The rebuilding process was supposed to be over. Texas was supposed to be in reloading mode again.
The Longhorns were recruiting well despite going 5-7 three short years ago. They won eight games the year following the 2010 debacle and won nine the year after that.
This year was supposed to be the year. With an FBS-best 19 returning starters, Texas was supposed to contend for Big 12 and national titles.
But the Longhorns started 1-2 for the first time since 1998, Mack Brown’s first year on the job. Many Texas fans want this year to be his last.
Since then, Brown’s Longhorns have played themselves into a de facto Big 12 title game of sorts. Either Texas or Baylor will leave Waco this Saturday with at least a share of a conference championship. If Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, the Longhorns-Bears winner will be the outright Big 12 champion.
Like his team has earned the right to play for at least a share of a Big 12 title, Mack Brown has earned the right to prove that he deserves a 17th year as Texas’ head coach.
He lost that right by losing two of his first three games this season. Last time he did that, he had a Heisman Trophy-winning running back in Ricky Williams to dig him out of that 1-2 hole. This year, he had lost both his starting quarterback and running back for the year midseason.
He’s got more injured linebackers than healthy ones. Johnathan Gray, out for the season with a torn Achilles suffered against West Virginia, joked that Texas could hold a “Scooter Olympics” with as many fallen Longhorns that are rolling around campus now.
Yet Brown has taken a struggling, banged-up team and turned it into a bona fide Big 12 title contender. For that, he deserves a chance to come back next year – if Texas beats Baylor.
But if the Bears triumph over the Longhorns in their final game at Floyd Casey Stadium this weekend, Brown’s legendary 16-year tenure on the 40 Acres should come to an end. Because a loss to Baylor means there’s nothing left to salvage this season.
“This is where we asked to be early on, playing for a Big 12 title,” senior quarterback Case McCoy said. “We understand the situation. I would fully agree that this game will determine if our season is
A loss to Baylor means much more than missing out on a conference championship. It means a fourth straight season losing at least four games. It means no chance to improve from last year’s 9-4 mark, a telltale sign that Brown has lost his touch. It means no chance to win 10 games, the signature standard set by Brown early in his time at Texas.
Whether Brown deserves to keep his job and whether he actually does are two extremely different things. A new men’s athletics director, possible in-fighting above Brown’s proverbial pay grade and Brown’s personal desires are all off-field factors that will heavily into if Brown will be back in 2014.
He could retire the day after beating Baylor or not step down until his contract expires in 2020 even if Texas loses this weekend.
But whether Brown deserves to come back next season hinges on whether his team finishes this
regular season with a win.