ESPN Expands Mack Brown’s Role

Set to begin his second season in the television game Mack Brown already appears to be in the fast lane.

This year, he’ll add booth analyzing Friday night college football around the country for ESPN to studio analyzing Saturday afternoons in Bristol for ABC.

At 64, maybe he’s secretly auditioning to play an avuncular role in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, The Sequel.

Opening week appears a slam-dunk for Brown, whom you may remember as the coach at the University of Texas where he was afforded the luxury of private jet and charter travel.

After working Baylor at SMU this Friday, he’ll be on a commercial jet headed out of Dallas-Fort Worth at 6:30 a.m. for a 3½-hour flight to Hartford, Conn. Then comes a 40-minute drive to ESPN headquarters, a quick shower, a trip to wardrobe, makeup and voila, Brown will be making studio magic with John Saunders and Mark May by early afternoon.

It may get a little more complicated the next week when Brown is down to work Utah State-Utah, catch a midnight redeye from Salt Lake City to Hartford and hopefully be at ESPN by 1 p.m.

“I hope,” Brown said via telephone the other day with the optimism of a man accustomed to private travel, “the planes are on time.”

Things get a little more complicated when ESPN adds 11 a.m. kickoffs to its Saturday schedule of games on ABC. Take the Texas-Oklahoma game on Oct. 10, which is likely to fill the time slot. Brown and his play-by-play partner, Dave Flemming, are down to work the North Carolina State-Virginia Tech game the night before. Maybe Brown can make it from Blacksburg to Hartford in plenty of time for the Texas-OU studio duty. Maybe ESPN will change its mind and allow Brown a Friday night off.

When the schedule hits full stride, ABC will offer games at 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Brown along with studio mates John Saunders and Mark May will be on call all day for halftime and post-game duty. ESPN is willing for Brown to miss some early games, but not Texas-OU.

Danny Kanell did similar Friday night/Saturday duty last season, Some weeks he skipped game duty. Others he was late to the studio.

Brown didn’t have to embrace his new schedule. But when ESPN offered, he didn’t hesitate.

“I can tell you that Mack is not concerned,” said Bill Graff, who oversees production for ESPN’s college studios. “He’s excited.”

Graff mentored Brown through what the ex-coach refers to as his “rookie season.”

They watched plenty of tape together every week to review Brown’s performance. Graff graded. Brown learned.

“By the third or fourth week we were fine tuning,” Graff said. “Mack got it.”

By season’s end, Graff suggested Brown try working a game. Brown was in the booth for University of Louisiana-Nevada Reno in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 20.

Brown’s work off-Broadway earned him a shot at higher profile games on Friday nights.

Brown said he has enjoyed the transition from the sideline in Austin to broadcasting.

“I spent 42 years in coaching, 30 as a head coach, and I still get to talk to coaches, watch video, prep for games,” Brown said.

But he misses the control he had. As coach, he dictated schedules, and had the luxury of others making his hotel reservations as well as travel plans. Then there was matter of police escorts to get him to games on time.

“Not being the boss is different,” Brown said. “Now someone tells me what to do and when to do it.”

Perhaps hardest of all was condensing his thoughts into 12 to 15-second sound bytes that television demands, he said.

“Instead of talking about two or three things I saw, I had to learn to talk about one thing,” Brown said. “All I’m trying to do in the studio and at games is to put some sense into football.”

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