On Dec. 4, 1997, Texas hired Mack Brown. Three hundred sixty-two days later, OU hired Bob Stoops.
It wasn't the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Their jobs are designed for conflict, not accord.
But the arrivals of Brown and Stoops to lead these ancient rivals was the beginning of a historic rivalry. And sadly, it's about to end.
Saturday will be the 15th Stoops vs. Mack OU-Texas game. They long ago surpassed Barry Switzer and Fred Akers (10 years, 1977-86) for the longest coaching rivalry in series history.
Stoops and Mack could be taking dead aim on the longest in college football history. The record is held by Texas' Darrell Royal and Arkansas' Frank Broyles, who combated 19 straight seasons, 1958-76.
Except Mack hasn't kept up. Partially thanks to Stoops, Mack is on his last leg at Texas. Three straight disappointing seasons have been followed by an ugly start to the 2013 season. And nothing short of an upset Saturday in the Cotton Bowl can save Mack now.
Who knows if even that would do it?
Mack's great champion, athletic director DeLoss Dodds, has announced his retirement. Texas Exes from Earl Campbell to Chris Simms have suggested it's time for a coaching change.
OU-Texas tickets in the Longhorn section of the Cotton Bowl are all over the world wide web at less than $100.
The Mack Era, the first sustained stretch of successful Texas football since Darrell Royal, limps to the finish line, which could even come Saturday, if the Sooners put a third straight blowout on UT to join the 55-17 and 63-21 verdicts of the last two years.
Even inside Longhorn football headquarters, they're admitting this game has employment ramifications.
“You know, there might be something,” said Greg Robinson, hired off the scrap heap of The Longhorn Network to coordinate the UT defense after Mack fired Manny Diaz on Sept. 8.”But I don't know … I think it is an opportunity for us.
“You know what? It's Oklahoma week. I would have to think that every year this is the game that you want to play. This is what it's all about, and the pressure of wanting to win and beat them is exciting.”
But Robinson knows. Everyone knows. Lose this game, fall to 3-3 with a defense that can't tackle and a McCoy at quarterback not named Colt, and the Mack/Stoops waltz ends at 15 years.
“People get bored with you, even when you win a lot,” Stoops said this week.
Stoops isn't talking about Mack's job status in particular. Stoops won't touch that topic with a pole as long as Big Tex.
But Stoops knows that 15 years of a coaching rivalry is rare stuff. Only four Division I-A coaches remain on the job they held the December day when Stoops was introduced as the OU coach in 1998. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer (first year 1987), Kansas State's Bill Snyder (1989), Troy's Larry Blakeney (1991), Mack Brown (1998). Snyder took three years off before returning, and Blakeney's first two seasons were in Division II, followed by nine years in I-AA.
How exclusive is this 15-year club? Of the other eight coaching rivalries that have spanned 15 years, none extended into the 21st century. Only two (Air Force's Fisher DeBerry/Brigham Young's Lavell Edwards and Washington's Don James/Oregon's Rich Brooks) have extended into the last quarter century.
Coaches' tenures are shorter than they used to be. Less patience to win. More opportunity to jump to other jobs when you win, because of the patience issue. Huge salaries mean huge expectations.
So Stoops vs. Mack is an uncommonly long rivalry.
Stoops and Mack are not big buds. They couldn't be even if they wanted to be; the coaches at Oklahoma and Texas engage in too much intense competition to resort to much backslapping.
“I think Mack and I have a mutual respect for one another,” Stoops said. “I know I do, and I feel he does. Whenever we're in meetings … we're always very cordial to one another.
“But beyond that, we don't have opportunities to pal around. I never coached with him, like I did Steve Spurrier. So I vacation and find time for people you already have this relationship with.”
But Stoops said he feels a kinship with Mack. Stoops knows that he has to deal with many of the same things Mack has to deal with, including the pressures of a certain Saturday in October.
“So we have a respective feel for one another,” Stoops said. “Ultimately, we're all facing a lot of the same issues, through players, through media, through whatever.
“So you have a better feeling for what a guy's going through than somebody else might.”
Here's what Mack is going through this week. The knowledge that unless he figures out a way to beat the superior Sooners, the Mack Brown era is about to end and take a great coaching rivalry with it.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.