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December 16, 2013

A&M prepared no matter who Texas hires

-We witnessed a coup de'tat in Austin this past weekend rather than the beginnings of a coaching search. There's a real difference between the two and I'm not sure that everyone understands that.

Former Texas head coach Mack Brown was reportedly assured of his job security Friday afternoon via a meeting with president Bill Powers and athletic Steve Patterson. By Saturday afternoon, Brown had resigned citing a divided fan base.

While everyone thinks that they know what happened in those intervening 24 hours, what's become apparent is that Alabama head coach Nick Saban became means to an end which was Brown's termination rather than the end game itself.

Follow me: Texas regents Wallace Hall and Steven Hicks met with Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton last January. While word of this meeting "leaked" out in the intervening months, it wasn't actually confirmed until an open records request confirmed it.

It's hard to push a coach out, especially one like Brown, unless you have one in hand ready to take their place. Such a coach has to have the connections or a track record that inspires confidence among the people that matter…major donors, athletic department officials, university officials…in other words, the people actually making the decision….that he'll do better than the man he's replacing. We've seen this at A&M….Dennis Franchione was in hand weeks before R.C. Slocum was terminated, Mike Sherman was in hand weeks before Franchione resigned, and Kevin Sumlin was whispered to be Sherman's successor the very night that Sherman was let go.

With regard to Brown, Saban …four national titles, one of them won over Brown himself…was the ultimate replacement. So when Saban's name began to leak as a possible replacement for Brown, it had the intended affect…whether it was on purpose or not…of galvanizing opposition to him because no higher quality replacement could be obtained.

Now, to be fair, in the offseason Brown himself raised expectations by saying that his team was a BCS level team. He made himself a target for every Texas fan out there. But Texas fans and donors began to assume that Saban would replace Brown moreso than whether or not Brown should be replaced.

So when Brown began to lose both games and the fan base this season, the interesting part was that Brown started becoming an obstacle to Saban taking over the Texas program rather than an obstacle to winning football. As a byproduct of this thinking, people who supported Brown had to go in order to get Brown himself and they did….athletic director Deloss Dodds (one of Brown's biggest backers) retired and new athletic director Steve Patterson was brought in under the reported premise that he wasn't afraid to make changes.

President Bill Powers (also a Brown supporter) had to start fighting off challenges from his own board of regents to hold on to his job. Again, we've seen this before at A&M where both a school president and the athletic director had to go to force out an entrenched coach. We've seen it at other programs too.

In the meantime, Saban was busy going undefeated and setting himself up for his fifth national title at Alabama which apparently would have precluded him from taking the Texas job when it opened up. However, Auburn ended those hopes by returning a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown in a shocking 34-28 win two weeks ago.

Brown started off by getting trounced by BYU and Ole Miss and firing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. He managed to upset Oklahoma in one of the most unexpected victories in his career to find himself unbeaten in the Big 12 and amazingly enough in the running for a BCS bid. Despite losing to Oklahoma State later in the season, last Saturday Brown needed only an Oklahoma victory over Oklahoma State to set up a winner take all game later that day against Baylor for a BCS bid. He got the upset he needed but after being tied at halftime Baylor went on to the put the Horns away and Brown faced an uncertain future.

But here's where everything gets to be a head scratcher if you really think about it. As of five minutes after last Saturday's game, the clock should have started ticking on Mack Brown's career, especially if a coach with Nick Saban's credentials come into play. You do what you have to do to land him if he's truly interested which means that you do the right thing but you do it right away. You more or less set everything up with him before the Baylor game, make him understand the consequences of losing, and tell him how it's going to play out because if a you have the opportunity to land a once in a generation head coach, you do it.

But as of Monday, Mack Brown is out on the road recruiting and says that he'll have a meeting between he, Powers, and Patterson once he gets back.

That makes no sense whatsoever.

What makes even less sense is the stories on Tuesday that Brown will resign based on sources "close to Brown". None of those sources apparently are the assistants who work under him or friends such as Joe Jamail. Since Brown came out later that day and denied said stories, it's doubtful that he had any plans to retire. Otherwise, he would not have been out on the road recruiting and his assistants would have been looking for new jobs rather than recruiting themselves.

In the meantime, everything is driven by the stories that Nick Saban is interested in the Texas job but that Saban won't negotiate unless Brown is gone. To provide a sense of urgency to the matter, Saban reportedly has a contract extension from Alabama sitting on his desk.

