Not long after Mack Brown was hired at the University of Texas, he was saved from the first controversy of his young Longhorns career by the most unlikely allies.
In 1998, Brown and longtime Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum attended a public event in San Antonio along with former Texas A&M and Alabama coach Gene Stallings.
Both Slocum and Stallings were very familiar with the importance of hand signals in college football in Texas. Brown, a native of Tennessee who had just come from North Carolina, was given a quick lesson.
“I didn’t know much about the history of the two places, and a fan went over and stood between the three of us and said, ‘Let’s take a picture,'” Brown recently recalled on ESPN. “He held his thumb up and RC and Coach Stallings. So I held mine up. RC grabbed him, tossed it down and said, ‘Boy you get fired before you ever practice a game, if you throw you have to learn very quickly That you hook them up, you don’t gig ’em. “
For Brown, it was the beginning of a very warm relationship with a normally hostile neighbor. When North Carolina takes on Texas A&M on its first appearance at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Saturday (8:00 p.m., ESPN / ESPN app), Brown won’t see red when he looks across the field and sees maroon. In a sport where fans often wish their nemes the worst, Brown always killed her with kindness.
“I’ve never been the kind of guy who hated our rivals,” Brown said. “I’ve always liked our rivals. They’re two great programs in a state that cares about football, maybe more than any other state in the country. It’s because it’s like a religion there and both programs are so good . I would.” Never say bad things about Texas A&M “
Brown announced his arrival in the rivalry with a 26:24 surprise from the No. 6 Aggies in 1998. In the last 14 years of the series, before Texas A&M joined the SEC, Brown beat the Aggies 10 times, going 4-1 against Slocum, 3-2 against Dennis Franchione and 3-1 against Mike Sherman, including the final 27 : 25 victories in 2011.
“Mack viewed rivalries as pride,” said Ricky Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy in Brown’s first season in Austin after running 259 yards in that disgruntled A&M win. “The idea of beating the Aggies was to show that we are the best team in Texas. He saw these big games as a great opportunity for us.”
Brown never shot, fired insults, or developed gimmicks to relate to A&M. His magnetic charm, reshaping the recruiting landscape in Texas, also often made it sound like he was getting involved with the Aggies – except in a game, of course.
“We don’t need A&M to have a bad team,” said Austin American-Statesman’s Brown Kirk Bohls before his first matchup against the Aggies in 1998. “If we both get into this game 6-4, that would be the case.” don’t help any of us. “
Brown insists none of this is a donning, another shrewd coach recruiting spot. He and Slocum were good friends when he was the assistant to a good friend of Slocum’s, Donnie Duncan, in the state of Iowa, from 1979 to 1981. Brown’s longtime offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who worked for Brown in Tulane and Texas, got his first college job at Texas A&M at the urging of Slocum.
“I was with [Brown] 18 years and it was never about him against R.C. or he against whomever, “said Davis.” Obviously it was an important ball game. But it was never a personal deal with him. “
Brown even allowed Slocum to arrange a tour of the Texas facilities for A&M officials when Slocum felt the Aggies would fall behind in the arms race. There was always a mutual respect for each other and for the programs.
“It was a lot different from the Oklahoma rivalry,” Brown said last week. “The rivalry in Oklahoma was state against state. The A&M rivalry was family against family. They were all Texans, and even at the game you saw scattered fans of different colors and families sitting together. I sat and looked at Texas and Texas A & M. [on TV]. It showed everyone in the country high school soccer and the high school soccer coaches in the state of Texas. “
Named Texas A&M soccer, basketball and baseball games for 33 years, Dave South was honored with the National Football Foundation’s Chris Schenkel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Broadcasting in 2018. While in New York for induction, he met Brown, who was inducted into the NFF Hall of Fame that same year, and he was surprised by Brown’s reveal when he introduced himself.
“I know who you are,” Brown said to South. “When I was traveling, often when we didn’t have a game or we played in the afternoon and you played at night, I would listen to you.”
South said Brown had only kind words to his former enemy.
“When the game was over, it was game over,” said South. “He was very polite of A&M and the rivalry.”
But nothing showed Brown’s true respect for the Aggies as much as his last press conference after his resignation in Texas in December 2013, when Brown took time to recall the 1999 Aggie bonfire collapse that killed 12 students Life came.
After Brown’s first testimony, a reporter asked if he had changed anything about his 16 years in Austin. He first said he would give anything to have Cole Pittman back, referring to the UT defensive device that was killed in a car accident in 2001. Then came a remarkable moment for a Texas coach who was having one of the worst working days of his career.
“And I would want the campfire [collapse] not having happened at A&M, “he said.” These are two terrible things in my life that I will never forget. When I played A&M on Thanksgiving, I thought about families. … When you lose your children, there is nothing worse in the world. I think of every Thanksgiving Day because there are 12 families who don’t have a good Thanksgiving Day. That will never go away. “
At the Orange Bowl press conference, he vividly recalled the week of tragedy.
“I thought we probably shouldn’t be playing the game,” he said. “I told R.C., whatever you all want, we’ll do it. Not only did we play the game, but I think we were 16-0 up at halftime.” [and] They came back and ended up beating us 21-16. I’m not sure if winning this game wasn’t for her best. “
Davis recalls that Brown was deeply affected.
“He was rocked by the campfire,” said Davis. “In fact, we had blood donations at the football office in Austin and most of the coaches gave blood.”
For Brown, tragedy was a perspective of what a rivalry really meant.
“I thought R.C. handled this situation better than anyone,” he told ESPN last week. “We had the memorial with a lot of Texas A&M students and fans, a night that I will remember for the rest of my life. Even the game, our band playing ‘Amazing Grace’, and everyone in this whole Stadium mourn for these families … Then you know that it is much bigger than a football game. “
There is no doubt that Brown would like to beat A&M to put the finishing touches on a remarkable turnaround season in North Carolina that is 8-3 after playing 2-9 two years before Brown’s arrival.
Williams said Brown will sell this as another big move for North Carolina “because of the success that A&M has had from coming from the powerful SEC,” he said. “If it’s a prime-time ball game, he knows it’s a great opportunity for his program to take itself to the next level.”
“I’m sure he’s excited because he knows what the program is [A&M has] had historically and the job the jimbo [Fisher] does, “added Davis.” But it’s a fuss. It is in no way a revenge agreement or anything like that. I don’t think he’s going to do it any differently than if he played anyone on the old aggies or whatever. “
And no matter how many nice words Brown says about the Aggies, there’s no doubt that they want to beat him too. But the absence of rivalry may have made Brown’s glowing words shine even more. Good luck he says otherwise.
“Texas A&M is one of the best programs in the country and I always love playing it at College Station,” he said. “These fans are amazing. The place is as loud as anywhere I’ve ever trained against. The loyalty of these fans is just amazing to me.”