Saturday night, the Texas Longhorn football team took an expected shellacking from #25 Ole Miss and it wasn't much of a surprise. Early in the 2013 campaign the Longhorns had already begun a familiar pattern when two weeks ago in Provo, a highly-ranked Texas team that entered the season full of promise was derailed by an opponent that should have been on the other side of the lopsided score. Unfortunately, this has become par for the course for after losing to BYU, the trend continued this Saturday as the Horns were pounded by Ole Miss.
After three sub-par seasons, the Longhorns had hopes of contending for the Big 12 title and returning to the national stage, but an embarrassing loss a week ago at BYU led Brown to fire defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after Texas gave up a school-record 550 yards rushing.
Brown brought back Greg Robinson, the Longhorns' defensive coordinator in 2004. Texas was more aggressive against the Rebels, but still couldn't stop the run and surrendered a halftime lead when it looked as if the Longhorns were firmly in control.
Decades ago when the legendary Darrell Royal was coaching, the Longhorns were football royalty and annual contenders for a national championship. While the team remained competitive under Fred Akers after Royal retired, they didn’t retain the elite status of perennial powerhouses such as Alabama and LSU. In the years that followed, David McWilliams and John Macovic could only muster a winning percentage barely over .600.
Mack Brown was hired after a successful stint at North Carolina, a school not normally known for football. During his tenure the Horns have risen to the top of college football, winning a national championship in 2005 and might very well have won another in 2010 had Colt McCoy not been forced out of the title game with an injury early in the first quarter. At that point, it seemed as if the Horns had returned and Brown has won numerous awards.
Unfortunately the minute McCoy went down the Horns fortunes changed dramatically. Backup Garrett Gilbert was not able to guide the team to a victory over a tough Alabama team and his tenure as quarterback the following year was unsuccessful, after which he lost his starting job and eventually transferred to SMU.
But the problems cannot be traced solely to Gilbert or to his successor, David Ash. The failures of the team are much broader than the quarterbacks, whose individual performances have not always been terrible but are often accompanied by a host of other issues on both sides of the ball. For a team that largely survived with some of the toughest defense in the NCAA for many years, adding a porous defense to a sputtering offense can be hard to watch.
Without getting into a X’s and O’s, the bigger question is why is this going on at Texas? For that matter, one might extend it even farther to the basketball team, whose highly respected coach Rick Barnes is the 8th highest-paid coach in college basketball, yet suffered through a terrible 2012-2013 season after a string of disappointments in the NCAA tournament. The former perennial title contending Lady Horns also have not been the same since Jody Conradt retired.
Barnes' situation is different in many ways and his record at UT is still outstanding compared to last year. The bigger question that many fans may ask goes beyond why Mack Brown or Rick Barnes are still coaching at UT. The question is how can a school such as the University of Texas struggle this badly, particularly in the premiere college sport?
It is often joked that UT has more money than God and statistics bear out that funding is not an issue in the UT system. The school has the third largest endowment in the nation at over $18 billion, trailing only Harvard and Yale, and has an 80% greater endowment than #6 MIT. By contrast, perennial national title threat University of Alabama’s was last reported at $977 million in 2012, down from $995 in 2011 due to the recession.
The bottom line is that the University of Texas should have the best football money can buy. In theory, the best basketball too, although clearly Texas schools, embedded where football is king, have a culture that is not as apt to consistently draw the best basketball players and coaches when states such as Kentucky and North Carolina are much more oriented towards hoops.
In fact, UT football is a moneymaking machine and has the most valuable football team in the country. According to Forbes:
[The Longhorns are] still be the sport’s most valuable [team], and by a wide margin… at $133 million, the Longhorns top the value list, as they have since 2009, not from being exciting but from expertly managing a national brand supported by thousands of fans and alumni. Two seasons ago, Texas became the first college football team to clear $100 million in revenue, and it did so while hosting just six home games. Roughly one-third of the revenue came from ticket sales.
So if business is business, it appears the University is doing it’s job. But common sense dictates there are long-term implications. The natives have been restless for some time now but regardless, at some point, recruiting is going to take an even bigger hit than it already has and <gasp> revenue may decrease.
The issue is even more perplexing when considering how Texas fares is so many other areas. The Texas baseball team is frequently a serious contender to win the College World Series and Texas teams regularly excel in volleyball, tennis, golf, swimming and other areas.
We all know that athletics – and certainly football – take a disproportionate share of our money and our devotion in comparison to a number of other worthy and important concerns. Nevertheless, the kids who are recruited to play football at UT deserve the best program available just as students enrolling in a nationally acclaimed colleges school receive and appropriately superior education. How satisfied would students be if they pursued a computer engineering degree in the school ranked 5th in the nation only to find the experience consistently sub-par?
Texas should indeed have the best football money can buy. But it doesn’t and that’s not because UT isn’t paying for it or doesn’t stand to lose that much by making a change. Business Insider reports:
If the University of Texas does choose to fire the second-highest paid coach in college football, his recent contract extension will make it very easy, and fairly cheap for the school. Texas will only have to pay Brown $2.75 million spread out over four years, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.
That is not much for a coach that is making $5.3 million this season, or for a football program that generates more than $100 million in revenue each year.
Mack Brown took a diminished Texas program and brought it back to national prominence. Unfortunately, he’s hit a giant speed bump that doesn’t appear to be going away.
A reasonable amount of loyalty is a beautiful thing. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has stated he still supports Brown. Neither of them is working in a coal mine but the fans and alumni might well ask…how long can this go on?