AUSTIN, Texas -- The way Mack Brown tells the story, the decision was made around 3 or 4 p.m. on Saturday. That’s when he knew he was resigning. Now he had to tell his team.
Texas held a one-hour practice that Saturday, a brief workout to begin prep for the Valero Alamo Bowl. The recruits visiting for banquet weekend attended. It was a typical practice. Business as usual.
When it ended, Brown assembled the team inside the indoor practice field and made a speech as he always does. But it wasn’t the typical motivational message his Texas’ coaches, players and recruits had come to expect.
He told them he was resigning, that he would no longer be the head coach of the Longhorns.
“I’ll just remember him saying, ‘I’m going to go ahead and resign so that y’all have the best chance,’” guard Trey Hopkins said. “He said it’s not what he came here for, it’s not what you came here for.”
He acknowledged the high standards at Texas and that he hadn’t met them this season. He admitted it was time to walk away.
“He expects more from Texas,” Hopkins said. “He knows our fans expect more, we expect more, the recruits coming in expect more from Texas. He’s stepping down just to give Texas that chance, just to see us return to that standard.”
His words were met with dead silence.
“It was tough,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “People were sad.”
Added kicker Anthony Fera: “I’m pretty sure everyone was kind of shocked.”
They’d heard the rumors and speculation for months. They were all in the Frank Erwin Center for Brown’s banquet speech and knew he made no mention of his future.
Brown had been fighting off talk of his demise all season long. Now the fight was over. Still, his players say they were blindsided by the news.
More silence. They were caught off-guard. What he was saying was hard to process, hard to get over.
And then defensive end Cedric Reed broke the silence.
“I love you, Coach Brown.”
His teammates echoed that message. The emotion spilled over.
“He beat us to it,” Jeffcoat said. “We all just told him we love him and gave him a hug. We’re going to miss him here.”
On Thursday, Reed said the words came from his heart. He thought back to Brown’s influence on his life, starting with meeting his family in their living room in Cleveland, Texas, and all he’s done for the junior in the years since.
“It was just one of those moments where I just felt something and it just came out,” Reed said.
Reed and his teammates hugged their coach. They asked him to break down the huddle -- “which I don't usually do,” Brown said -- and then they tried to move on. They walked off the practice field, still wrestling with what Brown’s resignation meant.
By the time players got off the bus at the UT football facility, Longhorn Network had already broken the news to everyone else.
Looking back on that moment five days later, Hopkins said it was actually a fitting way for Brown to go out. The foundation of his Texas tenure was always a family atmosphere. He wanted his players to know before anyone else.
“It’s kind of a credit to his honesty,” Hopkins said. “He did that because he believes he’s giving us our best chance to go forth and win. He’s doing what he thinks is best for the program. It’s a testament to him and how much he thinks of this program, how highly he thinks of us.”
Brown will lead them onto the field one more time, in the Alamodome on Dec. 30. The players set to return in 2014 can’t imagine how they’ll feel in August, or even March, when a new head coach and his new staff leads them back into the indoor practice field.
Eventually, a new era will begin. Right now, all Brown’s players want is to send him off the right way.
“He’s a big part of the reason why a lot of us came here,” center Dominic Espinosa said. “I know I did for that guy. It’s tough seeing someone go out like that."