By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A few days after Alabama won the 2013 national championship, a University of Texas regent and a former regent talked with Nick Saban’s agent about the possibility of the Crimson Tide coach replacing Longhorns coach Mack Brown, The Associated Press has learned.
Regent Wallace Hall of Dallas told the AP he spoke by telephone with agent Jimmy Sexton a few days after the Jan. 7 game. Tom Hicks, a former regent who is the brother of current Regent Steve Hicks, also was on the call. Tom Hicks, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Stars and the English professional soccer team Liverpool, was a regent in 1997 when Brown came to Texas and was instrumental in hiring him away from North Carolina.
Two days after the call with Sexton, Tom Hicks met with Brown over lunch and told him about the call, according to several people who spoke with the AP. He asked Brown if he was ready to retire.
Brown, who had just finished his 15th season at Texas, said he wanted to keep coaching and the matter was dropped.
Brown, who is under contract until 2020 and will be paid $5.4 million this year, won the 2005 national title and lost to Saban’s Alabama team in the 2010 championship game. The Longhorns are 23-18 since that defeat and Brown is under fire from fans upset about a 1-2 start this year after consecutive lopsided losses to BYU and Mississippi.
Brown has said he plans to coach through his contract. But three sub-par seasons and two consecutive losses this year have led to speculation about Brown’s future and Saban is often mentioned as a potential target as a replacement. Saban has won four national championships, one with LSU in 2003 and three with Alabama in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Saban earns $5.6 million per year, but Texas — the nation’s wealthiest athletic program — could certainly afford him.
Whether Sexton initiated the contact with Texas is unclear. He did not return a telephone message from the AP on Thursday. Alabama spokesman Jeff Purinton also declined comment.
Hall said a person he would not identify called him, unsolicited, and proposed an introduction to Sexton.
“I notified then-chairman Gene Powell, who then informed vice chairman and athletic liaison Steve Hicks, which resulted in a conference call with Mr. Sexton,” Hall said in a prepared statement to the AP. “Introductions were made and then I withdrew from the process.”
Tom Hicks declined comment on the call and the meeting with Brown. Steve Hicks told the AP he was in Australia the second week in January and said he never talked to Sexton, Brown or Saban, “or authorized anyone to do so.”
“Wallace Hall brought this to the chairman and myself. Nothing was authorized by the board and the chairman and myself thought the board should not be involved,” Steve Hicks said. “Tom and Mack are friends and talk often. They simply visited and just talked the idea through. It was dropped and nothing happened … It was a short conversation.”
Powell did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Joe Jamail, a billionaire trial lawyer who is one of the top donors to Texas, is Brown’s attorney. When asked about the conference call with Sexton and the lunch meeting, Jamail suggested Hall was acting on his own and threatened to sue anyone outside the university if they try to pressure Brown to resign.
“If there are any more, get ready for a lawsuit,” Jamail said. “Mack has publicly stated he wants to coach.”
After Brown and Tom Hicks spoke, Sexton was informed that Brown would not retire, Hall said Thursday. He said he has not been in further contact with Sexton and didn’t know if anyone else from the university had spoken with the agent.
Hall is under impeachment investigation by the state House of Representatives and lawmakers have complained that Hall has tried to force out university President Bill Powers, who has been a strong advocate for Brown. Steve Hicks has been among the regents backing Powers in a public spat that has embroiled the board members and state lawmakers for more than a year.
A spokesman for Powers said the president was unaware of the call with Saban’s agent or the meeting with Brown.
The conversation has been rumored for months. That a regent participated —whether on behalf of the board or on his own — underscores the pressure Brown is under to turn around his struggling program.
Texas went 69-9 from 2004-2009. But the Longhorns slid to 5-7 in 2010 before seasons of 8-5 in 2011 and 9-4 in 2012. With 19 returning starters, Brown suggested before the season that Texas was on the verge of returning to national prominence. Instead, the losses to BYU and Ole Miss have left Brown fending off questions about his future every week.
On Monday, Brown dismissed “rumors” about his job.
“They’ve been swirling for 16 years,” Brown said.