November 18, 2008

Muschamp to take over when Mack Brown retires

There has been no bigger proponent of what Texas did Tuesday than myself. I wrote before the season that Texas needed to give Will Muschamp the Jimbo Fisher treatment, the Jason Garrett treatment.

So it would be easy to get swept up today in talking about how great it is that Texas is going to pay Muschamp $900,000 a year starting Jan. 1 to be defensive coordinator until Mack and Sally Brown decide it's time to enjoy their horses and all the friends they've made along the way. Their North Carolina lake house, their growing number of married children - it's now three of four - and their future grandchildren.

But Tuesday was really all about Mack Brown the selfless visionary. There is no press conference announcing Muschamp, the 37-year-old wonder kid, as head coach-designate. There's no reason for Muschamp to cancel the interviews that were scheduled this week with Clemson, Tennessee and Washington. There's no reason to look up the last time Texas decided to take a chance on a first-time head football coach - D.X. Bible in the 1950s.

If not for Mack Brown.

"I do see a lot of myself in Will," Brown said. "I don't know if that's a compliment to Will. But the passion, the energy and the love of kids."


It would have been easy for Mack Brown to encourage Muschamp to go be a head coach right now. Muschamp might have wowed Clemson, Tennessee or Washington this week and walked away with a $2 million job. But this was about a current head coach who sees something in Muschamp that says he's the right guy to handle all the crossfire that comes with being the head coach at Texas. That he's the right guy to handle the demands and requests from boosters and fans. That's he's the right guy to battle Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer and Pete Carroll and possibly help bring another national title to the Forty Acres.

Undoubtedly, Brown wants the next national title to happen this season. The Longhorns might need David Blaine or David Copperfield to help pull that off. But everyone sees the promise next season. Let's face it, these two can help each other. Brown can coach Muschamp on the finer points of being presidential - not too presidential - but enough.

"I feel like the Xs and Os, coaching and managing the team I could handle right now," Muschamp said. "But with Texas - Coach Brown always seems to say the right thing at the right time in the right way, and I certainly need learn how to do that."

Muschamp earned the nickname "Boom M----f----r" or "Coach Boom" from some sideline comments caught by ESPN when Muschamp was defensive coordinator at Auburn. So the laughter that came from reporters after his statement was pretty hearty.


Muschamp can help Mack bring along all those freshmen and sophomores on defense who are playing like juniors and seniors and maybe - just maybe - convince Sergio Kindle to come back for another year of tutelage as a pass rusher and stand-up linebacker.

Sources told earlier this month there was almost no chance of Kindle returning for his senior year if Muschamp wasn't around.

"With Will teaching Sergio next season, Sergio stands to make himself a whole lot more money if he stays," said one coach Tuesday night who used to work for Brown and has since moved on to another job.

Marcus Spears of the Dallas Cowboys, who played for Muschamp at LSU, told me Muschamp played a critical role on LSU's 2003 national title team.

"He gets everything out of you," Spears said. "He asks a lot, but he gives you a lot. All of his players get better. He makes them better because he knows what the (expletive) he's doing. He'll be a great head coach."


Muschamp is always himself: blue collar, earthy, real, funny, all about hard work, football and being around people who "football is important to."

I once asked Muschamp who his buddies were, and he said, "My wife is my best friend. When I'm not coaching ball, I don't have any hobbies. I spend time with my wife (Carol) and boys (Jackson and Whit)."

During Tuesday's press conference, Muschamp deadpanned that if he would have moved on, "My wife was going to stay (in Austin)."

Muschamp said all the right things Tuesday. He praised Brown, DeLoss Dodds and UT president Bill Powers. He said he hopes Texas is his last job. He said, "I was waiting on the right job, and this is the best job."


When Muschamp was asked if he was worried about taking over such a big job, whenever it happens, in classic Muschamp fashion, he didn't flinch.

"I don't worry about anything I can't control," Muschamp said. "I look forward to the challenge and opportunity when that day comes. For now, I'm focused on Texas A&M."

Muschamp was also told that Brown didn't have gray hair when he arrived in Austin 11 years ago at age 46.

"I've seen some pictures," Muschamp said.


Sources said the team meeting at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday erupted in cheers when Brown told the players Muschamp was staying as defensive coordinator and would one day take over the program.

"They thought I called the meeting to tell everyone he was leaving," Brown said.

Said quarterback Colt McCoy, "Coach Muschamp brings a ton of energy to the table. He's passionate about the game. At practice, in games, in meetings, in team events he's always excited, always upbeat. He brings an attitude to the football team, and especially to the defense, that is pretty special. Having him around has been a blessing, and I know that for a lot of years to come, he definitely will be for the Longhorns."

Added defensive end Brian Orakpo, "You can see it from day one. This guy is a player's coach. Every player loves a player's coach that understands him, that is very demanding, but has a lot of fun with the guys and has a great game plan going into each game. He's a great guy on and off the field. Like I've said all the time, he teaches with great enthusiasm each and every day, great passion, and has a way to really get the best out of each player. That's what I feel he's going to bring to the player."


