Coach's Corner

Perhaps right now, when the Emperor is so clearly ascendant, when his legions are triumphant over a powerful foe, when the notoriously fickle and demanding populace are - for now anyway - unanimous in their praise, generous and unabashed in their adoration, maybe now is an appropriate moment to gaze backward into an already foggy past, a past obscured - though little time has actually passed - with misinformation, myth, and emotion.

UT football coach Mack Brown was hired at the basement level of what surely amounted to a nuclear winter - at least, this was the overwhelming public perception - for the UT program. Revisionist historians will recall with smug certainty how Mack Brown was called in by The Great Horn in Heaven, to restore the prestige of the long-suffering university. His mandate was simple: "To rebuild the program." A program, so goes the modern thinking, ruined by the evil, aloof, imperial Yankee King, John Mackovic. A hollowed program, driven to the ground by an all-encompassing regime of arrogance, incompetence, and carelessness. A loud cry for a Southern savior arose, and Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds (a fellow not much more in favor than the disgraced king) stumbled onto the perfect answer, saving his own job in the process.

So let's look back, just this once, to the time of John Mackovic.

The past King was brought into the capital city - with clarions blaring and the citizens cheering - in early '92 to "rebuild the program." I recall him stepping off a private jet and waving self-consciously to the camera. Mackovic's icy, distant, patrician demeanor was on display eventhat first triumphant day. He never seemed comfortable with crowds or people. And it was this publicly perceived coldness, almost as much as events on the football field, which led to his ultimate disgrace.

Mackovic arrived, in case you've forgotten, at a true low point in Texas football fortunes - after five years under the poor leadership of a Texas comfortable good ole boy, David McWilliams. The program was down, void of any excitement, drained of talent, and badly demoralized. Most damaging, the program was bled of hope. It was payback time for all the teams UT had demoralized for 50 years in the SWC. National respect and recruiting dried up. It was a laughing stock team in a laughing stock conference.

At the time, Mackovic's bearing, which you could also accurately characterize as quietly confident, dignified, and self-assured, was a welcome change from bleak days and years just past. Three out of four losing seasons depressed the Horn faithful mightily. Mackovic's presence made them feel everything would be alright. And in fact, in real true fact, not myth, they would be. His Big 10 success, Wall Street/CEO demeanor, and confident, calm presence immediately gave Texas something they badly needed: national credibility.

In the fall of '92, there was, as there is now, a sense of rebirth in Austin. And a real rebirth it was. Mackovic insisted on change - in retrospect too much - but his point was right on the money: UT had grown fat and complacent doing things the old way, a way that no longer worked. The evil king's results? One losing season in six. Three wins and a tie against Oklahoma. Three straight Top 25 finishes. Seventeen Mackovic players are active today in the NFL. Another will probably be the #1 pick in next year's draft. No, John Mackovic didn't reach college football's zenith, but you know what? Looking back, he set a pretty solid foundation for Mack Brown to keep the journey going.

So now, while all is right in Bevo-Land, perhaps we can look back, no longer in anger, at the job John Mackovic did for UT, and give credit. Mackovic did his job. He did raise a program out of the ashes. He gave Texas fans a team, once again, to feel proud about. No doubt, he took the team as far as he could. By last year, he'd lost control. After six years, his limits and deficiencies as a football coach were plain for all to see. His distant personality became, as events caved in upon him, even more remote. An open and friendly demeanor would've bought Mackovic another year. It's going to buy Brown five.

His legacy to the University is a positive one. He changed, forever I hope, the way offensive football is played in Austin. His creative use of multiple pro sets and formations and a sophisticated passing game gave Texas, right from the start, a hot Energizer Bunny offense. His first recruiting class brought Shea Morenz (a fantastically gifted QB before he was injured), Mike Adams, and Lovell Pinckney to the offense. A long-time Longhorn hater - me - started to slowly find himself rooting, against all his better instincts, for Texas. Defense may win championships, but offense wins fans.

The new emperor would surely, if someone asked, be the first to acknowledge the contributions of Mackovic. Brown inherited a discouraged team, but it was not a team without hope or talent, or the recent knowledge of how to win. But it's not to Brown I'm talking, it's to you, Longhorn fans. The tired, defeated old King wasn't so bad. It's just that he wasn't really a king after all, just one of the king's men. And he helped, in a big way, to put Humpty back together again.

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