We get to Thursday and Texas board of regents gives Powers a "vote of confidence" by a vote of six to three but all that means is that Powers apparently will play ball and talk Brown into retiring when he gets back from recruiting. On Friday afternoon, Powers, Patterson, and Brown meet and Texas' football banquet is scheduled after the meeting that evening when it's assumed that Brown will step down.

However, Powers and Patterson apparently don't ask Brown to resign and Brown doesn't offer it. Word leaks out that Brown is staying. During the banquet, word comes down that Saban is signing his extension and staying at Alabama.

Brown has seemingly weathered the storm except for one thing: in a great plot twist, the plotters blame Brown for Texas not being able to sign Saban and this is duly passed on to the media who report it. The fan base had turned on him as a coach; now they turn on him as a human being who cared more making the media look bad and his own selfish ends in costing Texas a great coach. Publicly, the accusations make messages boards everywhere and fan the flames of a fan base that feels as betrayed as one whose coach left to go elsewhere; privately, it coalesces the money guys remaining in Brown's corner to turn on him.

Less than 24 hours later, Brown announces that he is stepping down because the fan base is divided.

But here's the kicker to all of this: was Saban actually ever entertaining the idea of coming?

To the people that were talking to him on Texas' behalf, yes. To the recruits that he was talking to during the week or even the Alabama administrators and donors that he had talked before that, no.

As a result, there's multiple ways to look at what just happened in Austin and as they applies to their current coaching search.

First, more than anything else, Saban became an instrument wielded by the coup plotters to force Brown out. They needed a rallying point, something or someone that everyone could get behind as a substitute. Most fan bases wouldn't have believed that Saban was coming but Texas' had enough money and other pieces to sell to its fans and donors that they could money whip him and make it happen. There were even ridiculous rumors floated about Saban's financial situation that Texas could literally buy him out of a bad real estate deal (which would have been considered outside compensation by the NCAA and thus a NCAA violation).

Second, certain high level individuals not in the Texas administration started talking to Saban's agent last January. In order for Jimmy Sexton to take them seriously, they had to sell that they could get Brown out. How did they do that? What did they tell him? Obviously as things played along, it should have become clear to Sexton that Texas president Bill Powers had no intention of playing along and that this was a faction rather than the controlling faction that could actually make a deal happen. Sexton's no dummy; he's seen power plays similar to this one before at other schools. If there's no actual offer…either official or unofficial…then Sexton had nothing to present to Saban that would have caught his attention (although Texas' overtures would have been useful for negotiating purposes as they are for most agents).

Third, here's the really big deal…what was the hurry that made last week so critical to force Brown out so that they could get Saban? If Sexton knew that they were serious about Saban or that he was serious about Texas, he could have told Saban "Don't sign your extension. The dead period is coming up then the bowl games, and after that weeks to either build a class at Texas or undo any damage that's been at Alabama while the contract was waiting for your signature. We have plenty of time to negotiate. Brown can coach the bowl game, he can resign, and then we can get serious."

Interestingly enough, it's the same argument being made right now why Texas has the luxury of being able to have a thorough process in selecting its next coach and vet as many candidates as it wants to. Yet, for whatever reason, this didn't apply to Saban when it easily should have applied on both his side as well as Texas'.

Instead, last week was presented as being all about getting Mack Brown out so that they could actually start to negotiate with Saban when if they really had their act together Brown would have been gone on Monday and Saban delivered shortly thereafter. That's not Mack Brown's fault or Bill Powers' fault that didn't happen. It's the fault of the people who promised that they could make it happen when they really didn't have the power to do so but in turn were able to blame Brown for their own shortcomings and turn everyone against him to accomplish their goal of getting him out.

And that's what should give Texas' fans pause going forward…nothing that happened really makes sense except that one side won a power struggle and the other side lost it. In addition, what if you had nearly a year to get something done with the greatest college football coach of this generation… A YEAR…and couldn't do it? That shouldn't give you confidence that the people who forced Brown out can find the best possible person for the job, especially because they didn't need any other criteria as of last week….they had Nick Saban and that was enough.

In the end, Saban became a means to an end rather than being the actual end itself and there's got to be more to that if Texas is going to right its program by choosing the right coach.

Now comes the hard part for Texas and as everyone knows when you're replacing a really successful coach, more often than not the people in charge don't get it right nearly as often as they get it wrong.

-I've read the boards and gotten texts and emails asking me "Who's going to be Texas' next head coach?" and "What impact will it have on A&M?".

Answer to the first question…I have no idea.

Answer to the second question…that's a lot easier and I'm going to put the answer in the context of what Mack Brown did during his tenure to A&M.

