For the first time since 1937, no University of Texas player was taken in the NFL draft -- a 77- year streak that had been the longest of any program in the country. It is a development that will lead his detractors to argue that Mack Brown was more salesman than teacher. But to revere him as a recruiter and criticize him as a coach is to miss the point of Brown's true legacy.
Brown, who retired after the 2013 season, was the ultimate people person, quick to smile, happy to deflect praise away from himself and on to others, and always looking for ways to build goodwill and relationships. The moniker "Coach February" (the month recruits sign letters of intent) was a nod to his powers of persuasion as well as a direct attack on his inability to develop talent.
When I take you behind the curtain, you'll see that recruiting wasn't even his greatest skill.
It was his knack for putting others in a position to succeed.
Brown will always be remembered for leading Texas to its first national championship in 35 years when Vince Young quarterbacked the undefeated 2005 Longhorns to a Rose Bowl victory over USC. Before taking the reins in Austin, Brown led North Carolina to its only two New Year's Day bowl games in more than 50 years. Before that, he earned a reputation as an innovate offensive mind under Jerry Stovall at LSU in 1982 and Barry Switzer at Oklahoma in 1984.
College football coaches move players to different positions on a regular basis. The greatest coaches, though, have the foresight to recognize skills that others coaches, and we ourselves, miss. Most defensive backs were standout running backs in high school, just as 180-pound scholastic linebackers usually end up at strong safety. Brown not only made the obvious switches, but he also had an uncanny gift of awareness -- combined with the compassion to deliver his insight -- that changed the lives and fortunes of countless players.
My brother, Andy Dinkin, received a scholarship in 1987 to play defensive tackle for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Andy redshirted, and after a disappointing 5-6 season, Dick Crum was replaced by the 36-year-old Mack Brown, who coached him for the next four years.
Brown arrived on the Chapel Hill campus in the spring of 1988, and after evaluating his personnel, he saw exactly what his team was. In a word, slow. He knew that it was easier to put weight on a kid than make him faster. But rather than haphazardly change players' positions, he buried himself in the film room to study each of their strengths and weaknesses. Defensive linemen get the sacks and glory, so when Andy got wind that he might get moved to offense, he braced himself for bad news.
Fearing the worst, my brother was called into his new coach's office. Brown put on some practice film and told Andy that he loved his work ethic, strength and technique. Then he pulled out his two big guns, each loaded with because -- one of the most powerful words in the English language, and said, “Because you are most effective moving straight ahead rather than laterally, you will be more successful on offense. Because you can compete for a starting job, we are switching you to offensive guard.”
In my new book, The Leading Man, I identify four traits of today’s alpha male: Certainty, clarity, compassion and courage. When a man exhibits those traits, it puts others at ease and transforms their attitude. While most coaches possess certainty and clarity, Brown's ability to show compassion -- and walk in his players' shoes to understand their concerns -- is what made him both successful and beloved. Sure enough, Andy walked out of the room more motivated than ever and ended up starting three years at offensive guard.
Of the other five starting UNC offensive linemen in 1991, only one (tackle Andrew Oberg, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers) played his original position. And only one, 6-1 Andy, did not get a look at the next level.
Brown transformed Brian Bollinger from a lumbering tight end to a lightning-quick guard, and the San Francisco 49ers chose him in the third round. Former quarterback Deems May moved to tight end and played eight years in the NFL. Defensive lineman Randall Parsons and Ricky Shaw switched to center and tackle, respectively, and both signed NFL free agent contracts.
The changes went beyond the offensive line. Brown took one look at junior running back Torin Dorn and knew exactly who he was (and perhaps more important, how he would be viewed by NFL scouts). Dorn was fast and agile, but too small and injury prone to make it as a running back at the next level. Thus, Brown made the bold move of moving him to cornerback for his senior year, and Dorn ended up playing seven years in the NFL after being drafted in the fourth round.
He switched Reggie Clark from running back to wide receiver and then again to strong safety. Had he stayed at safety, his career likely would have ended at the college level, but again, Brown saw what others couldn't and moved Clark to outside linebacker for his senior season. Three NFL seasons later, this paid off in dollars for Reggie Clark.
Watch a brilliant theatrical performance and we're quick to praise the actor. What we don't see is the casting agent, who chose the right actor and put him a position to succeed. Wouldn’t it be great to have Mack Brown watch life-film of you and clue you in on your weaknesses? You say "like" all the time. You lose eye contact when you get nervous. Your breath reeks. We can't see our own blind spots and often don’t even know our greatest strength.
This is why Mack Brown's real genius was putting players in the best position to succeed. Many of Brown's players resisted position changes and some quit the team. The ones who were successful had two primary traits: They were open to feedback and they took action.
It taught me that the best way to predict success is to watch people's feet. If they are moving and taking action, their odds of success skyrocket. Other leading indicators are lips and ears. Those talking the most are justifying old patterns and clinging to dated beliefs. Those whose lips don't move -- who shut up and listen -- are open to experimenting outside their comfort zone, and thus have the most success. As long as we remain open, the "casting agents" who often take the form of coaches will put us in the best position to succeed. If they earn our trust, they alert us to our blind spots and show us the best way to utilize our skills. In some cases, the payoff can be in the tens of millions.
Many fortunes have been altered due to a position change. Had J.J. Watt continued as a tight end at Central Michigan rather than transfer to Wisconsin to play defensive end, who knows where his career would be now. As detailed in a brilliant exclusive interview with ThePostGame, UCLA's Anthony Barr shifted from running back to linebacker, and the Minnesota Vikings selected him with the ninth overall pick of the 2014 draft. There are innumerable stories like this, but Brown's track record is long and impressive, as he made unconventional moves that few coaches could have imagined.
Henry Melton was a USA Today high school All-American running back who rushed for 625 yards in his first two years at Texas. Brown saw that Melton would be even more effective on the defensive line, and sure enough, he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 draft by the Chicago Bears and recently signed a contract with the Dallas Cowboys. In an interesting twist of fate, he’ll compete for playing time with Chris Whaley, another former UT running back-turned-defensive lineman who also just inked a free agent contract with the Cowboys. It was one thing for Brown to move Cory Redding, who in 1999 was the USA Today high school defensive player of the year, from linebacker to defensive end, but Whaley and Melton were both running backs.
They were numerous other beneficiaries of Mack Brown's gift of awareness. Ethan Albright arrived at UNC as a highly touted tight end in 1989, and Brown made the wise choice to move him to offensive tackle, where he earned All-ACC honors. The real "money” move was also turning him into a long snapper. It led Albright to the Pro Bowl in 2007, and he still holds the NFL record for most consecutive games (224) as a long snapper.
Cullen Loeffler's path was even more remarkable. He was a jack-of-all-trades in high school who excelled in tennis and basketball, and played everything from quarterback to receiver to punter on the football team. None of those skills was enough to earn a scholarship, and his prospects as a walk-on at UT looked bleak. After trying him at tight end, Brown made him a long snapper. Now ten years into an NFL career, Loeffler still holds that position for the Minnesota Vikings.
Brown's success as a recruiter means we'll remember him for his salesmanship. But it was combining that gift of gab with awareness and compassion that translated into getting players to buy into the best choice for both team and player. As my brother, Torin Dorn, Henry Melton, Ethan Albright, Cullen Loeffler and countless others learned, Mack Brown possessed a coach's greatest gift: The ability to see what we cannot.
-- Greg Dinkin is the author of four books including The Poker MBA and Amarillo Slim's memoir. His football career at Cornell floundered when he was converted from tight end to offensive guard. His book, The Leading Man, goes on sale May 27. Get a free chapter at GregDinkin.com.
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