David Ash at quarterback, Jaxon Shipley at receiver, Steve Edmond at linebacker, Quandre Diggs at cornerback and Desmond Jackson at defensive tackle.

Former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, 34, is a head coach-in-waiting, taking over the play-calling duties for the first time Saturday with the departure of co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to Arkansas State.

“I’ve always thought Major was a star, and I’m excited about watching him,” Brown said. “He has prepared himself for this.”

I’ve spoken this week to many of those in the Texas program about Brown, and the comments are similar to what Oregon Staters say about Riley. Riley, in fact, has a genuine appreciation for Brown, with whom he has worked on the AFCA Board of Trustees and the NCAA Ethics Committee. The coaches and their wives have become friends on annual Nike coaching excursions.

“I really like him,” Riley said. “He’s a classy person and a great representative of our profession. When he speaks at the AFCA board meetings, it’s like everybody listens to Mack Brown. There’s a lot of respect for him out there.

“He’s a really good coach in a job that is BIG. When you’re the head coach at Texas, it’s as big a juggling act as there is in college football. He’s right at the top of the list as far as I’m concerned.”

Applewhite, who quarterbacked Texas to four straight bowl games and threw for 473 yards and four TDs in a 47-43 win over Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl, was in the last recruiting class of John Mackovic. He was a redshirt when Brown arrived in December 1997.

“I was there his first day on the job, and I can tell you, the core values he has always coached by are still the same,” Applewhite said. “But he has adapted to the times. He has a genuine fiber for the kids he wants. He wants them to do well in terms of graduating, finding a job, becoming a good citizen. There’s a lot of lip service paid to that in college football, but he genuinely wants that kind of person for his team.

“Mack understands he’s a football coach, but that’s not all he is.”

“Our goal is to win championships with nice kids who are graduating,” Brown has said. “We may be in the entertainment business on the weekends, but we are in the education business during the week.”

Brown undoubtedly benefits from the Texas brand.

“Since I was little — I want to say even before Mack Brown got there — I was a big fan of Texas,” Jackson said.

But Brown has won over his players, as well.

“It’s been wonderful playing for him,” said receiver Marquise Goodwin, the Olympic long jumper. “I’ve learned a lot. He’s a great coach. He’s really cool, a laid-back guy, but he speaks his mind. He’ll tell you the truth 100 percent of the time. That’s what I admire about him most.

“He’s very easy to deal with, very easy to talk to. He always has his ears open and is willing to listen to you. He has been good to me since I’ve been here. Whenever I’ve done something in track, he’s one of the first to text me and let me know he’s watching.”

Jackson said when Brown offered him a scholarship, “It was one of the best days of my life. One thing I can say about Mack Brown — he’s been truthful since I’ve been here with me and guys around me. I respect the man 100 percent. I love Mack Brown. I love to play for him. He’s been there for me.”

Diggs’ older brother played at Texas, so he has known Brown since he was 6 years old.

“Great man,” Diggs said. “I have tremendous respect. You want to play for and fight for him every week because you know he’s going to have your back through thick and thin. It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to play for a guy so well-respected by his colleagues.”

A la Chip Kelly, Brown has peeled back his access to the media through the years, trimming it to one 30-minute shot on Mondays and a short availability after games. That works when you’re winning big, but leaves a coach susceptible to more criticism when a program goes from extraordinary to ordinary.

For some of the Texas fans, the 63-21 pounding by Oklahoma Oct. 13 in Austin was the final straw. They believe a change should be in the offing.

Word is Brown — who ranks 11th on the NCAA all-time career win list with 235 — might be ready to retire in another year or two. Perhaps he is grooming Applewhite as his successor.

If the Longhorns are unable to get back to the top of the college football world soon, it may not be a choice Brown gets to make.

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