The staff is also excited. Some wondered about how Major Applewhite would take the news - another perceived candidate to take over at Texas eventually. But Applewhite has great respect for Muschamp and knows his time as a head coach is still a ways off.

Other members of the staff are relieved as well. Assistants like Greg Davis and Mac McWhorter , who have a relationship with Muschamp that dates back to when Muschamp was a player at Georgia. McWhorter recruited Muschamp. Davis was the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Bulldogs at the time.

"At least if Will decides to make a change in his staff, these guys will have had the opportunity to get to know him and make an impression," said one source close to the program. "That's all any of the current assistants can ask for. A lot of times, a new coach comes in and cleans house. That may not be the case in this instance. It may. But it may not."


Muschamp said he's eager to keep learning from Brown, but also is eager to get to work on Texas A&M.

"I've got some coaching to do," Muschamp said as he exited the press conference and left Brown to answer questions.

Brown has eight years remaining on his contract, which has a provision that if he decides to leave coaching, he'll be assigned to a job at the school paying $500,000 per year.

Brown, who turned 57 in August, said, "I'm not going to be Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno."


But Brown said he plans on coaching "as long as I'm healthy and having fun." He said this season "has rejuvenated me" and added his assistants "have done as good a coaching job as I've ever been around. The chemistry is very good.

"There's eight years left on my contract and I fully plan on being here," Brown said.

Brown rebuffed questions that he might one day replace Dodds as athletic director at Texas.

"I haven't thought about that," Brown said.

Brown has retention incentives in his contract through the 2009 season. He'll get $1 million bonus at the end of this season and $2 million at the end of next season. After that, it's been widely speculated he could replace Dodds as athletic director. Dodds is 70 and has hinted he would like to stay at Texas until his grandson, Stefan, graduates from UT in two years.

Brown said only, "If there is a search for a new athletic director at any point, I would like to be a part of that."


Until then, Brown said he doesn't worry that Muschamp becoming head coach-designate could be a distraction to his players or the staff.

"Will will do a great job," Brown said. "He's not a guy who wants my job. He won't look over my shoulder. He's got integrity and respect. Will is smart and driven in a positive way. He has great knowledge of the schemes and football. He came into a staff already in place and joined with great camaraderie and is good with people."


Brown took the idea of elevating Muschamp to Dodds about a month ago. Dodds and Powers then presented it to the UT Board of Regents. Brown and Dodds said they didn't present it to Muschamp until Monday - after everyone had signed off on it.

"I started the conversation because I didn't want Will to go," Brown said. "The rest of the staff understood the decision because Will is the hot guy. He's the guy with the attention, and there was interest in him."

When asked about what offense he'll run as the head coach, Muschamp joked, "I've got a lot of time to think about it."


Dodds said Tuesday's announcement provides "continuity." Texas has had five defensive coordinators in six years (Carl Reese in 2003, Greg Robinson in 2004, Gene Chizik in 2005-06, Duane Akina in 2007 and Muschamp in 2008).

"Recently, Coach Muschamp had chances to coach elsewhere," Dodds said. "We want him at Texas. He wants to be at Texas. He's got a passion. We like that passion."

And while Texas has secured a relationship with a coach I compare to a young Jimmy Johnson or Bob Stoops, Tuesday was all about Mack Brown.


Brown went out and hired Muschamp. And Brown did what was best for Texas because he's secure enough in his own skin to share the spotlight with a young, prodigy like Muschamp. This whole blue-collar mentality this season started with Muschamp. No one talks about Texas being soft. They talk about Texas being physical and overachieving. That will be UT's label from here on out.

"Before Mack could even get the words out I said, 'Yes,'" said Muschamp, adding that he didn't consult his former head coaches Nick Saban or Tommy Tuberville before making the decision.

Brown has often been compared to Darrell Royal. And in some ways, Brown is getting to do what Royal wanted to do toward the end of his storied career at Texas. Royal wanted to appoint his defensive coordinator Mike Campbell as his successor. He wasn't allowed to do it by UT's then-power brokers. Brown is being allowed to do it.


Brown recognized what Muschamp brings to the table and made sure no one else got the chance to find out. Muschamp said Brown never promised him such an arrangement last January, when Brown hired him away from Auburn for $425,000 per year. Brown said he didn't think about elevating Muschamp until a month ago, after he'd seen him in action and realized Muschamp would be in demand.

"We've got time for him to watch," Brown said. "I will not distract him as defensive coordinator over the next number of years. That's why this works. I'm not ready to quit, and Will is young enough that he's willing to stay. Over time, he and I will grow together."

The thought of Muschamp's Xs and Os and contagious lunchpail work ethic and Brown's ability to inspire players, build a program and communicate with people should excite Longhorn fans everywhere. They are a lethal combination. And just like everyone owes Mack Brown a debt of gratitude for rebuilding a program that was once fractured in every way. They owe him another debt of gratitude for holding a staff together at a time when Texas has visions of doing big things - not only this year, but next year and for years to come.

Here's to Mack Brown.

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