Mack Darrell and Hub

August 29, 2009

The last few years of my father’s life were spent drifting away from away us and himself in the fog of Alzheimer’s disease.  During those years it would make my day when the real Hub Frink briefly flashed before our eyes with a prescient observation, or a wry quip, often at my expense, delivered with his “leading man smile.”

One such moment was during the Rose Bowl national championship game that he watched with Helen, Molly, and me at our house.  For the first time in two or three years, he was awake for four plus hours during one of his visits.  At half-time, with Texas in the lead and clearly having out played USC, Dad said, “it’s our game to win.”  When Pete Carroll decided to go for it rather than punt on fourth and one with 2:38 remaining, he questioned, “Why is he doing this?”  As I drove like a crazed 18 year-old to the “Drag,” with Helen, Molly, and Bob, who had joined us to celebrate, wedged in the back seat, my father, sitting next to me in the front seat, pondered, “Do we think that Mack Brown has now surpassed Darrell Royal as the best coach Texas has ever had?” At the time, flushed with the pure joy and excitement of the Longhorns’ victory and first National Championship in 35 years, I thought about my father’s question for about two seconds and didn’t offer an opinion. In the 16 months between that incredible night and his death, my father asked me similar questions always phrased the same way as the Mack—Darrell question.  “Do we think Paul McCartney was a great talent?”  “Do we think Frank Sinatra was a great talent?”

Now, you may think the answers to those questions are ridiculously obvious but my father and I considered ourselves iconoclasts. Part of that was the probing and testing of conventional wisdom.  My father posed the questions about McCartney and Sinatra on separate occasions while driving in my car listening to those icons from our respective generations.

Iconoclastic as I would like to consider myself it didn’t take me long to answer, yes they’re great talents, and then go on to support my opinion with an emphatic, passionate, detailed analysis supporting my viewpoint.   As I delivered these strongly held opinions he would smile.  Since I was old enough to have strong opinions he greatly enjoyed seeing and hearing me express them whether or not he agreed.

Since I’m excited about the 2009 season now upon us, but not excited by preseason chatter and certainly not excited about the Longhorns’ first game, I thought it would be fun to ponder my father’s question and I hope you’ll play along.  I don’t think you can really compare players, coaches, or teams from different eras but sometimes it’s fun to try.

Has Mack Brown surpassed Darrell Royal as Texas’ greatest football coach?

Willie Earl’s Metrics

1. National Championships: Royal has two (63, 69) and in my mind one with an asterisk (70).  Brown has one (05). To be fair to Brown I think you have to discount Royal’s 1970 championship because it was awarded by the UPI which didn’t take into account bowl games. Texas lost the 1971 Cotton Bowl to Notre Dame and Nebraska was awarded the AP championship. I consider Nebraska the bona fide 1970 National Champion.

So by my methodology score criterion #1:  Royal 2, Brown 1.

But wait. Royal won his second national championship in his 13th year. The 2009 season will be Mack Brown’s 12th season.

 Willie Earl scores #1 a push.

Do you think Brown will have two by the end of his 13th year?

2. Conference Championships:  Royal has 11.  Mack has… ahem 1.  In Brown’s defense he’s faced much stiffer competition than Royal did. Just one example is that OU is now a conference foe. They weren’t during Royal’s era.   If Mack won the conference every year from 2009, until he had coached the Longhorns 20 years, as Royal did, he would have eight.

Royal wins.

3. Winning percentage as the Longhorn Head Coach: Royal (.762).  Brown (.805)

Brown wins.

4.  Final Ranking in the top five: Royal, 9. Brown 4.

 Royal wins.  My father told me that I wouldn’t break 80 in golf the first time until I had been in position to break 80 several times.  Royal was within striking distance of National Championships in 1961, 62, and 64.  Brown was within striking distance in 2001, 2004 and 2008.  Mack Brown is definitely headed towards winning another National Title.

5.  Bringing glory to U.T.:  This obviously is totally subjective.  Royal put Texas on the map in college football. Brown put U.T. back on the map.

Willie Earl scores #5 a push.

Final score, standings or whatever: Royal 2-1-2. Brown 1-2-2.

Darrell Royal commenting on the Longhorn quarterback controversy of 1974 between Marty Akins and Mike Presley said, “If I had to choose one of ‘em to go ‘fisin with I wouldn’t pick either one.” If I had to choose between Mack Brown and Darrell Royal for a beer drinking buddy I’d choose Royal.  That’s a very qualified preference since I don’t know either one of them personally. I’m basing my opinion on their public images and Royal’s understated persona is more appealing to me than Brown’s always sunny salesman’s persona.

I must add a very personal qualifier to this very personal measure.  When my father and I wrote a letter to Darrell Royal congratulating him on the 1972 season and the Longhorns’ victory over Alabama in the 1973 Cotton Bowl, Royal sent us a personally signed short but personal reply, which I keep in my top dresser drawer.  When my wife Helen wrote a letter to Mack Brown suggesting that I should be included as a speaker at career day for the football players, she received a long boiler plate response with Mack’s signature.

I think my father’s question is akin to asking who was the greater U.S. President, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  For my money they’re equal. Without George Washington there wouldn’t be the United States of America as we know it.  Without Darrell Royal there wouldn’t be a Texas Football they way we know it. Abraham Lincoln saved the Union.  Mack Brown saved Texas Football.

HooK eM

W. E.


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