Once again, Mack’s found a way to change himself for the better

Trey Scott

With all the recent praise for the flashy new coordinators Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz, it seems like we’re forgetting somebody pretty important.

Doesn’t Mack Brown deserve more credit?

Not only has the head coach been open to a multitude of new philosophies — trick plays before the OU game? — he has also kicked his traditional thinking to the curb.

There was once a time when Brown preferred not to play freshmen.

Let me rephrase that. There was once a time when Brown absolutely, resolutely did not play freshmen. It cost him, too.

The best example of this was when Brown elected to not give Cedric Benson the ball against Oklahoma in 2001. The pressure would be too big for the freshman, Brown thought.

If you’re trying to put that gaffe in context, it’d be exactly like if he held star running back Malcolm Brown out of Saturday’s contest. But only if Malcolm Brown goes on to win two Doak Walker Awards and gets drafted in the top 10 of the NFL Draft.

Texas gained a mere 27 yards rushing that day and lost 14-3.

Current-day Mack Brown has given Malcolm Brown 67 carries in four games. Score one for progress.

How about another anecdote?

In 2003, Texas reeled in the consensus No. 1 player in the country, Vince Young. Mack Brown welcomed Young to campus, handed him a red shirt and then stuck him on the bench for a year.

Sure, Chris Simms was entering his senior season, but Brown didn’t even entertain the idea of putting together a package of plays for Young.

Now, Brown is allowing true freshman David Ash to see the field more and more. Ash threw two touchdowns last week against Iowa State and figures to play a prominent role against Oklahoma.

That’s two for progress.

Texas opened up this season against Rice and played 18 true freshmen, tops in the country and the most in Brown’s career. Two more have played since then, which gives Texas 20 true freshmen in action. The most before that was 12 in 2010, and the number has grown almost each season.

Texas wouldn’t be undefeated if Brown didn’t undergo a revitalization of sorts during the offseason, after a 2010 campaign he considered the most miserable in his time coaching here. BYU might have run away with things in the second game of the year had he not pulled Garrett Gilbert and inserted Case McCoy and David Ash, a move that lit a fire under the team.

It’s clearly a different Brown that saw Gilbert throw interception after interception against Kansas State last season and kept letting him trot back out there.

This isn’t the first time the head coach has changed himself for the betterment of the team. In 2004, he stopped trying to convert Young into a pro-style quarterback and instead removed the shackles and let him run loose. In turn, Young encouraged Brown to loosen up: 50 Cent became a regular on the coach’s iPod, practices were more upbeat, and the team started winning the big games and having more fun. That led to a Rose Bowl win over Michigan, which carried over to a national championship season.

“I needed to do a better job of looking into these kids’ lives and learning more about what’s important to them,” Brown said at the time.

Something changed last season, though. Brown seemed miserable. He snapped after the Iowa State game, saying, “Can’t trust your team, can’t trust your coaches when they’re not getting things ready to go so you gotta go back every day and try to look at every little thing and figure out where you can help them.”

Maybe the 28-21 home loss to the Cyclones — and all the other losses last year — was the eye-opener Brown needed. He proved this past offseason that his loyalty only stretched so far, bidding adieu to punching-bag offensive coordinator Greg Davis and other assistant coaches.

New guys such as Harsin and Diaz are getting a lot of credit right now (and rightfully so), but they wouldn’t be here had Brown not seen the light.

As we look back upon the first third of the season, it’s easy to get caught up in some tantalizing storylines: the transfer of Garrett Gilbert, the emergence of Malcolm Brown, the alternation of quarterbacks, the blitz packages of Diaz and the trickery of Harsin, and even the decision by one store to mark down the price of the jersey of one particular player, prompting an unbiased and informative story to be published in one school newspaper, which led to much hand-wringing, scolding and tsk-tsking. Also, this just in: Jaxon Shipley is really good.

It’s all polarizing, but none of it is as relevant as the change of character Mack Brown has undergone.

His team is undefeated and finally blowing people out. He’s already claimed revenge over two schools that beat the Longhorns last year. Finally and maybe most importantly, he’s having a blast.

“I’ve enjoyed the four wins this year as much as I have in a long time,” Brown said. “And that’s why I’m happier, and things are better in my life.”

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: Brown deserves credit for turnaround