Mack Brown's job isn't in jeopardy. Not yet, anyway.
Mack Brown's 2012 football team hasn't come close to the expectations following a promising rebuild in 2011.
You can diagnose the Texas Longhorns' 6-2 record any way you'd like. While the Longhorns are indeed four points away from being 7-1 right now, they're also two miracle fourth-down conversions on the road and a lucky bounce on a Joe Bergeron fumble against Baylor away from being 3-5.
Had Case McCoy not found a way to manipulate the Kansas defense in the final two minutes of last weekend's near dumpster fire in Lawrence, the conversations this week would have been about not if, but when Mack would be out of office.
“We look at every win the same way. That's your objective is to win,” Mack said. “Very few teams can play poorly and still win. I think it's a great step to go forward.”
Going forward to what, nobody knows for sure. What is for sure is that the direction the Longhorns take the rest of the season, and into what's looking like a make or break year for the regime in 2013, can only be determined by one person.
Mack Brown. It's all on him at this point.
Mack made drastic staff changes after the 5-7 season two years ago. Everyone's favorite scapegoat, Greg Davis, is now calling bubble screens to his heart's content at Iowa. Everything that was supposedly wrong with the program that's contributed to the Longhorns' drift toward college football irrelevancy has supposedly been long gone.
Colt McCoy isn't walking through the door for any more fourth-quarter heroics. Vince Young is out of eligibility. There aren't any leaders around who can rule with an iron fist like Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller, and outside of Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor this is a team that's lacking leadership.
“We actually said earlier in the year that leadership doesn't have an age,” Mack said. “You can lead even though you're a younger guy.”
A lot of the younger players who could lead don't have enough skins on the wall to be in those positions. Mack has plenty of skins on the wall, and in an hour in which the future of the program he built back into a national power is cloudy, it's on him and him alone to see that it gets turned around.
He said he's having fun and he's got plenty of energy to finish what he's started. The question isn't if he's willing, but rather if he’s able to see his plan through to the end.
The questions start to arise and statements start to be made when the numbers show a 19-14 overall record, a 9-13 Big 12 record, and a 9-7 home mark since the team fought valiantly in the 2010 BCS title game loss to Alabama.
Even at 6-2 and bound for a bowl, the team hasn't shown the signs that many wanted to see to suggest things are on track. That said, Mack still believes the program will be on the up-and-up in no time.
“I really think this team is going to be good at some point here,” Mack said. “I've been frustrated at times, like all of us have, with our defense. I've been excited most of the year with our offense. Our kicking game is one of the better ones we've had in a while.”
While 2010 was a season of disbelief and 2011 was considered the true rebuilding year, 2012 feels like a year in which the Longhorn football program continues to float along aimlessly in a pool of mediocrity rather than swimming back to the head of the pack with college football's elite.
“Look around,” said Mack about what he told the team after the Kansas game. “There's a lot of two-loss teams that are not happy.”
That's all true, but when did come-from-behind wins over Kansas and finding silver linings in a year that includes a second straight bludgeoning at the hands of Oklahoma become the standard at Texas?
At 6-2, Mack made it a point to say that the Longhorns are in the exact same position they were in last season. Things could be worse right now, but the fact things don't seem better than last season puts into question a lot of things about where the program is headed.
Everyone was expecting this team to be good this year. There are still five games left before the book will be written, but Saturday's game against Texas Tech will go a long way towards telling the story.
“I know we're going to be good,” Mack said. “I just hope it's this weekend.”
If the Longhorns pull out a win and can manage to win their three other remaining games, Mack will have earned every penny of the $5.3 million he's expected to earn this year. He thinks it can happen, but even he admits a lot of things have to go right for that to happen.
“Stop the run, stop fourth down, stop big plays, get back on track offensively,” Mack said.
That doesn't suggest the Longhorns will win out, but as inconsistent as this team has been it shouldn't be a surprise if they won any or even all of the remaining games on the slate. The inconsistency is what's been the most frustrating thing about this team this year, which is why it also wouldn't be a surprise if the Longhorns lost their last four contests.
Behind the scenes there doesn't seem to be any scenario – barring his own retirement – where Mack Brown isn't the head coach at Texas in 2013. Whether the Longhorns are 10-2, 8-4 or even 6-6 at the end of the regular season, Mack continues to have the full support of DeLoss Dodds and Bill Powers and that's not expected to change based on what sources close to the program have said.
While he's almost a lock to get another year, college football is no longer a game where coaches can stay around a place no matter how much goodwill and success they've built up if mediocrity is the only thing consistently produced.
To avoid another stale finish to a season, and have 2013 not be a season where his seat would be hotter than ever, Mack has to put his nose to the grindstone perhaps harder than he ever has during his career.
“I think it is what it is,” Mack said. “I'm neither positive or negative. I get ready for Tech. That's what you do.”
It's the only thing he can do. Whether the plan and the current track of the program leads back to top-five finishes and BCS berths, or regular trips to San Diego in December, it's all on Mack.