The right index finger is adorned by a massive, gaudy ring with a diamond-encrusted No. 1. Mack Brown swears he does not wear this national championship ring other than for special occasions. The Rose Bowl is the most special of occasions for Mack Brown.
The former Texas coach is at the Rose Bowl as an analyst for ESPN. He sounds great. He looks great. As he stood entertaining us media nerds Wednesday morning in a hotel lobby, it was a reminder of the great days when Texas and Texas football were the king of kings.
It was at the Rose Bowl that Mack had his three finest moments: the last-second win against Michigan, the win against USC and the title-game loss against Alabama that started the downfall.
Watching Arkansas embarrass Texas in the BlahBlahBlah Bowl the other night, it feels like those three wonderful moments for Bevo and crew are a century old, and more than a decade away from happening again. Some of this blood is all over Mack’s hands, but the high expectations he set are his, too.
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UT’s 6-7 record this season is almost entirely on Brown’s players, seemingly half of whom first-year coach Charlie Strong kicked off the team. The quarterback position, Mack’s nemesis, remains a dumpster fire.
I asked Mack if he felt some responsibility for the current state of the program.
“What I felt for are the seniors. That senior class was really loyal to me. Those guys really fought for me, and I wanted them to finish up on a high note, because I love those kids,” he said. “I’ve tried to help Charlie behind the scenes, at the same time I’ve tried to stay out of his way.”
When it comes to recruiting a quarterback, good idea. Strong should stay out of Mack’s way. Watching Tyrone Swoopes play this year in Austin made Longhorns fans long for the days of Jimmy Sexton.
When it comes to a million other areas, Strong should listen to Mack. Brown said he has talked to Strong about six times since he took over.
We forget because the end was so mediocre that for a long time Texas football ruled because of Mack Brown. We forget about the legacy of Mack Brown. Charlie Strong will be lucky to have the impact and success of his predecessor.
If we are going to trash Mack for the state of Texas football, it is partly because his era reminded us, and taught a new generation, about how good it can be. Mack’s critics, some of whom were quite loud even when he was winning, like to dismiss his success. They hated his loyalty to offensive coordinator Greg Davis, and minimized the wins because he just had so much talent.
It all may be valid and true, but it had been 35 years since Texas had won a national title. Not just anybody could win at Texas, because no one had since Darrell Royal.
Before Vince Young sprinted to the Rose Bowl end zone to beat USC for the ’05 title, no team in Texas had done what Mack’s crew did. No mythical titles Texas A&M awards itself should ever convince anyone otherwise.
TCU’s and Baylor’s success came after that ’05 UT title. Texas Tech only briefly flirted with the national stage. Johnny Football didn’t hit College Station until after that ’05 title. SMU’s success was in the ’80s, built on a payroll that was second to none.
We expect more from Texas and Texas football thanks largely to Mack Brown. Yes, the end of the era stunk, but being at the Rose Bowl is a reminder of the wonderful beginning and middle that set the standard for Strong, and every other coach in Texas.
“Charlie is a great coach. It will all work in time. Transitions are really hard,” Brown said. “It works or it doesn’t the first year. And that doesn’t mean long term that it will work or won’t work. Ours worked the first year because we had Ricky Williams. I remember we had a parade after the first year  for being 9-3 and Ricky winning the Heisman; 300,000 people for a parade downtown. Then they were griping at 9-4 the next year. It’s part of what happens at Texas football.”
It’s part of what happens now at Texas football because of Mack.
The Rose Bowl and Brown’s national title ring remind us all what is possible.
Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697