The Digital Journalist
Selected photos from Michael O'Brien's The Face of Texas.
© Michael O'Brien

Mack Brown - Mack Brown laid the groundwork for his career on a road trip with his grandfather. At the age of five, Brown rode a yellow school bus through the rolling countryside of middle Tennessee with his granddad, Eddie "Jelly" Watson, and the football team of Putnam County High. They were heading to an out-of-town game, where Watson, one of the most successful high school football coaches in the state, would try and rack up another win. The stage was set: though he didn't know it yet, young Brown was preparing for a life in football.

The head coach of the University of Texas went on to play high school baseball, basketball and football; but he turned down an offer by Paul "Bear" Bryant to play college ball at Alabama. He chose Vanderbilt instead, but transferred to Florida State, where he earned two letters. Afterwards, he pursued the coaching track with head coaching jobs at Appalachian State,Tulane and the University of North Carolina.

Brown came to the troubled Longhorns in December 1997. Texas was looking for the man who could bring home the national title, and the search committee was unanimous in its choice. Brown moved to Austin after a successful run at North Carolina and, with his gift for recruiting, set about rebuilding the UT program into a national power. In the first four seasons, the team boasted a 38-13 record; and Brown's Longhorn squads featured a Heisman Trophy winner, 14 All-Americans, 18 first-team All-Big 12 Selections, two Big 12 Offensive Players of the Year, a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and five Big 12 Freshmen of the Year honorees. Brown helped establish Texas as one of the nation's premier offensive teams and turn the once-struggling defense into a formidable force one that many consider the best in the country.

But Brown's passion for football and his mission to win the national title - doesn't affect his commitment to education and to developing his players as men of intellect and character.

"Our goal is to win championships with nice kids who are graduating," he has said. "We may be in the entertainment business on the weekends, but we are in the education business during the week."

Brown, a native of Cookeville, Tennessee, likes to say he's been "dipped and vaccinated" in all things Texan His spacious office overlooking the south end zone of the Darrell K. Royal-UT Memorial Stadium, is a shrine to Texas and the Longhorns. Besides steer-hide decor and assorted memorabilia, he keeps a Native American "dream catcher," a gift from Willie Nelson, to inspire him to dream of championships. The players' lounge is a young jock's dream: plush leather sofas; pool table, private phone booths, half a dozen custom-made saddles and two big-screen TVs with video game machines attached. And the locker room looks like something befitting the Cowboys. Every player's locker is outfitted with a personal action photo and the names of any all-conference Texas player who sported the same jersey number. Brown, whom his predecessor Darrell Royal has called "a marketer, a coach, a politician and a CEO" rolled into one, sees that the football complex, which he transformed, stays immaculate and bespeaks Texas pride. Even the elevators are fodder for the Longhorn image: visitors are serenaded with Texas Fight on the way up and Eyes of Texas on the way down.