Former Texas wide receiver Mike Adams runs past Pittsburgh's Daryl Cash during a game in 1995. Adams has been hired as the offensive coordinator at Reagan High School in Austin. (Lynn Dobson)

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

After 20 years, will Texas ever dominate Big 12 like it did the SWC?

Longhorns won 24 SWC titles but only three since joining the Big 12 in 1996

Posted December 3rd, 2015

Advertisement
Story highlights
  • Former Texas LB Tyson King: 'The bottom line, it’s about winning championships.'
  • Current Texas coach Charlie Strong is 10-14 after two seasons.
  • Will the '95 Texas team ever get honored? Mike Adams: 'It’s overdue, actually.'

Here’s a tidbit that left me floored last Saturday night: Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has won nine Big 12 titles in 17 seasons.

Put another way, he’s 9-8 — nine Big 12 championships, eight non-championship years. Oh, and 16 consecutive bowl games. OU will play in its 17th straight bowl later this month, most likely in the College Football Playoff. The Sooners have dominated the Big 12 like no other.

Texas running back Ricky Williams runs into the endzone in the second half for a touchdown against Texas A&M in the final meeting between Southwest Conference rivals. (American-Statesman archives)
Texas running back Ricky Williams runs into the end zone in the second half for a touchdown against Texas A&M in the final meeting between Southwest Conference rivals. (American-Statesman archives)

Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of Texas’ 16-6 win over Texas A&M to clinch the 1995 Southwest Conference championship, the final year before the league dissolved and the Longhorns and Aggies moved into the Big 12.

Advertisement

For decades, Texas dominated the SWC like no other. The Longhorns won 25 conference titles, 19 outright, and routinely posted undefeated or one-loss seasons in league play. We’re talking about a run of dominance that covered most of the 20th century.

In an era of 85 scholarships, with more schools getting millions from TV contracts and investing it back into their programs, and with the quality of coaching available nowadays, the question must be asked: Will Texas ever dominate like that again?

Current conference contenders Baylor and TCU aren’t going to sit around and wait to find out. They want to get some licks in whenever they can. The Frogs beat the Horns 50-7 earlier this season. Expect no mercy on Saturday from the 12th-ranked Bears, a team that trails in the all-time series 26-74-4.

“People talk about Baylor and TCU now, and it’s a joke. We’re the University of Texas,” said Tyson King, the Horns’ leading tackler in ’95 who now works for a wealth management firm in the Dallas area. “But when you look back in 20 years, we’ve won four conference championships. That’s a joke. Coach (Mack) Brown had some great years, but the bottom line, it’s about winning championships.”

Call is aura, mystique, whatever you like. King believes that feeling about UT is fading among today’s youth. “I don’t know what it’s going to take, but yes, people are and rightfully so forgetting how dominant Texas is, or was, I guess I should say,” King said.

There’s a growing portion of the fan base that wants Texas to part ways with coach Charlie Strong now. He’s 10-14 in two seasons. This will be the first back-to-back losing years since 1988-89.

Despite this year’s 4-7 record, freshman running back Chris Warren III said there are still believers inside the football complex.

“Texas will be back,” Warren said. “Because it’s Texas. College football needs Texas, just like how they need Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama. College football needs Texas, and the Big 12 needs Texas.”

John Mackovic was 11-10-1 after his first two seasons in 1992-93, an idyllic time long before anyone was able to complain on Internet message boards or Twitter. Mackovic’s 1994 championship team was something of a misnomer; A&M was on probation and ineligible for the SWC crown that year, despite going 6-0-1. Texas was one of five teams that finished 4-3 that season in league play. Everybody got rings that season.

Texas quarterback James Brown (5) finds himself surrounded by SMU defenders as he attempts to scramble during the first half. SMU Ahmad Hayes (92) finds himself the target of Brown's stiff arm. Photo by Larry Kolvoord
Texas quarterback James Brown (5) finds himself surrounded by SMU defenders as he attempts to scramble during the first half. SMU Ahmad Hayes (92) finds himself the target of Brown’s stiff arm. Photo by Larry Kolvoord

Going into 1995, everyone knew A&M was on a warpath, and everyone knew this was it. The ’95 season would be the last for a historic conference that players, coaches and many fans grew up watching.

