AUSTIN, Texas — These are tough times for Texas coach Mack Brown.
How tough? Brown got booed when he asked Longhorns fans to donate to charity.
That happened last Saturday when his team trailed Ole Miss in the first quarter of what ended in a second consecutive blowout loss. A pre-recorded public service announcement to promote charitable giving prompted fans to show their frustration with a coach who won a national title in 2005 but hasn't been able to pull the program out of a three-year skid.
It wasn't the entire stadium booing, but it was loud enough to be heard in a crowd of more than 101,000.
Brown shrugged off the boos Monday, comparing his team's 1-2 start to the 1-2 start in 1998, his first season when Texas and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams won nine of their next 10 games. He even joked about it.
In '98, a friend told Brown he was so unpopular that "I couldn't find enough friends to be pall bearers at my funeral," Brown said.
Texas fans chuckled along with the folksy Brown when times were good.
They aren't laughing now.
"They don't have to like me. I'm not very happy with me right now," Brown said. And his message to the fans who booed: "Pull for the players ... Forget the coaches, come for the kids."
Just a few years ago, most Texas fans loved Brown.
From 2001-2009, Texas won at least 10 games every year. From 2004-2009, the Longhorns went 69-9, winning the national title in 2005 and playing for another four years later. Brown was on a roll. Top recruits were pouring in and there was nothing to suggest the wheels were about to come off the juggernaut.
But a 5-7 crash in 2010, an overall record of 23-18 the last four seasons — including an 11-10 home mark over that span — have left fans howling and Brown defending his job status on a weekly basis. Brown dismissed rumors about his job that swirl on Internet message boards by the hour if not by the minute.
"They've been swirling for 16 years," Brown said.
Brown has a solid base of support in critical places. Last week, University of Texas President Bill Powers and athletic director DeLoss Dodds gave strong public statements supporting Brown — public back from the two most powerful officials on campus, both of whom Brown counts among his closest allies.
Billionaire donors Joe Jamail and Red McCombs have also strongly endorsed Brown. Jamail, whose name is on the field at Royal-Memorial Stadium, is Brown's personal attorney his fiercest advocate off campus.
"The shortest emotion in human nature is gratitude," Jamail said of the sniping at Brown from Texas fans. "He's done a good job for us."
And Jamail noted that the crowd at the Ole Miss game was the third largest in stadium history.
Even after three lean seasons, Brown offered hope the Longhorns would return to their place among the national elite this year. Texas returned 19 starters from last season's 9-4 team. But that was before losses of 40-21 to BYU and 44-23 to Mississippi.
Brown hasn't given up hope he can turn things around. Immediately after the Ole Miss loss, Brown said he'd talk to his team about trying to win the Big 12. A conference title would be just his third in 16 seasons at Texas.
"That's all we have left," Brown said.
On Sunday, a group of Texas seniors who haven't won a league title addressed the team, saying they wanted to leave with a title.
"Let's keep fighting," sophomore running back Jonathan Gray said.
Brown said he's looked around the Big 12 and sees a "wide open" conference race in a year the league appears to lack a dominant team. Oklahoma State is the highest-ranked Big 12 team at No. 11. Kansas State visits Austin this weekend.
"It looks to me like the Big 12 is wide open," Brown said, "so why shouldn't we have a shot?"