Down the road, after the dust has cleared, Mack Brown's lasting legacy at Texas – outside of the one national championship, in 2005 – will be how he revitalized a proud program after nearly two decades in the wilderness and reunited a fractured fan base.
Today, however, the focus stands on how Brown left, digging in his heels amid rumors of his resignation, and the way the program slipped off the national stage following a loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. After winning at least 10 games in every season from 2001-2009, Brown went 30-20 in his last four years, suffering one losing season and not once losing fewer than four games.
BROWN OUT: Coach steps down, will coach in bowl game
Yet the way Texas scuffled during Brown's final seasons does little to diminish the program's draw in its upcoming coaching search – in fact, one could make the case that the Longhorns' recent ways make this opening even more appealing to a handful of supremely qualified candidates.
What job is better – or bigger – than Texas? Alabama, maybe, but only due to the recent Nick Saban-led renaissance. USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU? All nice, but none match all that UT brings to the table.
TOP CANDIDATES: Who could be next Texas coach?
All this combines to make this, the newly opened position at Texas, one of the most intriguing coaching searches to hit the Football Bowl Subdivision in years.
What's good about the job:
It's Texas. Where does this job rank among FBS positions? You'd make a strong case for No. 1, and even a detractor couldn't put Texas outside the top three. It's simple: UT has the money, the resources, the facilities, the history, the support, the prestige, the fan base and the recruiting ground to make this opening appealing to any coach with a whistle, a winning record, a few rings and the guts to take on the job.
Though not a perfect roster by any means – there are a few personnel issues to address on offense and defense – Brown does leave his successor on solid footing in the Big 12. Remember that this year's team finished within a game of the Big 12 title despite a slew of injuries; Brown estimated during Thursday's Alamo Bowl press conference that "eight of our top 10 players" will not play in the bowl game. After fighting during the course of several years to regain some ground in the Big 12 race, the Longhorns are not far away from a permanent return to the top 25.
Again, the Longhorns' next coach will be given a nearly incalculable number of built-in advantages. Perhaps none is bigger than the recruiting base at his disposal: UT does recruit nationally, if the prospect is right, but most of its business is done within the state's borders – as fertile a bed as can be found in the country. Though rival schools have taken charge in Texas, notably Texas A&M, this program, with the right hire, Texas can regain its spot as the go-to destination for the state's elite recruits.
Brown's replacement won't be expected to win the national title in 2014 – and why would he, given that UT has been an average Big 12 team since 2010? There's immense pressure to be successful at Texas, but the next coach will be given some time to install and implement his system – his "process," perhaps – before being judged solely on wins and losses. Having said that, anything less than eight wins next season would be viewed with some consternation.
Let's remember one thing: Brown did win that championship in 2005, but he captured only two Big 12 titles during his 16 years with the program. That's one more than Baylor won during the same span.
For Texas, the draw is the opening itself.
What's bad about the job:
The extracurricular activities are demanding. Brown, for example, called his program "overexposed" by the Longhorn Network, which is given constant and complete access to the football team and coaching staff. Last October, Brown estimated he spent six hours a week filming shows for the network. That's six hours out of every week, time that could be used for far more important tasks – like, for example, coaching a football team, preparing a football team or recruiting for a football team. The duties involved with the Longhorn Network are a negative. Beyond that, there is other non-football work associated with being the head coach at Texas.
As noted, there's obviously talent on the roster. Still, UT's next coach will need to do some schematic overhauling on both sides of the ball. On offense, for example, the Longhorns are still searching for an identity – finding some rhythm under ex-coordinator Bryan Harsin before faltering behind some injuries in 2013. Defensively, this program is a mess. To be fair, however, an accomplished coach would not look at this team and see question marks; rather, he'd see a talented team that might simply need a push in the right direction.
Pressure? Get used to it. It's at a higher spot now than ever before, thanks to Brown's enormously successful run in the 2000s. Though the recent lull will lower expectations a touch in 2014 – see above – that doesn't in any way suggest that the school or its fan base will accept another multiple-year period outside the national conversation.
Who are the likely candidates:
Every coach in the country is in the mix for this job – seeing that Texas has the draw, money and resources to entice any high-profile name to sign on the dotted line. More specifically, however, this search began with the best coaches in college football: UT has the ability to make its case and force elite candidates to say no.
There are certain benchmarks a coach must reach before even being considered. He must have won a significant number of games on the automatic-qualifying level, for one. Having played for a national championship or in a BCS bowl, if not winning one, is also a requirement. He must have a proven blueprint for building a program into a consistent winner. He must be a dedicated and fearless recruiter. In short: He must be one of the best coaches in the country.
The most important thing to remember: if Texas wants a coach, it'll probably get him – with only a few exceptions.
Here are a few names on the school's radar, listed alphabetically:
Baylor coach Art Briles
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher
Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn
TCU coach Gary Patterson
Louisville coach Charlie Strong
The ideal candidates:
The ideal pick is someone with a track record of success, a clear program-building blueprint, a dedication to recruiting and the name recognition to feed the school's desire for coast-to-coast recognition.
That coach is Nick Saban, obviously. But with Saban inking a long-term, lucrative extension with Alabama, the university must begin to look beyond the obvious pick and find a coach, like Saban, capable of building a perennial championship contender.
Even with Saban off the table, the search won't lack for marquee names. Briles, Malzahn and Fisher would fit the bill, though each coach also recently agreed to a sizable and lengthy contract extension. (More than anyone, Fisher's style and process make him a Saban clone.)
Gundy sits right in Texas' general backyard, so he knows how to recruit the region, and has shown some willingness to listen to offers in the recent past – coming close to signing with Tennessee last season before opting to return to Oklahoma State. But Gundy seems gettable, if on the Longhorns' second tier of candidates. Another name to consider is Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, who could more than double his current salary by leaving for Texas. As is, Texas would be wise to pony up and sign Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to the same position regardless of its pick as coach.
Harbaugh's name is bandied about for most major college openings, though Texas must consider him a long shot: Harbaugh already left college once, and it's silly to think he'd leave one of 32 NFL jobs – and one of the best of the 32 – for a return to the FBS.
This much is clear: Texas' next coach is going to be a good one. This is Texas, after all.
HIGHEST-PAID COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES