AUSTIN, Texas – This just confuses things even more. Texas coach Mack Brown thinks he is digging his way out, while Longhorns power brokers are trying to figure out how to gently get rid of him. The story was mysteriously leaked during the week that Texas officials had talked with Nick Saban's agent in January about whether Saban might be interested in taking over the program. Did Brown think that was an accident?
Stories crept out, too, that athletic director DeLoss Dodds, Brown's biggest, and maybe only, backer, might be leaving at the end of the year.
This is a power struggle, and Brown just doesn't have the power. They were messages to him, trying to get him to leave. Brown isn't getting the hint, not even when fans showed up at the game Saturday in T-shirts that said Saban 2014.
Brown was supposed to suffer the final indignity, supposed to lose to Kansas State, the total opposite of super-rich Texas, for the sixth straight time. That was the point of Saturday.
Then, he messed everything up. Texas beat K-State 31-21. It wasn't a beautiful game. It wasn't a defining moment. But it did end with Brown hugging the university president in the endzone, and then hugging players and coaches one at a time afterward outside the locker room. It ended with players going crazy and cheering at the site of Brown, usually too mellow, screaming at officials after a terrible call late in the game.
Brown is here for the fight. And before the game, he talked to players about his situation this way: "Handle it any way you want to, but beat Kansas State. The rest of it doesn't matter.''
I love that. You know when it's late at night, and you tell the last guest at your party that you have to get up early, and you start yawning and looking at your watch? Brown just nodded, made himself a bowl of popcorn and plopped down in front of the TV.
Did he feel a sense of relief when the game finally ended, and he had won? "I'm not there yet. Not there yet ...
"We told them in the dressing room, this is a start. This isn't the end.''
That's Brown's theme now: This isn't the end.
So this is a personal story. But what about the program? The power boys at Texas are even more powerful than most around the country. The story, broken by the Associated Press, was that a Texas regent and Tom Hicks, the former owner of the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars, had met with Saban's agent. Then, Hicks met with Brown to ask if he was ready to go.
Brown said he wasn't, and the whole thing was dropped. Saban said this week that he's "too damn old'' to start over someplace else.
But if you think Brown has lost it, and set the program back a few years, then you might not be real happy with people showing him so much loyalty as to let him decide. Maybe that will set things back three or four more years.
To me, Brown can still fix this thing, but it will take time. And I don't think he's going to get it. Brown, who's 62, was never a great strategist, but was great at getting top players into the program, and at getting people on his side with class. That's how he rebuilt this program into national champs in the first place. But while people say the game has passed him by, I don't think so.
I think he let the recruiting game pass him by, the dirty-fingernails part of the job. He started relying too much on other people's ratings, or something. Whatever it was, he blew it for a couple of years, and now he's paying for that. But he's also catching on, with the help of hiring Alabama's player personnel guy.
Well, this still has the potential to be a rough season. As I walked toward the stadium Saturday, some guy walked up and just started talking about his wish that the team have a winning season. Just that. On the elevator inside, some guy said, "How come everyone's not fired up as usual?'' Someone else noted that "fired'' was the key word.
That was the mood coming in. Going out, it was that players had finally found something to believe in.
"We put it in our minds to hit them in the mouth and prove a point,'' running back Johnathan Gray said. "That's what we did.''
Two weeks into the season, Brown fired his defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz after the 40-21 loss to Brigham Young. It looked desperate. It looked like scapegoating.
Frankly, it probably was both of those things. But Brown gave the job to Greg Robinson, and after a lousy first week under him, the Longhorns' defense was far tougher and more aggressive Saturday. The players now can believe in him.
Brown said that Robinson has only managed to put in part of his defense. "I don't call them by their numbers anymore,'' Robinson said. "Starting to call them by their names.'
You should have seen the Longhorns sideline at the end of the game. Texas started losing a little confidence late, and just couldn't quite finish off K-State. When it finally happened, the players celebrated as if they had won a title. This is a program hanging onto a ledge by its fingertips.
Meanwhile, Brown has now found his running back in Gray, who had 141 yards and two touchdowns. He did lose quarterback David Ash again, though, possibly to another concussion. After missing last week's game because of a concussion, doctors cleared him to play this week. Then, at halftime Saturday, doctors pulled Ash out again.
Brown is not on solid ground yet. Texas is 2-2, and K-State, defending Big 12 champs, isn't much this year. But Brown has two weeks to get ready for Iowa State, and then has another week and half before the big one: Oklahoma.
If Texas finds a way to win both of those, then will Brown be in position to save his job? Honestly, I doubt it. But pass the salt for Brown's popcorn, please. He isn't going to make this easy.