December 10, 2013

NEW YORK -- As the clock neared midnight on Monday, Texas Coach Mack Brown sipped a drink at the Peacock Alley Restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria hotel lobby. He sat at a large table next to the Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson, the man essentially hired to replace Brown.

This week is the unofficial college football convention in New York for the National Football Foundation dinner, and everyone who walked through the dim lobby of the aging Waldorf couldn't help notice Brown and Patterson, side by side. At the nearby bar, college sports officials sipped on $11 Amstel Lights and watched in disbelief. It appeared scripted, with the only thing missing a duet of Kumbaya.

If this is indeed the end for Mack Brown's tenure at Texas, the Waldorf lobby offered a serene final scene to contrast the dysfunction that's shrouded the University of Texas recently. Nothing to see here, with Brown flashing a smile and his perfectly coiffed white hair in place.

When news broke Tuesday about Brown potentially stepping down at Texas, what was left out of the discussion was whether Texas' dysfunctional leaders would scare away big-time coaching candidates. first reported Brown's plans to step down. University officials and Brown vehemently denied the report, but Brown's end game at Texas has long been a considered a foregone conclusion. Predicting Brown's ending right now is like betting on the Harlem Globetrotters to win. Officials could deny its reality, but the final buzzer and obvious result will sound on Brown sometime sooner than later. The program has regressed since the 2009 title game to the point of national irrelevancy. The only looming question at Texas this season was when Brown would depart. Brown did Texas well, and he should go out as gracefully as he can.

The hottest question among the athletic directors and agents swarming the lobby bars and trendy bistros on Park Avenue this week has been who will be Brown's replacement. The combination of a slow year in coaching turnover and the magnitude of the job have the eyes of the industry staring at Texas.

But the smarter questions that reared themselves again on Tuesday were about the bizarre leadership issues that could impede Texas making a hire.

Texas officials stressed on Tuesday that no decision would be made until after a Regents meeting Thursday. An agenda item in that meeting is the future of President Bill Powers. At most universities, it would make sense to know whether or not the president would survive before going about the business of parting ways with a football coach.

But this is Texas, and the political football in Austin has outpaced the play on the field all year. The working conditions that Powers is operating under comes out of Molly Ivins' wildest nightmares. The short story is that Powers has clashed with Gov. Rick Perry, who is a Texas A&M graduate. Perry is a former Aggies Yell leader and noted fanboy.

Like most Aggies, Perry has likely been chuckling as Texas bumbled through this 8-4 season and A&M and Baylor have raced ahead of them in the Texas football stratosphere.

Perry has loaded Texas' board of regents with his cronies, many of whom graduated from other schools and appear more worried about appeasing Perry than what's best for the future of Texas. Perry's goal has been to stack the board enough to oust Powers. Will Thursday be the day that it finally happens?

And that raises the question of whether a control-freak coach like Nick Saban would go to Austin amid so much instability. Can Texas lure an elite coach with its university hierarchy plotting against each other like rival message board posters?

When a new head coach evaluates a high-level job, they need alignment from athletic directors and the president. Patterson is a polished and forward-thinking, the antithesis of the ex-jock athletic director. His vision will be much needed at Texas. But his background is extensively more in basketball, so this hire becomes even trickier considering his lack of experience in the college space.

He'll be presented with this conundrum: Which is a worse situation for a potential coach to walk into? Is it Powers sticking around with a Board of Regents that's constantly plotting to fire him, or getting hired with no president and a working in an environment that appears dysfunctional and unstable?

Texas is considered the best job in the country with its resources, brand, recruiting base and cable network. But would you go there not knowing who your boss is? A veteran coach would have to be skeptical, at the very least.

The best list at Texas would include a veteran and successful head coach. Saban tops it, and from there it's some combination of UCLA's Jim Mora, Baylor's Art Briles, Penn State's Bill O'Brien, Vanderbilt's James Franklin, Louisville's Charlie Strong and Auburn's Gus Malzahn.

But it would be an awkward interview process explaining to candidates how the governor is trying to sabotage the president and the board may not have the best interest of the school at heart.

Brown's greatest skill, and perhaps one of the reasons he lasted to coach this season, was his mastery of people and politics. Brown was a fine football coach who should be remembered as one of the school's all-time greats. But his real genius has always been dealing with people, talking to people and communicating.

Brown forged great relationships calling everyone by name and remembering their wives' names. He spent time courting Board members and created a wall of protection around himself. But that wall appears to be crumbling right now.

On Tuesday night, Brown denied that he's stepping down to Horns247: "I haven't seen (the) article. I'm in Florida recruiting. If I had decided to step down, I sure wouldn't be killing myself down here. I have not decided to step down."

Brown had already flown south by the time the college football crowd reappeared at the Waldorf on Tuesday night for the Football Foundation Dinner. But the conversation had moved on to who's next. And, perhaps more importantly, who is willing to navigate the choppy political waters at Texas. Everything is bigger there, including the drama.

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