When Brown arrived, he had to deal with two direct competitors for talent. One was Oklahoma and the other was A&M. Oklahoma won a national title in 1999 and that carried Bob Stoops within the state for years in terms of splitting the talent 50/50 with Brown. That split lasted until Brown won a national title in 2005 and after that Stoops' ability to mine the top talent in the state slowly dwindled until it was virtually non existent.

However, A&M was a different story. With few exceptions, Brown put his foot on A&M's throat on day one and kept it there throughout his tenure. For example, four Texas City prospects in the 1998 class (Brown's first at the school)…Jermaine Anderson, Ervis Hill, Tyrone Jones, and Everick Rawls….were scheduled to visit A&M close to signing day. They never showed and it turned out that they basically played the A&M staff at Texas' behest to make them think they were coming. All four signed with Texas.

Thereafter, it was much of the same. The Aggies rarely beat Texas out head to head for prospects and when they did…Martellus Bennett in 2005 comes to mind…it wasn't enough to undo the damage that came from 20 others signing with the Horns every year. Although later in Brown's tenure A&M started beating Texas more frequently on the field, that had more to do with the emotions of a rivalry game. A&M's roster was denuded of talent by Brown and as a result the Aggies might have been able to win a battle against Texas but couldn't win the war against everyone else. While Brown was winning 10 games a year on a consistent basis, A&M never won ten games in a season a single time during his tenure except for the 2012 season. As a result, Brown was able to continue to sell competing on a national level and continue to take players that could have helped A&M toward that end. Even if those players never played a down at Texas and transferred, they couldn't help A&M. This was particularly true on the defensive side of the ball as more and more Texas high schools went to the spread offense and a premium was placed on the highest priority defenders because there was such a drop off between them and the next round of prospects that were considered to be worthy of an offer.

In fact, here's an interesting note for you: the four transcendent A&M players from the 2010 through 2013 seasons…Johnny Manziel, Luke Joeckel, Mike Evans, and Von Miller…were never offered by Texas.

The preceding lesson is this: a great recruiter not only builds up his own program but destroys that of his in state rivals because they recruit from the same talent pool. It didn't help A&M that Oklahoma and LSU also won national titles during this time and took whatever quality players that Texas couldn't take.

Mack Brown was a great recruiting head coach who had a lot to sell, the personality to sell it, and the tactics to tie it all together. He was always one of the top recruiting head coaches in the country and for many years was the best in the business. As a result, the question is can Texas can find a coach that can replicate all of that?

Let's look at the possible candidates according to their hot board at the college level.

Urban Meyer has always been a great recruiter. Les Miles' name has been rumored to be out there and he is a Mack Brown caliber recruiter…great with kids and a ruthless tactician. Florida State's Jimbo Fisher has competed pretty well with Florida head to head in a state where the Gators have an advantage due to being in the SEC. Auburn's Gus Malzahn has started flipping prospects from Alabama as they have won down the stretch of the 2013 season and has shown an ability to work around Saban and still produce top ten classes. James Franklin at Vanderbilt produces top 25 recruiting classes without a lot to sell.

But all of them coach programs that have sufficient money (except Vanderbilt) to pay them enough to get them to stay and also have teams that don't require many tweaks to remain at a high level and compete for a national title (again except Vanderbilt). Texas can money whip people into coming but it's going to take time to rebuild a roster that's nowhere near as talented as it was during Brown's prime, especially considering their quarterback situation.

The bottom line is this: it's going to be hard to find a coach who could recruit as well as Brown in his prime and negatively impact A&M like he did (remember that after the 1999 Bonfire game the Aggies lost six straight to Brown and never won more than eight games in a season during that span). In addition, A&M has one of those types of recruiters right now in Kevin Sumlin after employing out three straight head coaches with gray hair. In fact, Sumlin is the coach who is winning virtually all of the head to head battles now in the matchup while Texas is the school stocking the majority of the its roster with three star caliber signees. His tactics such as the Swaggcopter are evolutionary now to the degree that Brown's were back in the day. Even if Texas does get a great recruiter, it's unlikely that they'll dominate A&M to the same degree because of Sumlin's presence, the publicity afforded Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and the Aggies' move to the SEC.

We'll know more when Texas finally makes its hire. Nonetheless, at this point it looks like that it's going to be hard for them to find the game changer that Brown was. More importantly, A&M already has one of those in the first place and is much better equipped to deal with whoever Texas brings on than they were when Brown arrived in Austin.


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