A BIG DEAL
Mack’s advice for rookie coaches: Win this game
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.