Which Supervillian Won?
It’s probably never a good idea to take what you read on the internet as gospel but the reported recent happenings at the University of Texas, even if they’re not true, are more entertaining than any show Saturday Night Live ever recorded. It’s a story that has supervillians, and their fingerprints, all over the place. It’s the story of the Longhorns removing Mack Brown and their attempt to replace him with Nick Saban. And if you give any credibility–and we’re not saying we do–to the chat rooms and websites frequented by Texas fans, it went down roughly like this:
It’s an intricate story with all kinds of political layers, and to even have a chance at understanding this story, one must be aware of four basic concepts:
Concept One: Texas has more money than any university in the world. In addition, Texas is the only college to have its own TV network. With these vast resources the power brokers in the UT solar system expect nothing short of national championship contention in every sport.
Concept Two: In spite of this embarrassment of riches Texas has always been the most dysfunctional family in all of college sports. As the book “Bleeding Orange” crystallizes, Texas is more like Afghanistan than Xanadu: a bunch of powerful war lords fighting for control of the main territory, inhibiting the school from ever accomplishing what it should. In addition, the governor is now renowned Texas Aggie Rick Perry, who has caused all kinds of consternation by appointing several of his Aggie cronies as UT regents. Think of how it would be in Alabama if Charles Barkley became governor and put a few of his Auburn buddies on the University of Alabama board of regents? Or if Jay Barker was governor and started putting his Alabama friends on the Auburn board?
Concept Three: Nick Saban is a hired gun–and a damn effective one. His loyalty is to whomever is signing his paycheck. And like any other American capitalist–be it a doctor, salesman, accountant, architect, or distinguished college professor–he’s going to go wherever he can get the best deal.
Concept Four: The coach of Texas used to be a fellow named Mack Brown. The athletic director of Texas used to be a fellow named DeLoss Dodds. The president of Texas is a fellow named Bill Powers. Brown worked for Dodds who in turn worked for Powers but they hardly had a “employee-to-boss” relationship. They were more like college fraternity brothers who formed the ultimate “good ole boy network” and perfected the art of covering each other’s back door–and enough folks in the Texas hierarchy felt this trio needed to be blown up.
Assuming you’ve comprehended that, let’s continue our story. And we’ll now point out, Mack Brown is a national championship football coach, but coaching is not his forte. His strong suit is being a savvy and shrewd politician, and when he arrived in Austin he quickly figured out whose shoes he had to shine and which coffee shops he needed to hang out in, and did so with a religious fervor. Using an unassuming Colonel Potter-like persona, he ingratiated himself with that dozen or so ultra-rich, politically-elite compadres, which in turn protected Mack from the real world–at least that is the only way many can explain how he survived 65-13, 55-17, 63-21 blowouts to Bob Stoops. But the colorless mediocrity the football team displayed since playing Alabama for the national title had those UT Pharaohs on edge. Those boys wanted results!
But after posting a 9-9 conference record the past two years, Mack was able to convince them stupendous results were on the horizon. And his points seemed valid. Texas had virtually every starter back, not to mention a roster full of five-star recruits, and the Big 12 was down. So Mack had no problems convincing those UT Pharaohs the Horns were capable of winning every game on the schedule and playing for the national championship again. But then the rubber met the road. After blowout losses to BYU and Ole Miss those UT Pharaohs realized Mack was all hat and no cattle. He fired his defensive coordinator for window-dressing purposes but that hardly appeased those UT Pharaohs, who now wanted blood. Word on the street in Austin is a few of them, led by Dallas billionaire Bob Rowling, got in President Powers’ face and offered to cut a deal: if he would eliminate those clowns in his athletic department, they’d neutralize Governor Perry by utilizing their conservative Republican connections around the state.
It took a heap of talking but Powers was able to get his good-ole-boy buddy/athletic director DeLoss Dodds to resign without a confrontation. He then alerted Brown he was right on the lip of the volcano, about to be blown to Kingdom Come. He explained to Mack he had to win all his games and play in a BCS bowl to survive. Then, the clandestine search for a new coach began. The UT Pharaohs knew they had a larger pool of money than anyone playing intercollegiate athletics. So why not shoot for the best? And the unofficial/official courting of Nick Saban began. Enter Jimmy Sexton.
