Bill Little commentary: The crystal spring of Mack Brown
His friends, the racing fans, had told him that the only way he could screw up the honor of starting the Samsung/RadioShack 500 NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway was to drop the green flag. Literally.
But as Mack Brown stood in front of 43 of the nation's top drivers and 200,000 folks at TMS on a perfect Sunday afternoon, it was good to learn that the guy on the headset next to him was there to help.
As the cars began their two preparatory laps on the one and a half mile track, Brown was to extend his right out over the track with his index finger pointed as "1." On the second lap, he was to give two fingers. Each time, the drivers would answer with the same sign language.
In his left hand, he held the green flag, which he would wave on the third pass to start the race. Just before the first warm-up lap started, the monitor with Brown noticed that the green flag was up to about Brown's shoulder.
"You might want to get that down," he said. "Because if they see green, they're going, and you're going to start this race early."
Good to know a coach can take coaching. Brown ducked the flag down, and as the cars rounded the final turn, out came the green flag for real, and with a deafening sound and an accompanying wind from the movement of the cars, the 10th anniversary running of the feature race at TMS was underway.
Earlier in the day, Brown had met with the car owners and drivers as the guest of RadioShack, and he had been introduced to the huge crowd to a rousing ovation. There were some scattered dissentions from some vocal UT opponents, but a few out of 200,000 wasn't bad at all.
The trip to the Speedway was just the latest in a whirlwind of activities that have kept the coach of the National Champions busy this spring.
"Coach Royal and other coaches whose teams won the National Championship were really good about giving me advice on how to handle the time after a winning," Brown said. "The first thing was, `Go back to work.'"
Brown and his staff did that, starting Spring Practice less than two months after winning the title on January 4 in the Rose Bowl over Southern California. Recruiting was also foremost. The staff completed a tremendously successful 2006 recruiting signing in early February, and then immediately went back to work on the juniors whom they had already been following under NCAA rules.
By the time Brown waved the green flag to start the race, Texas had already secured the commitments of 18 juniors for the 2007 recruiting class.
"We started with the premise that we would limit our appearances to three things: first, we would do it if it provided a very visible platform on which to represent our team and The University; second, if it was something that would help high school coaches; and finally, if it was something that looked like it would fit and just be fun."
Monday a week ago, Brown and Darrell Royal were guests of Texas Rangers' owner Tom Hicks, and Brown threw out the first pitch for the opening of the Major League season in Arlington. Again, he got lots of advice.
"Everybody said, `Whatever you do, don't bounce it.' I turned to coach Royal and asked him if he wanted to throw it. I told him it had been 35 years since I'd thrown a baseball. He looked at me and said, `It's all you. You can double that for how long it's been for me.'"
The toss was successful. Counting the more than 50,000 who were at The Ballpark and the 200,000 plus at TMS, Brown accomplished his mission. He put The University of Texas in front of 250,000 people and two national television audiences in a week's time.
He has also spoken to a group of teachers on the UT campus on the value of teaching, is doing a speaking engagement in Hickory, N.C., as a guest of Hickory native and Longhorn basketball coach Rick Barnes. In May, he'll speak to a special luncheon at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., and he'll deliver two commencement addresses--first to his old high school in Cookeville, Tenn., and then to the College of Liberal Arts at UT.
His football clinic for high school coaches drew more than 1,000 in its largest attendance ever, and the Longhorn Football Lettermen's Reunion was the biggest ever, with more than 400 lettermen and spouses attending.
The Spring Jamboree showcased the Longhorns of 2006, and a crowd of more than 40,000 watched the conclusion of a very successful spring practice.
Now, the players are in their monitored off-season program, and Brown is still on the move.
Sunday in Fort Worth, he proved that a good football coach can be a master of multi-tasking. In between visiting with participants and sponsors, he also found time to check out the progress of The Master's golf tournament, because that event involved one of the people who will fit into the "fun" side of his spring equation.
At the 2003 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, at a dinner for the Longhorn coaches and staff, the hosts also invited a couple of La Jolla residents, golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife. Brown and Mickelson had gotten to know each other at the Byron Nelson Pro-Am in Dallas. In the course of the evening, the conversation drifted to the fact that Brown and Mickelson, two of the best in their respective fields, had never won at the highest level.
Missing from Mickelson's extensive resume was a championship in a "major" golf tournament, and Brown's quest for a National Championship had eluded him.
"They started talking about it, and they were really doing some soul searching with each other," said one of the hosts. "Each was going over the reasons why they felt they personally hadn't gotten it done. It was really interesting listening to them as they went through the things they thought they could change that might make a difference."
And then, it was Mickelson who made a proposal
"I tell you what," he said. "Let's get it done, and then we'll plan a trip to celebrate."
He even set the place, and when Mickelson won the 2004 Masters in Augusta, he sent Mack a tourney flag with a note: "You know our deal. See you there."
From there, the two formed a bond. Brown followed Mickelson on television, and Mickelson attended that Holiday Bowl and both Rose Bowls.
Soon after the Longhorns won the National Championship in Pasadena, Brown received a call from Mickelson, arranging tentative dates that would work for both. So when Mickelson won the Masters Sunday, Brown called and left him a congratulatory message.
Later this spring, the Browns and the Mickelsons will meet at an island resort.
And in a spring of football coaching, and serving as a goodwill ambassador for his team and his school, that will be a trip just for fun.