As Mack Brown walked off the Alamodome field with his wife, Sally, the University of Texas faithful showered the outgoing coach with cheers.
It had been an extension of the entire game when the Texas-heavy crowd routinely chanted “Mack Brown,” and the Longhorn Band spelled it out during halftime.
It didn’t matter that Oregon was in control from start to finish of what became a 30-7 victory over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl, nor did the reports that surfaced the past two weeks portraying a bitter split between Brown and Texas.
Brown seemed to soak in the moment as best he could by flashing the trademark Hook ’em Horns sign at fans before heading to the locker room, signaling the end of the Mack Brown Era at Texas.
“Our fans have been great for 16 years. It’s unbelievable,” Brown said. “Fans were wonderful tonight. They’ve been wonderful on bad games. Sally and I have absolutely no regrets. We’ve had a wonderful 16 years. We’re glad we came here.
“It’s been a great ride. Now we have to reassess and see where we’re going. We want this bunch to have success moving forward. That’s what you told the young ones in the dressing room is to get better, let’s get back in the top 10, back in the BCS mix next year. It will be the first time we ever had a playoff as such, and Texas should be in that.”
The final days of Brown’s tenure at Texas might have been messy, but there’s no denying what he meant for the program. He came at a time of turmoil, unified a fan base and gave them hope by putting them back among the nation’s elite.
In his 16 years, Brown won a national championship and played in another title game. His teams went to 15 bowl games in 16 seasons, and he leaves with the second most wins (158) in school history behind only Darrell Royal (167).
“I thought Coach Brown raised the expectations,” said co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, who played under Brown from 1998-2001.
“Going from 7, 8, 9 wins to 10, 11, 12 wins and playing for conference titles and being in the national hunt. It’s one of those deals, and I hate to say it because I’m such a young guy, but he should hold his head high understanding he absolutely changed the face of that program.”
The 62-year-old Brown wasn’t ready to speculate about his future after the game, instead trying to keep the focus on the team and the game.
But even his players knew the story of the night.
“It’s tough,” said quarterback Case McCoy, who threw two pick-six interceptions. “We would rather have gone out with a win for sure. We love the man. The man loves us. Inside that locker room we know we fought for him. That’s all that matters.”
Brown, though, acknowledged that it was time for Texas to get some “new energy” in the football program, although the split hasn’t been as ceremonious as Brown and UT have tried to display.
There have been reports that the morning of Dec. 14, Brown was expecting to coach the 2014 team with the backing of men’s athletic director Steve Patterson and embattled school President Bill Powers. However, later that day, Brown resigned.
How it all went down remains unknown but, according to reports, signs pointed to powerful boosters and members of the Texas Board of Regents forcing Powers’ hand to push Brown out of the school’s highest-profile job.
Then reports surfaced this week that Brown wanted a better buyout package of more than double than what he’s scheduled to make ($500,000 a year) as a special assistant to Powers.
When the dust settles, though, the exit won’t be what Brown is remembered for.
If it’s the end of Brown’s football coaching days, he’s had an impressive career. Before taking over Texas, Brown had a 10-year stint at North Carolina. He started with consecutive 1-10 seasons in 1988 and 1989 but finished his time with six straight bowl appearances.
Brown then moved to Austin and revived a program that had fallen on hard times under David McWilliams and John Mackovic. In Mackovic’s final season, the Longhorns had their worst season in 50 years by finishing 4-7.
Brown now has the second-most victories among active coaches with 244 behind Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (266).
Asked if he’d reflect back on his career in the next few days, Brown said: “I don’t know. I’ve never been here before. I know after I left North Carolina, I never looked back, never thought about any of those games. Since I’ve been here, I never really looked back. I want to be driven and look forward. I don’t know. That will be something that I really do not see myself doing.
“But I also need to look at where we go next, what we do as a family. That’s something that we haven’t taken much time to do. We’ll take some time off here and visit and talk and see where we go.”