DALLAS — Mack Brown would not be talked into it.
Try though they might, the Longhorns couldn’t persuade their head coach to grab the heavy Golden Hat trophy with both hands and hoist it on top of a head that had every right to swell to twice its normal size.
An impressive 45-12 pounding of Oklahoma will do that to a hat size.
“Put it on, Coach. Put it on, ” implored offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, who eventually gave up and donned the gilded Stetson himself while mugging joyously for the cameras.
Brown, though, would not be tempted.
Too cognizant of how the photo op would play in Norman with his team’s five-year losing streak still too fresh in his mind — even a shattered five-year string — the Longhorns coach deferentially declined. He has too much class, too much respect for the Sooners to rub in Texas’ first win of the century in this series.
He had his prize.
For once, his Texas football team was not all hat and no cattle. Mack had the beef to back it up and claimed the hat that goes to the winner of this storied series.
The second-ranked Longhorns (5-0) capped their best start since 2002 with a thorough pasting of the unranked and stumbling Sooners (2-3). But even more, they validated their status as the top challengers to two-time defending champion Southern California and vindicated Brown by any measurement you want to take.
He beat Oklahoma, even if it was a shell of Sooners past with erratic-throwing, redshirt freshman quarterback Rhett Bomar and a hobbled Adrian Peterson, whose gimpy ankle allowed him just a handful of snaps and three carries.
Brown outcoached the previously un-outcoachable Bob Stoops. With his team protecting a 17-6 lead and taking over possession at the Texas 30 with less a minute remaining in the first half, Brown went for broke and got a momentum-securing touchdown on a 64-yard wheel route the Longhorns hadn’t run in at least two seasons.
He let his assistants coach, specifically defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, who calls his boss “a phenomenal game-day coach who’s very insightful.” For the first time this season, Chizik responded with a strong dose of dime coverage that blanketed OU’s receivers and held them to 94 yards.
And Mack didn’t gloat. In fact, he’d need a manual to learn how. Brown deflects all the credit to his players and earns their unceasing loyalty.
“We did it for Mack, ” Texas linebacker Robert Killebrew screamed on the field.
The ultimate positive-minded coach rarely wavers from his core belief in his team, and he always believed the tide would turn in this series.
He trusts these players. He’s made peace with the demands at a college football hotbed. He cuts up with his players, even to the point of downloading 50 Cent and other rappers on his iPod and shimmying just a little in the euphoric Texas locker room.
He hasn’t changed, but his team has — for the better.
While Mack successfully underwent what an e-mail friend called a monkey-ectomy by shedding that 600-pound gorilla clinging to his back, the eighth-year Texas coach doesn’t see it through that prism.
“I don’t want to sit here and act like it hasn’t bothered me, ” Brown said of the lopsided nature of this rivalry recently. “But the emotions you have are the emotions for the fans. I’m not proud of that for them because this game hasn’t allowed them to walk with a swagger, and I’m responsible for that.”
But he’s also responsible for an eye-popping 75 wins in 7 1/2 seasons — including the one Saturday that might presage Texas’ turn at a win streak in this rivalry. And he richly deserves credit for making his the best college football team outside of Los Angeles.
The wavy hair has more gray than when he arrived, the bowlegs seem even more crooked by the day, but Brown’s southern twang remains, as does his innate desire to please.
He even had old friend Dick Coop on hand Saturday. The famed sports psychologist, who tutored Payne Stewart and other pro golfers, gave Mack some advice during his North Carolina days that he still follows, laying out a theme at every Thursday practice to let it percolate. He reinforced this week’s message in a lively, seven-minute pep talk at the team’s hotel north of Dallas on Saturday morning.
“You’re the best team, ” Mack told the Longhorns. “Now be the best team today because that’s all that matters.”
The best team did win. But Brown knows the team has to produce another seven winning weekends to reach its ultimate goal in Pasadena, which is why he assumed he’d be up till 4 a.m. today watching Texas’ next opponent, Colorado, play against Texas A&M before dissecting a replay of the victory over OU.
That’s also why this intensely emotional coach didn’t break down himself at the Cotton Bowl. He did stop to absorb the wild celebration by his players and the joyous eruption from Texas’ half of the 75,452 fans.
He soaked it all in.
But he never cried.
And when asked why he didn’t, Mack just smiled and said, “It’s just midseason.”