A strange phenomenon has popped up around the Dallas area lately, and I’m not talking about an eminent Ebola outbreak. SMU football, usually buried behind the Cowboys, the Rangers, the Mavericks, and the Big 12, has become a hot topic of conversation. The Mustangs’ 0-4 start and June Jones’ resignation have gotten the program more press than it enjoyed at any time over the previous three seasons.
The discussion sparked anew this week after Bruce Feldman reported “well-connected SMU brass are intrigued by Brown and think he might be tempted by the chance to coach again.” Brown has said that he has not been contacted by any program and that he will not discuss any potential coaching possibilities, should they be presented, until December. Sources we’ve spoken with don’t believe Rick Hart would be interested in Brown, and we continue to believe this job will be filled before December.
But nevertheless, the talk has started. The appeal is obvious. A household name in the area and a future College Football Hall of Famer, at SMU? What’s not to like?
Let’s start with the Mack Brown that exists in 2014, not the one that existed in 2005. Brown, famously, went 30-21 (18-17 against the Big 12) in his final four seasons in Austin. You’re also probably aware that Texas did not have a player selected in the May’s NFL Draft for the first time in seven decades, but Texas’ stagnation under Brown goes beyond that. The last Longhorn offensive player to be drafted? Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, signed in 2009. Before that? Colt McCoy, signed in 2005. The last Longhorn offensive lineman chosen in the NFL Draft? Tony Hills, recruited as a tight end in 2003. Texas signed 45 offensive recruits between 2006 and 2009, the height of Brown’s burnt orange recruiting empire. Three matriculated from Austin to the NFL. (Now consider SMU has been outscored 202-12 and has yet to attempt an extra point this season.)
This is the Mack Brown SMU would be hiring. The 63-year-old, with his national championship legacy and a $20 million payday secure, not the 50-year-old hungry to stake his claim as the game’s best.
This isn’t to say Brown couldn’t be successful at SMU, because he absolutely could. He has the connections and the panache to turn the program around in a hurry. I have no doubt Brown could take SMU to the same heights Jones reached, seven-to-nine wins and in the area of a conference championship. His hiring could also unite a fractured program, the same he did upon arrival in Austin 16 years ago. Interim head coach Tom Mason wondered this week why high-profile alums like Eric Dickerson voice their displeasure regarding the current state of the program to the media, rather than with the media. It’s a valid concern. (The answer, at least in Dickerson’s case, is because there aren’t microphones in the football facility.) Hiring Brown changes that.
But Brown’s hiring would be a glass of Red Bull to a program running on 72 hours without sleep – a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. By the turn of the decade, SMU would be in roughly the same predicament it sits in today, looking for a new coach and a new direction.
That’s the opportunity cost of hiring Brown. Hart should view himself as a California land owner circa 1849, and treat his coaching search as such. The program is located in the nexus of the spread offense universe. No one understands that style of offense better than the players and coaches living within a 200-mile radius of SMU’s University Park campus.
Why not push in the direction that the game, and the talent surrounding you, is already going? They just saw a 60-something coach that hasn’t had a fresh approach to offensive football in a decade walk out the door, why hire another?
Maybe the next coach is gone in four years if he’s successful, but Hart has the chance now to establish an identity that goes beyond the current coach. Hiring Brown would mold SMU football in only one identity – Mack Brown’s.