Posted August 29th, 2015
To the best of Mack Brown’s memory, President Bush called around 6 a.m. that morning. Adrenaline had kept the Texas coach going all night long in California, but it was 9 a.m. in Washington.
Brown’s wife, Sally, barely awake herself, answered. At first, Mack joked to tell the President of the United States that he was busy. “Nah. I said, ‘No, give me the phone.’
“I said to him, ‘Now, Mr. President, I know you go to bed early. You going to tell me you saw the end of that game?’ The president said, ‘Well, I’ll be honest with you. I couldn’t sleep and went back down to my room and sat and watched it by myself.
“He said, ‘I just had a feeling you were going to win.'”
“All the dreams, all the hopes for the national championship come down to this play. Young from the shotgun … back to throw. Vince looks, under pressure, he’ll tuck it and run. Vince to the 5! YOUNG, TOUCHDOWN TEXAS! TOUCHDOWN VINCE YOUNG! He’s done it again! Vince Young has given the Longhorns the lead with 19 seconds to play in the game!”
— Craig Way, Texas radio play-by-play announcer, Jan. 4, 2006
With 93,986 people crammed into Rose Bowl and another 35.6 million glued to their TV sets, President Bush watched alone as Young did the unthinkable. No. 2 Texas beat No. 1 USC, 41-38, to win the 2005 national championship. It’s the school’s greatest moment of the 21st century, and possibly its best athletic moment ever.
“He said something that’s very unique,” Brown said of Bush. “He said, ‘It’s hard to know if you’re the best father. There’s not a measuring stick for knowing if you’re the best husband or president. But this team is measurably the best team in the country. So you should be very proud that you’re No. 1.’
“That’s something that stuck with me for a long time,” Brown recalled. “Because it is true. So many things were subjective, but in this case we were the best team because those kids earned it from start to finish.”
Since leaving Texas after the 2013 season, Brown has kept a low profile around these parts. He’s still paid by UT as a special assistant to the university president. This fall, you can find him doing more TV work for ESPN, most notably as an analyst on Friday night games. But for the most part, he does not want to interfere with or be viewed as second guessing current Longhorns coach Charlie Strong.
Both Brown and Strong have acknowledged they have a solid relationship and perhaps talk more frequently than one might guess.
Brown’s last public moment as the Texas coach came Dec. 8, 2013, the day of his farewell press conference. He recently spoke to the American-Statesman, his first extensive interview about his time at Texas since he left.
It’s the 10th anniversary season since the Horns won it all on that magical night in Pasadena, Calif. It’s amazing (or heart-breaking, depending on your view) to think how close Texas came to playing for it all again in 2008. And many UT fans believe the school would’ve beaten Alabama for the 2009 title if not for Colt McCoy’s shoulder injury on the fifth play of the game.
“On one hand, I totally believe we win the game,” Brown told the American-Statesman, “because Alabama had trouble with spread offense, up-tempo offense. It’s something they struggled with all year, really.”
Alas, injuries are part of the game, Brown said. “So it really doesn’t matter what I think because he didn’t get to play the rest of the game. So if I’m a Texas fan, I say one thing, and if I’m an Alabama fan, I say it doesn’t matter.”
Well, OK, so maybe Brown didn’t get to win another title. There are thousands of coaches who would love only one.
“It was just a wonderful moment in my life to get to share that game with these players, these coaches, this state and these fans,” Brown said. “It’s something you check off in your life. You’re glad you are there, glad you were part of it, and it’s something that will be there forever in my life.”
Ten years gone
So what happened to the Texas and USC programs after all the confetti was swept up that night? It’s sort of a blur.
UT vs. USC - Season records
Texas coaches thought they had enough juice to get back to the national title game in 2006. But that changed four days later when Young rolled up to campus in a limousine and announced he was going pro. The depth chart for the 2006 season opener featured McCoy, then a redshirt freshman, and true freshman Jevan Snead.
Texas started the 2006 campaign as the nation’s third-ranked team, jumped up to No. 2, but lost to No. 1 Ohio State in Week 2 and dropped back to eighth in the polls.
USC had to pick up the pieces, too. Coach Pete Carroll spent that offseason ducking questions about why Reggie Bush wasn’t on the field for a critical fourth-and-2 play in the fourth quarter, resulting in a turnover on downs. It was widely believed to be Carroll’s biggest coaching mistake … until last season’s Super Bowl.