Nick Saban’s agent Jimmy Sexton is hardly one of those guys who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It’s unclear if Texas contacted him first or he reached out to Texas, but this much seems reasonable: Sexton had to know what a pile of gold he was sitting on. In one hand, he had a potential customer that was willing to pay mega millions for his client. In the other hand, he had a current client that was willing to pay mega millions to keep his client. He realized he was in a position to drive the price through the stratosphere. And he wasted no time. While Nick was back in Tuscaloosa saying stuff like, “I’m too old to start over someplace else” and Miss Terry was telling the Wall Street Journal, “We’re not going anywhere,” Sexton was diligently or diabolically–depending on the tenor of your ethics–behind the scenes trying to mastermind the deal of the century. The Associated Press reported that former UT regent Tom Hicks sent off an e-mail claiming Sexton told him Texas is the one place he’d leave Alabama for. The website Burnt Orange Nation was reporting Miss Terry was house shopping in Austin. How did they know of such stories? Could Sexton have planted them?
Dr. Robert Witt had to have been in his Tuscaloosa office reading these reports and trying to think rationally. If there was any college chancellor in the country who knew how to handle preposterous situations pertaining to athletics, it was Witt. After all, when he first started at Alabama he read some alarming reports that his football coach, Mike Price, was down on the Florida coast having one swinging time. The information included alcohol consumption, public intoxication, strippers and charging non-school activities to school credit cards. Even though he had only been on the job a few months, Witt astutely knew he had to fire Price and fire him immediately. Now, he was reading his current coach, Nick Saban, was flirting with Texas. Saban publicly denied it but if there was one person who knew to be a little leery about taking Saban at face value it was Witt. After all, he had to have recalled engineering an agreement in principle for Nick to come to Alabama, while Saban was unequivocally assuring the Miami media there is no way he’d leave the Dolphins for Tuscaloosa. Witt spent 35 years in the Texas system so he knew what a formidable opponent he was up against. He knew Texas had the money to buy anyone. And when the Prince of Saudi Arabia takes a shine to your wife it’s tough to compete with him. Did the same kind of Mike Price-tremors go through him? Did he shutter at the thought of being remembered as the chancellor who let Nick Saban get away? Did he shutter even more at the thought of a bidding war with Texas, which he had to have known could easily escalate to the 10 to 12 mil a year range? All he probably knew for sure was the landscape of college athletics had changed drastically since he was getting his PHD at Dartmouth with the idea of becoming an administrator. The days when Woody Hayes not only coached his college’s team for $35,000 a year, but also taught a few world history classes, were not only gone, they were long gone.
Meanwhile, back in Austin, Mack was so certain of his fate he actually planned to resign right after what was sure to be another blowout to Oklahoma. Sources on the staff said he just went through the motions that week. The week of the OU game, Texas employees normally just about arrive at their Memorial Stadium offices with warpaint on their faces. But Mack was acting as nonchalant as a fellow getting ready to compete in an insignificant softball game at a company picnic. His pregame speech–which has been known to be filled with fire and brimstone–simply amounted to instructions on which side of the stadium the team would sit and which end of the the field they’d warm up on. But then, a miracle of biblical proportions seemed to take place. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In spite of being as much as a 19-point underdog, Texas not only won, the Horns, as Kim Carnes might put it, rolled’em like dice. Blew’em right out of the Cotton Bowl. Now the removal of Mack Brown was now going to get complicated.
The OU win was the shot of methane Texas apparently needed. The Horns won four of their next five games and entered a grand finale against Baylor with everything on the line. A one-card cut, winner take all. If the Horns won, they’d be Big 12 champs and play in a BCS bowl. Brown’s friends noticed he was giddy as a kid on Christmas morning heading into this game. Probably because he knew he was 60 minutes from being untouchable by those UT Pharaohs; something that seemed impossible just two months before. Even when Texas lost, Brown felt good about his chances of surviving–although it might make some political skill, but if Mack had anything going for him it was that. Mack hit the road to recruit.
However, Mack seemed to underestimate the resolve of those UT Pharaohs. They had grown tired of the DeLoss & Mack Show over the years; one half of that act was gone and they wanted the other half put out to pasture as well. Both Texas and Alabama made their run at Saban with Sexton playing the role of high priest. As of Wednesday, Texas was not only it in, they had negotiated so strongly that Longhorn super booster Red McCombs figured it was a done deal, assuring everyone that all the money which wasn’t at the Vatican was at UT-Austin. But Witt wasn’t exactly just standing around shagging flies. He probably learned long ago you don’t low ball a thoroughbred. He immediately and wisely recommended Alabama offer Saban a new contract starting at 7.5 mil. His sources in Austin were telling him the Horns planned to start the bidding at 7 mil, so he figured he’d one-up them from the get-go. Sexton thanked Dr. Witt for his offer and told him he’d have a definitive answer by Friday.
