SAN ANTONIO -- When Mack Brown gathered his team Christmas night upon arriving in San Antonio for the start of Texas’ bowl week leading up to the Valero Alamo Bowl, he says he issued a directive.
“This is not about farewells,” Brown said Sunday. “This is not about where I am in life. It’s not about where the coaches are in life.”
He would prefer to shift the attention to his players, to their reward for a trying, tumultuous season. Brown says this should be about his seniors’ finale and the challenge of facing No. 10 Oregon.
But all eyes and cameras will be on him Monday, whether he likes it or not. This is Mack Brown’s last stand, his 16-year career as the coach at Texas down to its final 24 hours.
He goes into his final game as the leader of the Longhorns just as he has nearly all of Texas’ 2013 games, trying to put blinders on and focus solely on one day and one game. That day has arrived.
“We have been totally focused on Oregon,” Brown said, “and nothing else.”
The Ducks are 14.5-point favorites and, at 10-2, probably belong in a BCS bowl game, not matched up with the Big 12’s fourth-best team. On paper, this game shouldn’t be close.
But this Texas team is used to being underestimated and has already been a two-touchdown underdog twice in 2013. The first time came in the Cotton Bowl, in a game against No. 12 Oklahoma that was sure to doom Brown's chances had Texas taken another blowout rivalry loss. The Longhorns took care of business.
The stakes were far greater against No. 9 Baylor in Waco, with a Big 12 championship on the line. Win that game and, well, wouldn’t Brown be back in 2014? Baylor pulled away in the second half for a 30-10 win and a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl trip.
The pressure in those two games couldn’t have been any higher. This time is different. This time, the Longhorns have practically nothing to lose.
In his final bowl news conference Sunday, Brown seemed the opposite of tense. He joked around with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, offered up a few facetious answers to serious questions and had little interest in discussing what Monday really means for him.
His most telling answer was a sardonic one, when Brown was asked to reflect on what he would’ve changed about the 2013 season in hindsight.
“I would have won all the games,” Brown said. “That would have been the better thought for me if we could have done that. By a lot. Played a lot of guys, had happy moms and dads and happy media and happy fans. That would have been fun. We've done that, and it's a lot more fun.”
The questions about his buyout negotiation and reports that his resignation was forced were, predictably, shot down.
“We are excited about Oregon and Monday night,” Brown said, when his buyout was broached. “So I can't wait. Great week. I said at the first of the week we would focus on these kids and this game, and that's absolutely what I'm going to do. Every ounce of my energy will be doing the best I can do to coach this game on Monday night.”
Texas has won seven of its eight bowl games since 2004 and four in a row against Pac-12 teams, including in each of the past two seasons. Brown has a chance to nab the 11th bowl win of an era that began with a school-record 12 straight bowl appearances.
“We understand what’s at stake,” quarterback Case McCoy said. “We’ll play hard. Coach Brown will coach hard. If we play that way, we take care of the ball, I think it will be a good night for us.”
Brown says he won’t be any more emotional than usual, but the opportunity is unmistakable. After a rough month and a rocky season, Brown gets one more chance to shut up his critics before walking away. He can have the last laugh.
Reality will set in Tuesday. Texas' assistant coaches will go back to hunting down their next jobs. Even though the next coach hasn’t been selected, the transition will begin.
How Brown will spend the first day of his future is anyone’s guess. How he'll spend the final night of his Texas tenure is up to his team.