This post first appeared on chrishall.org.
This weekend, Mack Brown resigned from being head coach of The University of Texas football team. I’ve wanted to write something amidst all the rumors, controversy, and speculation that have surrounded his job security and future with the Longhorns this season. To be frank, much of what people have said has angered me. Reporters, fans, and all the talking heads don’t know the man behind the Texas Football machine.
I’m writing this to let you in on who Mack Brown is, not just what he’s done.
If all you have is the media’s half-digested slant of Coach Brown’s last few seasons at The University of Texas, you really don’t know that much. He recruited me, coached me, and cared for me as a young man. I’m writing this to honor him, because he’s deserving of it. At least there will be one post amidst the thousands online this week that rightly represents him and his true body of work.
On the night of Jan. 4, 2006, I watched the most incredible athletic performance I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. I was a redshirted scout-team offensive lineman for the #2 team in the country. I had done all I could to prepare our first-team defense for what many considered to be the best college football team to ever play: the 2005 USC Trojans. You would have thought we were a 6-6 team they way ESPN talked about our matchup. Of all the talking heads, I only know of one person that actually picked us to win the game, Lee Corso.
That night I watched our team play their hearts out. Never give up. And fight like they had a slugger’s chance the whole 60 minutes. Vince Young played the best game of football I’ve ever witnessed. Seriously. That game is what every Texas fan remembers. Who could forget such an extraordinary sight? If those same story lines were played out in a movie, no one would believe it could happen in real life.
But I’m writing this to tell you that what happened on the field that night is not what made an impact on an 18-year-old Chris Hall. It wasn’t the last-second touchdown Vince Young scored or the celebration in the stadium afterward. What has stayed with me these eight years were the words Coach Brown spoke to us in the the locker room: “Don’t let this be the greatest thing that ever happened to you.”
What has stayed with me these eight years were the words Coach Brown spoke to us in the the locker room: “Don’t let this be the greatest thing that ever happened to you.”
Coach Brown could have told us many things. Of course he congratulated us. Of course he was proud of us. He told us we were champions and that nobody could ever take that away from us. All those things were true. But he emphasized what was important. He knew the men in that locker room wouldn’t always be football players. So he told us to not let this be the best thing that ever happened to us, but to go on to be great fathers, great husbands, and great citizens.
Coaching football, in a real sense, is not about winning games. It’s about investing into and shaping the character of young men.
I hope I never forget what happened the weekend of my official visit to Texas while being recruited. I was a late scholarship offer, so I was actually the only recruit visiting that weekend. Prior to that time, I had been committed to SMU, then Oklahoma State, then wide open again to both Texas Tech and Arkansas. That’s a whole other story in itself, but Texas was the last official visit I was going to take.
On that visit, Mack and Sally invited my dad and I personally into their home for dinner. Sally had heard that my favorite food was burgers—such a cultivated palate, I know. So while she had grilled steaks, she made a burger for me also just in case I wanted it. That night, Coach Brown never sold me anything. He is highly regarded as one of the best recruiters in the game, and that he is, but he’s not a great recruiter for the reasons you think. When fans hear that someone is a great recruiter they think of a slick talker who gives empty promises, or even worse, money under the table. Mack Brown is none of those things.
After a pleasant dinner filled with normal conversation, Coach Brown brought my dad and I into another room to speak with us privately. We didn’t talk about playing early, we didn’t talk about how bad they needed me (the truth is they didn’t), we didn’t talk about football whatsoever. We talked about divorce.
The truth is, my parents were going through a divorce at the time. Because my dad was a pastor, it was public. There’s no way it couldn’t be. Even though I was a tough, college-bound, Division I football player on the outside, I was a hurting, distraught, and suffering kid on the inside. That night Coach Brown opened up his own personal life and experience to me. He counseled me and gave me hope for the future.
Before that night I had already decided I would accept the scholarship offer and come to Texas. That intimate conversation didn’t affect my decision. But it certainly confirmed and strengthened it. That was the man I wanted to play for. Why? Because he cared for me, not just my ability. He cared for my inner condition, not just my athletic strength.
The reason Mack Brown is a great recruiter is because he genuinely cares for people.
I have more to say, but I think I’ll stop there. I hope you’ll consider this article next time you hear someone maligning Coach Brown. He’s obviously a great coach. Texas is the #1 coaching job in America because of two people: Darrell K Royal and Mack Brown. Without their time at the helm—let’s be honest—Texas Football’s history wouldn’t shine so bright.
The point is, he’s an even better man.
If your day, week, or year is ruined by Texas’ eight or nine wins, you need some help. There’s a whole lot more to life than the success of the Texas Longhorns. Most football programs would celebrate to have what UT considers its “down years.” Just think about Baylor. They went 8-5 last year, won the Holiday Bowl, and decided to build a multimillion dollar stadium to celebrate!
History will remember Coach Brown well, and eventually so will Texas fans. It just burns me to hear so much gossip, defamation, and criticism of him right now. I wrote this post because I know the man behind the Texas machine. I know him better than the reporters, the talking heads, the people on message boards, and the fans in the seats.
Mack Brown is my coach. I write this to honor him, because he deserves it.
Photo courtesy UT Athletics.