December 12, 2010
Officially, Will Muschamp explained his abrupt departure from Texas for his first head coaching job as "a dream come true," and who could argue with that? He grew up in Gainesville, played in the SEC, spent the first decade of his relatively short career in the Southeast as an assistant and still has family in Florida, as does his wife. He "wouldn't have left for any other job," and for resources, prestige and recruiting mojo, there's probably not another one that would have justified giving up his golden ticket to Mack Brown's chair in Austin.
Forgive Longhorns fans, though, if Coach Boom's exit seems more like the first man to emerge from a burning building. Or at least, the first to emerge who wasn't thrown out for allegedly setting the fire. It's a testament to Muschamp's success in Austin – his units finished atop the Big 12 in total defense all three seasons, even amid this fall's broader collapse – that the postseason purges that threatened to shake up Brown's entire staff never jeopardized Muschamp's status as heir apparent. His efforts were offset and then some by one of the least potent, most turnover-prone offenses in the Big 12, one that contributed at least two giveaways to double-digit turnover margins in five of the 'Horns' seven losses.
Longhorn fans might feel somewhat betrayed, if their season of pain hadn't left them numb to one final disaster for the road. But they're not too shellshocked to recognize the entire regime – the solidly built, well-oiled behemoth that could win 10 games a year on cruise control – may be breaking down before their eyes, less than a year removed from capping a 26-2 run over two years with a Big 12 championship and a shot at a national championship.
By the start of the new year, it may not even be recognizable as the same machine. The only other popular assistant under Brown, assistant head coach/running backs coach Major Applewhite, is the odds-on favorite this morning to follow Muschamp to Florida as his offensive coordinator. If/when he does, on the heels of the other major purges on the offensive staff, there will be virtually no remaining trace of the celebrated team that took the field in Pasadena in January. The line of succession from Colt McCoy was already broken this season by his heir apparent, Garrett Gilbert, who finished as arguably the worst starting quarterback in the Big 12. With both coordinators, a handful of key assistants and a half-dozen remaining starters from the 2008-09 juggernaut on their way out, the turnover will be complete.
The only remaining piece in 2011: Mack Brown himself, the embodiment of the "CEO head coach" who does the heavy lifting to get a program off the ground, hands the day-to-day minutiae off to assistants he trusts and oversees the operation at a certain remove from the bowels that make it work. By his own admission, Brown had already begun to lose some of that trust this season, and clearly recognized a housecleaning was in order. He did not expect the remodeling to bring the walls down.
At the start of 2010, no coach in America stood on a more stable foundation. At the start of 2011, he's rebuilding again from Square One. After one of the great decades in the sport's history, Brown's legacy at Texas is intact. Now, at age 60, we'll find out if he still has the heart for another rebuilding job.