Mack Brown is Phillip Fulmer 2.0
Mack Brown is Phillip Fulmer 2.0
Early in the 2013 college football season, Mack Brown became the topic of hot seat conversation as the Longhorns started the season 1-2, including an embarrassing loss to BYU. As this happened, I had flashbacks of Phillip Fulmer’s last year. People were starting to say that it was time for Fulmer to go while others said give him another year or two. Both administrations at Texas and Tennessee had to consider replacing long-time head coaches that had become legends in the college football world. When Fulmer resigned, Tennessee was left searching for a new head coach, eventually hiring Lane Kiffin. We all know how that turned out. Texas chose to put all their eggs in one basket and bank on being able to hire Nick Saban from Alabama. With that plan backfiring and Brown stepping down following their bowl loss to Oregon, Texas is now left scrambling to find a suitable replacement for their head coach of 16 years. As I looked at the coaching careers of Fulmer and Brown, it was startling to see how very similar these to coaches were at their respective programs.
This was Mack Brown’s last season at the helm in Texas, which brings up an eerie similarity between him and Fulmer. Both coaches made coordinator changes which would ultimately be their final seasons. Fans and media alike scratched their heads regarding the hires in Dave Clawson at Tennessee and Manny Diaz at Texas.
In January 2008, Tennessee announced that Dave Clawson had been hired as the new offensive coordinator to replace departing coach David Cutcliffe, who had accepted the head coaching job at Duke. Clawson’s previous stops included Albany, Buffalo, Lehigh, and Villanova. His first head coaching job was a Fordham where he went 29-29. He was then the head coach at Richmond, where he won Division I-AA Coach of the Year twice. Clawson is credited with re-energizing the Richmond program. After going 3–8 in 2004, the Spiders went 9–4 to win the Atlantic 10 Conference and made the playoffs the following year. In 2007, Richmond won their conference again, going 11–3 before eventually losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Appalachian State. Clawson had a unique style of offense, nicknamed by fans and media as the “Clawfense.” One aspect that stood out was that it featured lineman that rotated positions based on the play call. However, the offense did not click with the players on the Tennessee roster and it led to a 5-7 record. Fulmer resigned at the end of the year and Clawson moved on to be the head coach at Bowling Green. He is now the head coach at Wake Forest.
For the 2011 season, Texas brought on Manny Diaz to be their defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Previously he was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and before that, Middle Tennessee State. He had also been a position coach at North Carolina State. His MSU defense was 22nd in the country for the one season he was there. In his second year at Texas, he coached the worst defense in team history. In the 2013 season, his defense gave up 550 yards to BYU, the most in team history. Mack Brown called the performance “unacceptable” and fired him the next day. The Longhorns lost their next game to Ole Miss, making their record 1-2. At this point, many people said Mack Brown was on the hot seat. However, the Longhorns rebounded and finished the regular season at 8-4. News has been coming out in recent days that Brown would be stepping down despite him denying media reports.
It is easy to put the blame on the coordinators that led to the head coaches’ downfall. However, it is the head coach’s job to bring in the staff that he believes will give the team the best possible chances for success.
When comparing Fulmer and Brown, obviously you have to look at the on-field performances of their teams. It is a little bit eerie how similar these coaches are when it comes to the win-loss columns.
• In 17 seasons, Fulmer went 152-52 for a 74.5 win percentage.
• In 16 seasons, Brown went 158-48 for a win percentage of 76.6%.
• In conference play, Fulmer went 96-34 in the SEC (73.8%) while Brown went 98-33 in the Big 12 (74.8%).
• Fulmer had 15 winning seasons in his 17 years on Rocky Top. Brown also had 15 winning seasons in his 16 years at Texas.
As stated previously, Fulmer and Brown have almost identical records as head coaches. Granted, Fulmer’s only head coaching job was at Tennessee while Brown has been the head ball coach at Appalachian State, Tulane, and North Carolina. That said, Texas has been Brown’s longest held position and I did not bring his prior coaching stops into account.
One of the complaints against Fulmer was the he gave up on recruiting and that he didn’t develop that players that he did get on campus. The same has been said about Brown, that he brings in top classes, but doesn’t utilize the players he brings in. Using Rivals class rankings, more similarities between Fulmer and Brown come to light.
From 2002 to 2008, Tennessee’s average class ranking was 15th in the country. Three of those years featured top 5 classes (2002, 2005, 2007). In that same time period, Texas’ average class ranking was 11th in the country. Texas had 3 classes in the top 6 (2002, 2006, 2007). Texas’ recruiting classes continued to get better with 5 of 6 classes ranking in the top 5 in the country from 2009 to 2013.
Yes, these recruiting classes have had players that had great college and NFL careers. However, many of these classes featured players that did not pan out/live up to the hype or were not utilized properly. For both coaches, this lack of development of top talent created the belief that the “game had passed them by.” Fans and media alike have said that Fulmer and Brown were stuck in their ways and refused to change to the ever changing landscape of new offenses and defenses. From a recruiting standpoint, people also said that these coaches somewhat “gave up” on recruiting and expected top players to come to Tennessee and Texas based solely on their histories and that they were top programs.
We all know what happened to Fulmer leaving the Tennessee football program. Lane Kiffin came in for one season and then bounced to USC. He was replaced by Derek Dooley, who in his 3 seasons brought the program to an all-time low. However, with Dooley’s departure, the Tennessee administration brought in Butch Jones, who has energized the fan base and given it something promising to look forward to.
Will the final similarity between Mack and Phil be multiple coaching changes in Austin before finding the right guy to lead the Longhorns? Or will Texas be different and get their guy on the first try? Only time will tell.
Andrew Darago is a host/producer/writer for Tennessee Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewTSR