- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

If not for the Lone Star Sham, Texas would be everybody's Fiesta Bowl favorite.
Look upon the roster of the third-ranked Longhorns and marvel, ye college football peasants.
Witness Chris Simms, the talented, if erratic, quarterback with the perfect pedigree. See his backfield mate, tailback Cedric Benson, who became the first freshman in the history of Earl Campbell/Ricky Williams U. to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season.
Quiver at Simms' targets, All-American wideout Roy Williams and the nation's best receiving corps. And quake at a burnt orange defense that features pocket-crippling bookends Kalen Thornton and Cory Redding, Butkus Award candidate Derrick Johnson and velcro cover corners Nathan Vasher and Roderick Babers.
Then take a gander at the sidelines and try not to break a rib in laughter.
There under the headphones stands fifth-year coach Mack Brown, the Austin Achilles', the Longhorns' big-game steer.
If you have a queasy stomach, consider fetching a trash can or relocating to the loo because what follows are the gory details behind one of the most overrated coaching careers in college history.
At the start of Brown's bio in the 600-page monstrosity known as the Texas media guide is exactly the kind of trivial nugget that tends to throw folks off the scent of a coaching stinker. It is here that you learn that Brown is the only active Division I-A coach to lead his teams to nine wins or more in each of the last six seasons. It is here that Brown's 124-87-1 overall mark and 38-13 record at Texas are touted. The message is simple and clear: This is a premier coach and a premier program.
"The program is walking with a swagger again," Brown said last month at Big 12 media day. "We're at the point that, if we do our jobs, there may come a time when the ball bounces right and we could win a national championship.
"A lot of great coaches have never won a national championship. Some of them have only won one. At Texas, we only expect it every year."
Such talk not only sounds pretentious, it sounds a bit ambitious for a coach who has never even won a conference championship. That's right. In 18 years as a coach at Appalachian State (1983), Tulane (1985-87), North Carolina (1988-97) and Texas (1998-present), Brown's teams have never won a conference title, much less a national crown.
Throw out those first two coaching stops, and let's consider Brown's efforts at UNC, the school he used as a springboard to one of college coaching's plum jobs. Sure, Brown did a nice job with the Tar Heels, turning around a stale program, putting solid teams on the field and attracting blue-chip talent to Chapel Hill.
But did he do a great job at Carolina? He often receives rave reviews as some sort of football Frank Lloyd Wright for what he did at UNC, but a careful look inside the numbers reveals relative mediocrity. While feasting on the ACC's low-end teams, Brown was a combined 12-23-1 against the league's perennial big four of Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia. And he left Chapel Hill after a decade in the ACC 0-for-FSU, losing all six of his meetings with cagey Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles.
"It did seem like we had their number a little bit, but not a lot of teams beat us back in those days," Bowden said recently. "That's a pretty nice-looking team Mack's put together out there at Texas."
True enough. Nobody said the man can't recruit. He's landed a consensus top-five class every year he's been at Texas, and his Longhorns teams have been so talented of late they've inspired an annual joke among the Oklahoma faithful:
"Have you heard they're replacing the turf at Memorial Stadium with confetti? You know Mack's teams always look better on paper."
It's hard to argue with the quip given Brown's four years of results at Texas. Following the same pattern as his UNC teams, Brown's Texas squads have buried the Big 12's also-rans while floundering against the serious conference contenders. Last season provided a perfect example; the Longhorns rolled to their 11 victories by an average score of 43-14 but lost both times they faced top-10 opponents.
All told, the man who could never beat FSU is 4-9 against top-20 teams and 3-7 against top-10 teams since taking over at Texas. Perhaps even more amazing, he's 0-2 in Big 12 title games, losing both to teams Texas had beaten previously that season Nebraska in '99 and Colorado last season.
Brown, it seems, simply can't win the big ones.
"You're going to have probably three or four really tight games a year that you have to win, and you're going to have some challenges come up in those games," Brown said. "Well, our team and our staff are more prepared for those than we were four years ago. We know more about the expectations at Texas."
Brown certainly understands that one of those expectations is beating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game in Dallas on Oct.12. No team has given Texas more trouble recently than Oklahoma, a squad that has outscored the Longhorns 77-17 over the last two years. And no coach seems destined to give Brown more trouble than the Sooners' wily skipper, Bob Stoops. Just as former Florida coach Steve Spurrier tormented Tennessee's Phil Fulmer for years, Stoops seems to enjoy a major psychological advantage over Brown.
"We always relish the opportunity to play Texas," Stoops said recently, unwilling to apply the needle to Brown. "It's likely to be a pivotal game in our division and in the national picture once again this season."
And despite their superior talent at literally every position, Texas is likely to fall to the Sooners once again, ending its hopes for a first national title since 1970 and perhaps ending Brown's run as head 'Horn.
"Hey, I understand that we have to prove to people that we can win the big games," said Simms, the underachieving senior who has shared the critics' ire with Brown. "People have been hard on coach and hard on me. So be it. There's one sure way to deal with that pessimism once and for all. This year we have no excuses."

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