For a couple of years now, I have been playing around with the idea of a sports credit rating system. It seems that certain players, managers and coaches have a knack for getting credit. And certain players, managers and coaches do not.
Quarterback John Elway, for instance, had a very high credit rating. I don't just say this as a bitter guy* who grew up in Cleveland and watched Elway break my heart time after time after time after time after time ... oh, sorry, where was I? No, it's more than that. I remember a playoff game against the Browns in 1988: Elway dropped back, ran into his own guy, stumbled, almost fell down, and in desperation flipped a very short pass that anyone with an actual arm could have thrown to receiver Mark Jackson. At that point Jackson proceeded to break about 248 tackles on his way to an 80-yard touchdown run.
This led the announcers to scream something like -- and I'm paraphrasing: "There's some more of that John Elway magic! He's the greatest! What a player! I'm going to name my kids after him! Why can't everyone in the world be more like John Elway?"
*In the interest of full disclosure, I did once write a country song about Elway's famous and multiple fourth-quarter comebacks called If He's So Great, Why's His Team Always Behind. So it is possible I'm not the world's most neutral source on the guy.
Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis has had as many books written about him (two, if you count his autobiography) as wins over Top 25 teams the last three years. That gives him a high credit rating. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is pretty famous for his high credit rating. He has won three Gold Gloves even though he goes left about as well as the National Review. The words "Past a diving Jeter," are a staple of every New York Yankees broadcast.*
*"Past a diving Jeter," jokes are pretty prominent on the Internet these days, and one frequent commenter on the outstanding "Baseball Think Factory" blog calls himself "Pasta-Diving Jeter," which is brilliant. I keep waiting to see Pasta Diving Jeter on a menu. I see it as a spaghetti dish, chicken, garlic, onions, maybe a red sauce. We should get Mario Batali or Emeril or Giada or someone working on this. And yes, I watch cooking shows. What of it?
The ability to effortlessly accumulate credit is a talent -- like charisma, charm and always being lucky. Some just have it. Some don't. Texas football coach Mack Brown does not. Brown must have the lowest sports credit rating in America these days.
I say this because, be honest now, if asked to name the best college football coach going, would you even think of Mack Brown? Probably not, right? You may think of Bob Stoops's football gruffness or Pete Carroll's laid-back Southern California ways or Nick Saban's executive experience or Jim Tressel's sweater vest or Les Miles's white hat or whatever.
But here's the thing: Mack Brown IS the best college football coach in America. I'm not offering this up as an opinion. I don't even see how anyone else has a case. I mean, let's break this down here. What do you want a college football coach to do? I can think of six main things:
Brown has won more games this decade than any coach in the country. He is the only coach in America to win at least nine games every season for the last dozen years.
2. Win the big games.
Brown was the winning coach in the 2006 Rose Bowl -- USC vs. Texas -- perhaps the greatest college football game ever played. His Longhorns have beaten Stoops and Oklahoma three of the last four years. In the Longhorns last 25 games against Top 25 opponents, they are 21-4.
3. Go to bowl games and win them.
Brown has taken his teams -- Texas and North Carolina -- to 16 consecutive bowl games, and Texas has won four straight bowl games.
4. Make game adjustments.
Texas has made 21 fourth-quarter comebacks under Brown -- the 21st came this year against Oklahoma.
5. Recruit talented players.
Nobody questions Brown's recruiting genius -- in fact, he derisively has been called "Mr. February" because some think he should win EVEN MORE with the amazing recruiting classes he signs.
6. Energize the fan base.
When Mack Brown took over at Texas, there were 39,743 season ticket holders. That was a record. Today, there are 83,000 season ticket holders. The school has added 20,000 seats to the stadium, and they are adding more. Celebrities are showing up more and more too. Just last week, Derek Jeter was on the sidelines of the Texas-Missouri game, perhaps in the hope that some of his credit rating would rub off on Mack Brown.
And so on. You can keep listing off achievements (last year Texas had two academic All-Americans), but the bottom line is this: Mack Brown is really good at his job. And yet, nobody seems to appreciate the guy. Just last week -- LAST WEEK -- there was a column in the local paper, the Austin American-Statesman, with the headline: "Mack takes place with coaching elite." The column was positive and good, but you have to wonder why a guy who has won more games than anyone else the last 11 years would only now be getting that column in the local paper. It would be like going into St. Louis, picking up the paper, and reading a headline: "Pujols takes place among hitting elite."
There are reasons, of course, that people overlook Mack Brown. Some of his early Texas teams did underachieve. For a while, Oklahoma pounded Texas every year. It took Brown a long time to break through and win a Big 12 title. Also Brown doesn't necessarily fit the coaching image. You want a football coach whose voice registers an 8.2 on the Richter Scale. Brown's voice still squeaks sometimes, and it still drips with a twang that comes straight out of Cookeville, Tenn.
More than that, though, Brown seems to be a prisoner of an overblown history. Many people seem to believe that Brown is just a caretaker, that anyone ANYONE should win at Texas, you know, with all that in-state high school talent, with all that money, with the great facilities and 100,000 fans. Truth is, though, Texas wasn't particularly good when Brown took over. Here was a shocker to me: When the Longhorns beat Oklahoma and moved up to the No. 1 ranking, it was the first time since 1984 that they had been ranked No. 1 during the season.
But it wasn't just about No. 1 rankings. In the 12 years before Brown took over, Texas had six break-even or losing records. That doesn't fit the image, does it? The Longhorns had not finished in the top 10 in 15 years. The year before Brown took over, Texas dropped five of its last six and also lost to UCLA 66-3, leading to clever headlines blaring "Rout 66."
Texas had a great history, but it was just that: History. Ancient history. And this is probably Mack Brown's greatest achievement. He has made Texas so good that people forget the Longhorns were, more or less, a non-factor for a very long time.
This Longhorns team might be so good that people will have no choice but to acknowledge the Mack. The Longhorns have a quarterback, Colt McCoy, who is completing more than 80 percent of his passes. The offense averages 48 points a game. The defense gives up fewer than two yards per rush and relentlessly hounds quarterbacks.
And the Longhorns are in the middle of a four-game test. They came from behind to beat No. 1 Oklahoma. Last week, when some expected a letdown, they led Missouri 35-0 at halftime -- Brown called it greatest first half of football he'd ever been around. On Saturday, they play sixth-ranked Oklahoma State. Next week, they play eighth-ranked Texas Tech in Lubbock.
If they can get through all that without losing, then maybe everyone will appreciate that Mack Brown is the best in the land.