Will Mack step down? What would Ralph Waldo Emerson say?

Posted December 13th, 2013


Earlier today, on his official Twitter account, embattled Texas football coach Mack Brown simply offered this inspirational quote:

“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.”

The quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American poet and essayist from the 1800s.


Why would Mack — who, we’re told, will have his fateful meeting to discuss his future this afternoon with UT President Bill Powers and new athletic director Steve Patterson — tweet out this particular RWE quote?

We went to the source. Or at least, as close to the source as we could find.

We reached out to Dr. William Scheick, an English literature professor at the University of Texas who specializes in the writings of Emerson and Thomas Paine among others, to ask just what, if anything, we could take out of Mack’s tweet in regards to what Emerson was saying.

From Dr. Scheick:

“Your inquiry sent my mind back several decades to a time when I naively hoped that I could make Ralph Waldo Emerson’s majestic poetic essays more appealing to my American literature students by first pointing out that a legendary football coach was quoting from them to motivate his team.

“That coach was Woody Hayes at Ohio State University.

“I did not know at the time that he had been an English major, nor could I imagine that eventually he would be awarded an honorary doctorate in the humanities. I did know, and was sharing with my classes, that he quoted heavily from Emerson’s essays, especially ‘Compensation.’

“Hayes was not mining that work for its deep romantic spiritualism, but instead extracted from it a crude, if practical, rubric: The more you give, the more you get.

“Mack Brown’s quotation from Emerson is off by only a couple of words. It should read: Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours or ages that follow it.

“This passage comes from a late essay titled ‘Immortality,’ written close to the end of Emerson’s life. … It does not depart from Emerson’s fundamental emphasis, early and late, that people should live in the present by relying on their native (essentially spiritual) instincts. Don’t worry about the future, he advises, because if you go forward confidently with whatever good undertaking you presently have at hand, you will certainly arrive at the future your work has earned.

“Or, as Woody Hayes would say, the more you give NOW, the more you get LATER.

“Given that Mack Brown’s future at UT seems to be at issue at the moment, I am struck by the fact that the quoted essay hints at his sense of a substantial life-change.

“This essay especially is aimed at allaying ‘doubts and fears’ about death — not just one’s physical death, but (before that) all those little death-like disappointments that we encounter in life. Its title — ‘Immortality’ — anticipates an afterlife, be it a spiritual transformation or abiding fame/influence, that follows from the ‘right performance of this hour’s duties.’”

So, just as Dr. Scheick interpreted it, there was something oddly reflective about not only Mack’s tweet, but his use of the Emerson quote. Maybe this isn’t just one of those inspirational quote posters you find in coaches’ offices across the country.

There was reflection there.



Maybe even … resignation?

Whether that’s figurative or literal, we just don’t know yet.

But it sounds like Emerson would’ve had something to write about it today.

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