“It’s much easier for me (to move forward) than most people,” Carroll told Sports Illustrated earlier this summer.
The Trojans kept it rolling, although they never have gotten back to a national championship game. Over the next three years, USC went 34-5, winning three straight Rose Bowls in the process.
The school landed under the NCAA’s microscope once it was determined Bush received improper benefits. Bush forfeited his Heisman Trophy in September 2010, and USC suffered a slew of sanctions.
The NCAA trouble sent USC on a bumpy path. Carroll took off for the NFL. Some believe he beat the posse out of town. The Trojans had three mixed seasons under Lane Kiffin, then he got bumped out in 2013. Fans were up in arms when died-in-the-wool Trojans assistant Ed Orgeron wasn’t given full-time coaching duties. Steve Sarkisian was hired prior to the 2014 season.
As far as changing coaches since 2005 is concerned, it’s USC 3, Texas 1.
One game, lasting memories
The Trojans never recaptured the dominance they had leading up to that night against Texas. That 2005 team was considered one of the best ever. But it’s a group that will forever be haunted by fourth-and-2.
“I think Reggie should have been on the field. … Honestly, I put that on coaching,” former USC running back LenDale White told the NFL Network for its 10th anniversary special on that Rose Bowl game.
Brown understands fans were stunned that USC’s Heisman winner wasn’t on the field. But go back and look at the stats, Brown said. Bush had 82 yards that night, compared to White’s 124.
“I thought from a coaching standpoint, Pete did what I would’ve done, and that’s take the player who had been the most successful all night and run him off tackle,” Brown said.
Pete Arbogast, the longtime radio voice of USC football, told the American-Statesman that game is still a sore subject in Los Angeles. Bring up that game with USC supporters, and “Eyes start to roll.”
“It’s the only game in my entire career that I’ve never watched back or listened to,” Arbogast said. “There are about 10 plays that all went Texas’ way. Any of those 10 plays go the other way, SC wins that game.”
Trying to get back
“Clock is at 16, 15 … Pressure coming, steps up, he’s gonna run, now throws…”
“Oh, it’s intercepted. Game over. It hit (Gideon) in the hand … NO! They’re calling it incomplete!”
— Brian Jensen and John Harris, Texas Tech radio announcers, Nov. 1, 2008
Winning the national championship is a seismic event. Donations start pouring in. Admissions see a spike in applicants. Coaches get paid handsomely for their efforts, too. All of that happened at UT, as one can expect.
Texas took in about $21.3 million in football donations during the 2005-06 academic year, according to an annual report compiled by the athletic department. Two years later, that number jumped to $28.3 million. It’s been more than $30 million for six straight years — a great amount, no question, but one that’s flat-lined, a major concern for UT athletic director Steve Patterson.
Brown made $2.159 million during the 2005 season. His pay skyrocketed during his final years. How things change. Strong was given a five-year contract prior to the 2014 season worth at least $5 million annually right out of the gate.
Brown wanted to keep the train rolling well into 2006 and beyond. “Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno both told me, you’ll be so obsessed to win the next one, and it’ll be harder. And they were right,” he said.
Inexperienced or not, McCoy got things figured out, and Texas posted 10-win seasons in 2006 and 2007. Things were looking good in 2008 as the Horns started the year 8-0. Then came that fateful night in Lubbock.
Texas Tech fans remember Michael Crabtree’s amazing, tightrope-walking catch at the end. But Texas fans remember The Drop.
Blake Gideon dropped a sure-fire interception that would’ve ended the game, secured the team’s ninth win and kept the program rolling to the national title game. Gideon, a freshmen at the time, later said he made peace with himself. He became one of only three players in school history to start more than 50 consecutive games.
Tech won that night, 39-33, and Texas wound up trouncing Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Shouldering a load
In 2009, the Horns rattled off 12 regular-season victories, got a fortunate second added back on the clock against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and advanced to the national championship game.
Five plays in against Alabama, everything turned. For the entire program.
“Colt is hurt. Colt is hurt. That means the untested freshmen, that’s Garrett Gilbert, he’s right out of Austin … McCoy’s on the sideline being tended to. They’ll use a timeout to give him a little bit more time. … Didn’t look all that serious, but we’ll see.
— Brent Musburger, ESPN TV announcer, Jan. 7, 2010
If winning the national title is an incredible high, losing it must be a devastating low. “It was lower than I thought it would be,” Brown said. Alabama won, 37-21, in a game much closer than the final score indicates.
