AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas shouldn’t have ended like this. But you knew once it was all over, once it was time for the news conference, he’d make the best of it.
After a hellish and probably heartbreaking week, Brown conceded it was time to walk away. He believed he could coach many more years. His bosses offered a chance to keep going. Brown knew that wasn’t going to work.
If the 62-year-old is bitter, if he’s crushed by an ending unbecoming of his 16-year run, he hid it well on Sunday. The Mack Brown who sat before reporters and opened up on Sunday was his trademark self, full of class and pride and positive spirit.
Brown held it together. No tears, no pauses. But there was plenty of emotion. He sat down, took one long gulp from a water bottle and then talked for more than 20 minutes, about his passion for Texas and what he’s accomplished and what the Longhorns must do after he’s gone.
“I want to make sure that everybody knows that I've been treated fairly and it's been a wonderful run here and that I love the University of Texas,” Brown said. “I have no regrets at all.”
An already toxic situation had become untenable and perhaps unsalvageable without injecting a new coach and embarking on a new era. Brown said so himself.
“I think it's better now and he'll have a chance to come in here and get it back and that's fun for him and fun for these kids,” Brown said. “They just need new energy. A lot of negative energy around and you know what, life's too short. We don't need negative energy, especially around kids.”
For all the criticism levied against him by a furious fan base and even some of the reporters who cover the program, and for all the talk that his ego and pride were threatening to sink Texas’ ship, the man took the high road.
He hopes his days of wearing burnt orange will be remembered for bringing joy to Texas and getting the program back among the nation’s elite. He wants to be known for his integrity and class and winning the right way.
But he knew the score all along. He knows the Texas standard -- he is, after all, the one who revived it -- and he knows what the program needs now.
“We used to win 12 and 13 and we won eight,” Brown said. “It's not about integrity, it's not about class, it's not about grades, it's not about any of that stuff. You've got to win, and we set a standard at this place that you better win all of them. That's the expectation, and I understand that.”
The fan base is divided. A portion probably did some celebrating Saturday night, glad that Brown’s reign is finished. In their zeal to hunt down his replacement, let’s hope they’ll pause to remember the kind of human who ran their program for 16 years.
Brown reminded us on Sunday, in an unscripted moment of honesty. He was asked to reflect on the things he’d go back and change. He had only two.
The first: The death of Texas defensive lineman Cole Pittman in a one-car accident in 2001. He said it was the hardest moment of his coaching career, the one he’ll never get over.
“I talked to Marc and Judy Pittman today,” Brown said, referring to Cole Pittman's parents. “I have the little program from the funeral in my office that I look at very often.”
The second: The death of 12 Texas A&M students in 1999, when the traditional A&M bonfire pyramid collapsed prior to the Aggies’ rivalry game against Texas.
“Playing A&M on Thanksgiving, I thought about the families,” he said. “Because I want to keep my children, and when you lose your children there is nothing worse than that in the world. I think about that every Thanksgiving, because there are 12 families that don’t have a good Thanksgiving. That will never go away.”
He lost 47 games at Texas, some of them the hardest of his career. They’re meaningless by comparison.
That’s Brown at his finest. A lot of coaches can take over at Texas and win big, but that character is what will make Brown irreplaceable. Even on these rough days, he’s still got his charm.
“I'm going to get out of the way,” Brown said to end his news conference, “because y'all are more excited about the one coming than you are the one leaving.”
He stood up and, surrounded by cameras, met men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes for a long hug and a laugh. And then he walked away, the clock starting on his final weeks. Soon, he’ll become Texas’ legendary former coach. It’s not the ending he dreamed of, but he’s ready for this.
“We’re leaving it better than we found it,” he said, “and it’s been a fun ride."