Sexton starting working two fronts. Publicly he downplayed it, noting Saban did indeed have a contract upgrade on his desk but because of recruiting obligations he just had not had the time to look over the fine print and sign it. Then he started playing hardball with Texas. He got on the phone with those UT Pharaohs dictating terms but did not seem to have any deal-breakers on his agenda. However, he said the first thing Saban demanded was Texas make a nice, clean break with Brown, before Nick would talk further. Give the appearance it was all Mack’s idea. Like Gene Stallings after the ’96 Auburn game, make things seem as if the ole coach had just decided it was time to hang it up, camouflaging the fact he was actually being shown the door. Sexton was assured this would happen. He parted by telling Texas Friday was their deadline to get this done.
Now, things get so strangely convoluted no adjectives can possibly modify the nouns to come. We’ll start by explaining the UT regents were scheduled to meet that week and it was well known the first item on their agenda was to ouster Bill Powers. So…another deal seemed to be in the works. Those UT Pharaohs immediately told Powers they needed Brown’s resignation ASAP–let Powers be the hit man. For doing this dirty work, those UT Pharaohs would in turn stave off a belligerent board of regents and save Powers’ job. Powers pointed out because he and Mack both had previous engagements, they wouldn’t be able to talk till Friday. An afternoon meeting was scheduled at Mack’s home before the football banquet that night. While all this was going on, Saban got busy vetting members of Mack’s staff he wanted to keep around. A few Horn coaches who did not get contacted by Nick got quite upset so…one of them leaked it to the press. And things got real dicey on Tuesday when Orangebloods.com reported Mack was history and within microseconds everyone from ESPN to Fox Sports was running with the story. After three days of intense media speculation, Powers and new athletic director Steve Patterson finally met with Brown. Mack had to have known his chances of survival were on life support; but, could he do enough maneuvering and manipulating to prevent those who put him there from getting what they wanted? Powers gave him some help. Instead of demanding a resignation as he had been instructed, Powers soft soaped Brown, commended him for his accomplishments, then suggested a change and infusion of new blood might be best for all, but told Mack the decision would be Mack Brown’s. Mack said he needed more time to think about it, while Patterson’s jaw dropped and his eyeballs almost fell out of his head. His understanding was Mack had absolutely, positively no option but to resign to clear the way for further negotiations with Saban. And Powers had been given a stay of execution to make sure this happened. Patterson was on his cell with those UT Pharaohs the moment the meeting ended to inform them of the travesty he just witnessed.
While Mack seemed to have a pleasant evening at the banquet, those UT Pharaohs were belching fire. They immediately demanded Powers get Brown’s resignation ASAP or there would be hell on earth to pay. Powers promptly got it. But it was already too late. Within 45 minutes after Powers and Patterson had left Brown’s house, ESPN was reporting Saban had signed a contract extension from Alabama which included a statement from Nick insisting “he never considered Texas.” Apparently Nick and Jimmy were fed up with being teased for two months by the “richest university in the world” and told those UT Pharaohs they could stick their job were the ATM machines don’t shine.
The Longhorn plan to poach Nick Saban had been botched so badly you almost wonder if the Keystone Cops were overseeing the operation. And transcendent questions will always linger. Could Mack Brown have known about Saban’s Friday deadline, and intentionally stalled to sabotage Nick’s hiring? Even more diabolical, could Mack and Powers have entered a conspiracy to squelch Saban’s hiring to spite those UT Pharaohs who had already fired Dodds, were now firing Brown, and will almost surely be firing Powers in the near future? Some strong circumstantial evidence exists. Moreover, was Saban ever seriously considering Texas, or just using the Horns to leverage a better deal at Alabama? That, we’ll more than likely never know.
The big question now is where does Texas go from here? And is Auburn safe? Will the supervillian come sniffing around Jordan Hare Stadium looking to offer Gus Malzahn that contract he just couldn’t turn down? Sources in the agent fraternity say most definitely. After blundering the Saban hiring Texas will now shoot for a highly-successful college coach like Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Charlie Strong, David Shaw, or Malzahn. Would Gus (above photo, flashing Julie Newmar the “Hook’em Horns” sign) be interested in talking? Sources on the plains say no, but remember this is Texas and, as Nick was told, they have the money to buy whoever they want whenever they want.
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