This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the Mack Brown Era starting at Texas. During that time Brown won 158 games, a national championship and a total of 10 bowl games.
But what are the five moments that of his 16 years at Texas that shaped his tenure? Over the next few days we’ll reveal the five moments that help tell the Mack Brown story on the 40 Acres:
No. 4 Mack picks Colt
The Mack Brown era was shaped by three quarterback decisions from 1999 to 2006 that are building blocks of his success at Texas. The evolution of those decisions led to Texas being the home of one of the 10 greatest college quarterbacks of all-time.
To tell this story we have to explain, for the millionth time, everything that happened when Brown was faced with his first quarterback decision. That came in 2000 following Chris Simms’ freshman season at Texas.
Simms was the second major quarterback recruit Brown brought to campus. The first one, Adam Dunn, was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 in the MLB Draft, but the organization let him play football that fall. He redshirted that season, but with Applewhite in place and Simms coming on board, Dunn was asked to change positions, so he decided to leave college and become a professional.
After 1999, it was a head-to-head battle between Simms, one of the highest-rated quarterbacks to pick Texas at that time, and Applewhite, a quarterback who in two years had become a fan favorite and started shattering program passing records. Brown was forced between the convention player who many believed would one day be a top NFL Draft pick, the sophomore Simms, and Applewhite, a junior who was a terrific college quarterback.
About 18 years after the fact, it’s fair to say the decision was handled poorly.
Brown was non-committal and said things like this: “We’ve got two starters. And one will walk out there before the other. And if that one’s struggling, the other will come in and try to give us a lift.”
It caused a rift between the two– something Simms admitted years later-– and divided the fan base.
Simms and Applewhite split duties in 2000. Applewhite played in nine games and threw for 2,164 yards. Simms passed for 1,064 yards and played in 10 games. Even after a dreadful bowl game performance by Simms, he went on to be the starting quarterback his junior season and the senior Applewhite was the back-up.
In the 2001 Big 12 Championship Game, many fans believe that if Brown had pulled the ineffective Simms — who got hurt in the game — earlier, the Longhorns win and earn a BCS title shot.
It didn’t happen, and the Simms-Applewhite debate is still a point of contention.
The second quarterback decision came two years later.
Simms was the unquestioned starter in 2002 after Applewhite graduated and Simms would do the same after his senior year. The two quarterbacks battling for the starting job included one of the greatest Texas high school quarterbacks and recruits ever, Vince Young, and Chance Mock, a 2000 Parade All-American and top recruit who was the third-string quarterback the previous two seasons.
Brown did many of the same things fans hated about the Simms-Applewhite decision. Mock and Young split time and were pulled when one started struggling. Texas lost twice in the regular season, including a 65-13 blowout to Oklahoma. While Mock had better passing numbers — including a 16-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Young emerged as a transcendent talent who scored 11 rushing touchdowns.
After the Oklahoma game Young was became the starting quarterback and Texas reeled off six straight wins to right the ship. Mock never started again at Texas, though he did play well in the bowl game against Washington State.
If there was chatter about who would be the starting quarterback to begin the 2004 season, it wasn’t coming from the coaching staff. Unlike 2001, Brown knew he had his guy and his guy finished 30-2 as a starter and won a national championship.
The last great quarterback decision is like a final exam of sorts for Brown.
His first go-around he favored the highly-rated recruit over the gutsy, traditional college quarterback gunslinger. His second go-around he had two former big recruits, but two completely different skill sets and experience levels and he again favored the higher-rated quarterback with a greater ceiling.
History suggested Brown was going to pick Jevan Snead to replace Vince Young in 2006, and not the former 3-star quarterback from a small town in Texas named Colt McCoy. Snead was a Parade All-American, U.S. Army All-American Bowl player who decommited from Urban Meyer and Florida to come to Texas. He was from a powerhouse high school program, Stephenville.
McCoy, from Tuscola (a town that currently has 742 residents), was twice the Class 2A Offensive MVP in high school but few envisioned the 6-foot-1-inch, 180 pound quarterback becoming a college star. He arrived on campus in 2005 and redshirted during the national championship season.
When Mack Brown picked McCoy over Snead it was based on performance — not hype or recruiting rankings. McCoy hadn’t thrown an interception in any of the camp scrimmages. “Colt deserves the right to start,” Brown told the American-Statesman.
Here’s more from the article:
The big news of the day was the formal announcement of McCoy, who will step in for Vince Young, the All-America quarterback who left a year early for the NFL.
McCoy said he had one main goal: “The most important thing I can do is gel with my teammates,” he said.
The defense kicked up the intensity in workouts, using blitzes and five and six defensive backs to prepare McCoy. “He’s making smarter throws and making smarter decisions,” safety Michael Griffin said. “He’s learning the game.”
That decision– and unlike the two others Brown never waivered — placed, possibly, the fourth greatest Longhorn at the helm of the offense.
McCoy won 45 games as a starter over the next four seasons — at the time of his graduation that was more wins than any college quarterback in history.
He holds just about every passing record in school history.
He led Texas to the brink of a national championship in 2009 and nearly played for another one in 2008. McCoy went 3-1 against Oklahoma, 3-1 in bowl games and was twice a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Snead had one standout year following his transfer to Mississippi. But instead of going professional following his sophomore season, he returned to campus and went from a likely first-round pick to undrafted.
Had Brown chosen Snead to be the quarterback instead of McCoy, we’ll never know what would have happened in the following four seasons. But considering few quarterbacks have ever been as successful as McCoy, there’s little evidence suggesting Snead could have been a similar player at Texas.
It’s the last real quarterback controversy Brown dealt with at Texas.
Garrett Gilbert arrived on campus during McCoy’s senior season and served as the back-up. The way he played in the 2010 BCS title game following McCoy’s injury left little doubt that Gilbert was going to be the starter. If Gilbert stalled, there was always four-star recruit Connor Wood, but Wood wasn’t going to seriously challenge Gilbert, one of the greatest high school quarterbacks of all-time and former 5-star recruit, for the starting job.
But nothing is certain. Gilbert struggled as the starter in 2010 and he lost the job in 2011. He eventually transferred after that season. Wood also transferred following his freshman season in 2010.
That left Texas with McCoy’s younger brother, Case, and Belton product David Ash for the 2012 season. Unlike all the other quarterback competitions, after Gilbert transferred to SMU, there were no four- or five-star quarterbacks competing for the starting job. Ash and Case McCoy were former 3-star recruit in the 2010 class. Eventually Ash looked the part of a star quarterback, but injuries sidetracked his career and eventually ended it after Brown left Texas.
Since Colt McCoy graduated the quarterback position has been a constant quagmire. Just imagine what Texas history would look like if McCoy was never the pick? Imagine what Brown’s legacy would be post 2005 if not for McCoy.
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