A BIG DEAL

Mack’s ad­vice for rookie coaches: Win this game

The Oklahoman - - RED RIVER EXTRA - Berry Tramel btramel@ok­la­homan.com

Mack Brown al­ways has been grate­ful for the year he spent in Nor­man.

Gave Mack a chance to re­tool a mori­bund OU wish­bone and launched him to Tu­lane, North Carolina and even­tu­ally Texas.

Gave Mack a chance to work with the mag­netic Barry Switzer. Later, Mack made Dar­rell Royal a confidant in Austin. When you’ve got the best of both Switzer and Royal, you’ve got all an­gles cov­ered.

But most of all, spend­ing 1984 as the Ok­la­homa of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor gave Mack a pre­cious glimpse on the in­side of OU-Texas. Which Mack came to need, spend­ing 16 years as the Longhorn coach.

Only Royal, Bob Stoops and Bud Wilkinson have been head coach for more games in this lore between the states. Four years re­moved from Austin’s 40 Acres, Mack has par­tic­u­lar in­sight into the game above all games, par­tic­u­larly since the Sooners and Longhorns each sport new head coaches.

Mack’s ad­vice for Lin­coln Ri­ley and Tom Herman: This game is im­por­tant.

Now, be­fore Ri­ley and Herman pat Mack on the head and thank him for drop­ping by and roll their eyes at tell-me­some­thing-I-didn’t

know in­for­ma­tion, be as­sured that Mack wasn’t us­ing coach­s­peak. He knows that all games are im­por­tant, es­pe­cially the ones you lose. Mack isn’t talk­ing gen­er­al­i­ties. Mack is talk­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence. He knows this game car­ries con­se­quences that trump even the most cru­cial of games.

This game, no mat­ter the sea­son-to-sea­son stakes, al­ways lasts a year and beyond.

“It’s a trou­bling game for sure, for head coaches,” Mack said the other day while head­ing to the air­port to fly to Syra­cuse, N.Y., for a Clem­son-Syra­cuse show­down that is far re­moved from OUTexas in ev­ery way.

Ri­ley and Herman think they know that. Kind of know that. Sort of know that. Don’t re­ally know it at all.

We’re not talk­ing about the bus­ride through Fair Park that gives new­com­ers their Dorothy-in-Oz mo­ment. Ri­ley and Herman each ex­pe­ri­enced that twice be­fore, Ri­ley as OU’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor the past two years and Herman as a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant in 1999 and 2000. We’re not talk­ing about the split sta­dium and the tun­nel and the con­stant roar of at least 46,000 fans scream­ing on ev­ery play and some­times all 92,000. Ri­ley and Herman know all about that.

Herman: "When you go into one of the most sto­ried ri­val­ries in col­lege foot­ball his­tory, if

not the most, I think it is im­por­tant that you rec­og­nize that this is a big game for a lot of peo­ple in both states. It's a big game be­cause of the unique­ness of the Texas State Fair and it be­ing on a neu­tral site ev­ery year.”

Ri­ley: “It’s a dif­fer­ent game, it’s a dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere. It’s closer to a bowl game to me than any­thing else. I think you’ve gotta have the kids in the right mind frame for it. The right mind­set. And you’ve got to be there as a coach and know re­gard­less of what you’ve seen on tape from ei­ther team it’s gonna be prob­a­bly the best and hard­est that both those teams have played all year. ”

So the rook­ies are say­ing all the right things. But what they don’t know is how OU-Texas can be lost be­fore kick­off, and how OU-Texas can pro­duce losses af­ter the fi­nal gun, and how OU-Texas can hang over a coach un­til the next time he greets Big Tex, and how big a deal this re­ally is.

Even big­ger in re­cent times. Each proud pro­gram once had three an­nual ri­val­ries. Con­fer­ence supremacy, in­state foe and blood feud. But the league ri­vals are gone, OU-Ne­braska and Texas-Arkansas. Now UT no longer even plays its in-state an­tag­o­nist, Texas A&M.

Even when th­ese teams aren’t na­tion­ally rel­e­vant, this game is more para­mount than ever within the two state bor­ders.

“What they don’t un­der­stand is how im­por­tant the game is,” Mack said of Ri­ley and

Herman. “There’s so much pres­sure on the team that loses. It’s so im­por­tant for some­one to get off on the right foot.”

I asked Mack how tough it is on a coach to live through de­feat in OU-Texas. Then I apol­o­gized for us­ing such a stark term. But Mack said I had it right.

“‘Live through’ is prob­a­bly a good term,” Mack said.

Mack said OU-Texas is dif­fer­ent from in-state ri­val­ries. Bed­lam. A&MTexas. Those are bit­ter feuds, sure. But they’re also ri­val­ries in which peo­ple on dif­fer­ent sides of­ten share Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. That doesn’t hap­pen much with Sooners and Longhorns. This game is per­sonal. Tex­ans look­ing down on Ok­la­homans. Ok­la­homans grab­bing swords and torches to give the Tex­ans their due.

Mack knows the angst of re­peated los­ing. Stoops beat him five straight years, 2000-04, and Mack was on shaky ground with Orange­bloods de­spite build­ing a fab­u­lous pro­gram, which re­sulted in the 2005 na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Mack said the pres­sure on the los­ing squad is main­tained through­out the year and mounts each sea­son. He thinks that’s why the se­ries has been so streaky his­tor­i­cally. The team that has lost once or twice or three times in a row feels like it’s bur­dened with stress. Al­most like it’s drown­ing.

“I re­mem­ber ask­ing Coach Royal, how you change a streak,” Mack said. “He said when you’re good enough and you’re tired of hear­ing

about it, that’s when you change it.”

Mack had other ad­vice for the rook­ies. Don’t win the game in mid­week.

“The week be­fore is dif­fer­ent,” Mack said. “Coach Royal al­ways said be care­ful that you don’t play the game on Tues­day or Wed­nes­day. We did that some­times. Had great prac­tices. But we were worn out. We’d al­ready played that game.”

Also, know that los­ing in the Cotton Bowl can get you beat the next week. Los­ing in Fair Park turns fan bases an­gry. Crowds the next week can be flat, if you’re play­ing at home. Ri­ley was im­mune af­ter los­ing to Iowa State last week, be­cause ev­ery Sooner fan is mad at Mike Stoops. That will change if OU loses to Texas on Satur­day.

Mack lost nine times to OU but only once lost his next game, that be­ing in 2011 to OSU. Bob Stoops lost seven times to Texas but never lost his next game. So both had that point down pat.

They both were fan­tas­tic coaches who took their right­ful place among their schools’ epic coaches. Wilkinson. Royal. Switzer. Mack. Stoops. But ev­ery year, one of them was a bum for what hap­pened in the Cotton Bowl.

Lin­coln and Tom, wel­come to the club.

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