The quiet, final hour of Mack Brown's tenure

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
1:35
AM ET

SAN ANTONIO -- The final moments of Mack Brown’s career at Texas were neither triumphant nor tearful. Just quiet.

He walked off the Alamodome field surrounded by noise but not saying a word. He gathered his team for his final locker room speech. And one hour later, he was gone.

He left the building as Texas’ former head coach, his hellish 16th season finally complete with a 30-7 loss to No. 10 Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And there was unmistakable finality to this.

[+] EnlargeBrown
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsMack Brown congratulates QB Case McCoy after a first-half TD, but little else went right for Brown and the Horns in his final game as Texas coach.
He lost his last game in burnt orange in many of the same ways Texas lost four other games in 2013. His quarterbacks struggled, a slim margin of error killed by two interceptions for Oregon touchdowns. The run game couldn’t win all by itself. The defense fared admirably but couldn’t shut down Marcus Mariota.

“I thought they tried as hard as they could tonight,” Brown said. “We played a really good football team. I thought that quarterback looked like one I saw play for us a while back.”

A once-great program that now has no on-field identity and few discernable advantages lost to a powerhouse. This, quite simply, was why Brown’s time is finished.

Much of the fan base bolted to the exits in the middle of the fourth quarter. Those who stayed did so to chant and clap for their coach.

When it was over, Brown did what he always did: He walked to the sideline and threw up the horns as “The Eyes of Texas” blared. As the cameras and reporters engulfed him, he could barely see the band.

A few players lingered to hug Brown and the woman they called Miss Sally. A sea of cameras clicked and flashed. Brown and his wife were surrounded. Slowly they made their way, arm in arm, to the exit, throwing up the horns again to an admiring orange crowd above.

While balloons dropped and the Ducks reveled, Mack and Sally Brown began their long, slow march to the end. Their coaches, players and reporters followed, through a concrete hallway and uncomfortable silence.

They found the home locker room, the crowd so large it spilled into the halls, leaving some Longhorn players stuck on the outside. They seemed too despondent to care.

Brown’s final speech began, his words soft enough to not reach the hall.

At 9:09 p.m. CT, he was done. The clapping inside the locker room lasted no more than 15 seconds. Secondary coach Duane Akina frowned as he trudged in late.

The locker room doors closed a minute later. Retired athletic director DeLoss Dodds was the first out, with a sigh and a brisk walk toward the exit. Then David Ash left. Case McCoy and Malcolm Brown headed off to interviews. Sally led Mack off to join them five minutes later. The staffers they passed along the way offered meek thank-yous.

Brown said he was disappointed. Defense played great. Offense couldn’t move the ball. Kids fought hard. He had few regrets.

“I told them tonight, the only regret I had is we didn’t win enough games this year,” Brown said. “We didn’t win as many games as we had good players. A lot of great players are coming back. New energy, new staff, new ideas will really, really help these kids.”

The reality that he’s no longer the coach hasn’t sunk in yet. He joked that he might wake up at 6 a.m. Tuesday and review film. Finding his new normal will take time.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown's car
Max Olson/ESPNAs Mack Brown and his wife, Sally, drove off after Texas' loss in the Alamo Bowl, what's next for both Brown and the future of the program he guided for 16 seasons remains uncertain.
No more questions. He stood, said thanks and walked back to the locker room. Players began filing out, grabbing sandwiches before hitting the buses. Assistant coaches came out and hugged their families.

As her husband packed up, Sally perused the halls greeting and hugging anyone she recognized. Brown eventually emerged, a young grandson named Mack in his arms, flanked by more family. His face was red, his smile forced.

His final hour was up. Time to go. Where they’re headed, they don’t know.

“We’ll take a nice trip somewhere warm,” Sally told a reporter, “and figure out what’s next.”

She was ushered off and rejoined her husband on the way out. He was finally outside, but stopped one more time to pose for pictures with fans. He threw up the horns. He’ll have to do these the rest of his life, no matter where he goes.

A few more hugs, a few more handshakes. Brown always had time for those. Then, just after 10 p.m., he slipped into the front seat of a taupe Audi A8 parked near the exit.

Sally, his passenger, offered one more wave before rolling up her window.

And then they drove away, just the coach and his wife, off into the dark.

Max Olson | email

Big 12 reporter

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