“In ’08 and ’09, we are 25-2, and I personally didn’t feel like we were as successful as we could have been,” he said. “That wasn’t good enough anymore. I probably wasn’t as good to those kids, because they had a great run, and I’m not sure any of us enjoyed it like we should’ve.
“That’s the byproduct of winning it all or nothing.”
The 2010 season should’ve been something like 2006. Gilbert, who stepped in for the injured McCoy against Alabama, was the starter. There were plenty of recognizable names on the depth chart, too. But Gilbert, widely regarded as one of the nation’s best quarterback recruits, simply didn’t pan out.
The Horns went 5-7. A team that played for the national championship one season didn’t even become bowl eligible the next.
So what happened? Recruiting played a big factor. Brown believed in recruiting players off their film as high school juniors. For example, the 2006 recruiting class was done before Texas stepped on the field against USC. In 2010, only three players out of Texas’ 25 committed after the Alabama loss — linebacker Jordan Hicks, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and kicker/punter Will Russ.
Bobby Burton, recruiting expert at Horns247, believes that not judging a player’s development as a high school senior proved to be a fatal flaw.
“Texas just didn’t have the talent anymore to line up and go beat somebody,” Burton said. “They were taking so many guys so early, it was a domino effect. I think on some level, Mack thought he had figured out the formula, and in some ways he had.”
An era ends, an era begins
The lack of dependable quarterback play is the most identifiable problem of the last five years, a span that bridges the Brown and Strong eras.
“I think anything you say sounds like an excuse with it,” Brown said. “The truth is our quarterback play didn’t work out like we wanted it to. There’s a lot of different thoughts out there and stories out there that aren’t nearly true. But none of that really matters.
“Garrett Gilbert was considered one of the best QBs in the country, and it just didn’t work out for him,” Brown continued. “Then David Ash was the heir apparent and he got hurt and never finished playing. We do know if you’ve got a great player at that position, you’ve got a chance. If you’re average at that position, then you better be better than anyone else.
“We had a lot more criticism since we weren’t effective at that position.”
“The final play of the rivalry. Good snap and hold. Tucker’s kick is up … Justin’s kick … is … GOOD! IT’S GOOD! And the Texas Longhorns have won the final rivalry matchup with Texas A&M! Justin Tucker drives it home and one last time, the Texas Longhorns break the hearts of the Aggies of Texas A&M.”
— Craig Way, Nov. 24, 2011
There were still some memorable moments in Brown’s final years, like Tucker’s game-winning kick against Texas A&M in 2011.
The 2012 team had some frustrating ups and downs, but Ash capped things off with a come-from-behind win against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.
The 2013 team was left for dead after a 1-2 start. The Horns rattled off six straight wins and were in Big 12 title contention on the final day of the regular season. That included a stunning 36-20 win over No. 12 Oklahoma in October. Marcus Johnson had a fantastic 59-yard touchdown catch and Daje Johnson made a spectacular 85-yard punt return for another score.
But after that season, former UT President Bill Powers made the ultimate decision to change coaches. Brown finished his 16-year run with a 158-48 record. It’s the second-most wins of any coach in school history behind Darrell Royal’s 167.
Now it’s Strong’s turn to lead the Horns back to the mountaintop. Last year, when the team went 6-7 in his first season, Strong said numerous times, “That will never be the standard here.”
Living up to what Brown accomplished over the last decade may be tough, though.
When asked what his Texas legacy should be, Brown said, “I don’t know. I’d like to think I worked really hard, did everything within the rules and we won a lot of games. And we did it with class.”
And, Brown will forever be known as the coach who won what is now considered the best college football game of all time.
“When people say that, I guess I could actually say, ‘Oh, I’m not sure.’ But I agree with them,” Brown said. “It was two great teams, two really well-coached teams that didn’t have close games from start to finish.”
Texas vs. USC — Since Jan. 4, 2006How the Texas and USC programs have fared in the AP preseason and end-of-season rankings since they met for the national championship at the end of the 2005 season.
UT vs. USC - Bowl games
|Alamo, W||2006||Rose, W|
|Holiday, W||2007||Rose, W|
|Fiesta, W||2008||Rose, W|
|BCS title, L||2009||Emerald, W|
|No bowl||2010||No bowl|
|Holiday, W||2011||No bowl|
|Alamo, W||2012||Sun, L|
|Alamo, L||2013||Las Vegas, W|
|Texas, L||2014||Holiday, W|