“I don’t think we even appreciated it at the time, but it had such a storied history, it was a big deal to us,” said Pat Fitzgerald, a tight end in ’95 and now an Austin attorney. “It was very important to end Southwest Conference history with Texas on top.”

A little-known fullback named Ricky Williams, a future Heisman Trophy winner, made his debut on the road against Hawaii. He was the first freshman starter in UT’s backfield since Earl Campbell. UT had plenty of other weapons, too.

Quarterback James Brown became the full-time starter after splitting time in ’94 with Shea Morenz. Shon Mitchell was a home run threat who averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Justin McLemore and Fitzgerald were reliable targets, and Wane McGarity was the sort of do-it-all back any coach would crave.

And Texas had Mike Adams, the bold game-breaking receiver who had the right mix of athleticism and attitude. Adams averaged 122.7 all-purpose yards per game in ’95.

Defensively, King patrolled the middle and Chris Carter worked the back end. Carter had 261 career interception return yards, a mark that current UT safety Dylan Haines is now chasing. Chris Akins and Stonie Clark anchored the middle of the defensive line. And Texas had Tony Brackens, a burly game-changing defensive end with 24 career sacks. Brackens would become a second-round draft pick, reach the 1999 Pro Bowl and play eight years in Jacksonville.

What’s really mind-boggling is that kicker Phil Dawson is still in the NFL. His 50-yard, last-second, game-winner into the wind against No. 14 Virginia in ’95 sparked a six-game winning streak.

Even with all that talent, Texas was still considered the underdog going into Kyle Field for the regular-season finale against running back Leeland McElroy, linebacker Dat Nguyen and the 16th-ranked Aggies.

“They always thought they were better than us, and up to that point, they proved it,” said Adams,  who spent five years coaching and is now an administrator at Manor. “But we’ll forever have bragging rights.”

After the victory, Adams grabbed the huge UT flag from the spirit squad and went running all over the field. That was also the night members of A&M’s Corps of Cadets drew their swords on unruly UT fans who tried to storm the field.

“It’s just a gratifying win,” King said. “The last time I was ever there, we left a winner. I’ve not been back since. No matter how bad the Aggies want to be the University of Texas — the top university in the state — it just won’t ever happen.”

Why hasn’t that 1995 Texas team ever been honored? Movies are being made about what happened in 1969. The ’96 team will be feted next year, or Derek Lewis will, at least. ESPN and NFL Network made documentaries about 2005.

“If smart people look deeper and play everything out, I think we’ll get our due,” Adams said. “It’s overdue, actually. Hopefully it will come here pretty soon.”

Is it really because UT fans are still turned off by Mackovic? He led the Horns to the first Big 12 title in 1996, but went 4-7 in ’97 and was quickly fired. To be fair, you might still be mad after watching three sets of goal posts get torn down after beating Texas that season (Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor).

“I know he’s a different guy, went to Wake Forest, he’s a cultured guy,” Adams said. “I guess that was too much for us tea-sippers down here.”

So now, 20 years later, there’s nothing Strong can do about UT’s past. But he’s passionate about the future. Can Texas ever come to dominate the Big 12 like it once did the SWC?

Strong has said he simply needs one more recruiting class. Asked if that was true, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said, “I’m going to take the Fifth on that.”

“We have to be very careful about how we go about this situation,” Adams said. “Too many resources, too many people supportive of the university. This university will be successful. People just have to be patient right now.”

Mike Adams makes the first few of his many running yards today in the first quarter here. Pittsburgh's Daryl Cash can't catch him. (Lynn Dobson)
Mike Adams had 53 receptions for 876 yards and three touchdowns for the Longhorns in 1995. Here he was flying by Pittsburgh’s Daryl Cash (42). (Photo by Lynn Dobson)

Comments